Visiting China soon? Start here

Visiting China soon? Start here

China provinces and regions

China is a diverse country made up of many different provinces and regions.

From the icy cold north to the tropical south, each part of China can be grouped into one of the following:

  • 23 provinces
  • 5 autonomous regions
  • 4 municipalities
  • 2 special administrative regions.

Keep reading to find out more about each corner of this unique country.

Or, use the map below by clicking on any area. You can also discover China’s cities by clicking on the pins.

China’s provinces

Most areas within China are classified as provinces.

Each province has key differences in terms of people, language, culture, wealth and even food.

Generally speaking, the provinces in the southeast of the China, including Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Guangdong, are more developed than inland areas.

Here are each of China’s 23 provinces, ordered in terms of population size.

1. Guangdong

Shenzhen in Guangdong province

Shenzhen is a booming city in Guangdong. Image by Joshua Fernandez on Unsplash.

  • Population: 115 million
  • Capital: Guangzhou

The country’s most populated province is also the wealthiest. Locals speak Cantonese, and migrants from all over China come to Guangdong to find work and a better life. Booming tech city, Shenzhen, is the world’s drone capital.

See the Guangzhou travel guide.

2. Shandong

Tsingtao Beer poster Qingdao Shandong

Shandong province is the home of Tsingtao Beer. Image by Mike Cairnduff.

  • Population: 100 million
  • Capital: Jinan

In coastal city Qingdao, you can marvel at the German-era architecture, fight for a spot at the busy beaches or drink the well-known export beer, Tsingtao.

3. Henan

Kung Fu

Henan is famous for Kung Fu. Image by danieltayxs on Pixabay.

  • Population: 96 million
  • Capital: Zhengzhou

Henan is the birthplace of Chinese civilization. Here you can practice Kung Fu at the Shaolin Temple, brave the Zhangjiajie Skywalk Footbridge or simply be awed by the Longmen Caves.

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4. Sichuan

Sichuan China Giant Buddha

The Giant Buddha in Leshan, Sichuan. Image by Mike Cairnduff.

  • Population: 83 million
  • Capital: Chengdu

Sichuan is synonymous with spicy Chinese food. Although it’s one of the most densely populated provinces in the country, it enjoys a more relaxed vibe than most other provinces. There are also plenty of things to see, including the Giant Buddha and panda sanctuary. In terms of geographical area, Sichuan is the second largest China province.

See the Chengdu travel guide.

5. Jiangsu

Nanjing City Wall in Jiangsu - one of the richest China provinces

Nanjing City Wall. Image by Gwen24 on Pixabay.

  • Population: 80 million
  • Capital: Nanjing

A rich and densely populated province, Jiangsu is a great place for the cultured tourist. Check out Nanjing, which used to be the capital of China, or one of the many water towns like Zhouzhuang, where there are little canals everywhere.

See the Nanjing travel guide.

6. Hebei

Shijiazhuang Hebei pollution

Hazy sky in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province. Image by Mate Dobos on Shutterstock.

  • Population: 75 million
  • Capital: Shijiazhuang

Many of China’s dirty coal-fired power plants are in Hebei, making it one of the country’s most polluted provinces.

7. Hunan

Mao Zedong

Mao started his political movement in Hunan. Image by John Lock on Shutterstock.

  • Population: 69 million
  • Capital: Changsha

Hunan’s capital, Changsha, has a colorful history. Mao Zedong, the founder of the People’s Republic of China, began his political career here. And the city was briefly occupied by the Japanese in the Sino-Japanese War (1931–1945).

8. Anhui

Huang Shan in Anhui

Majestic Yellow Mountain in Anhui. Image by simuwater on Pixabay.

  • Population: 63 million
  • Capital: Hefei

Huang Shan, or Yellow Mountain, is Anhui’s major tourist drawcard. And for good reason – it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

9. Hubei

Yellow Crane Tower Wuhan Hubei

The Yellow Crane Tower in Wuhan, Hubei. Image by sansereyroth on Pixabay.

  • Population: 59 million
  • Capital: Wuhan

Before early 2020, Hubei wasn’t very well-known internationally. But then the coronavirus came along, which well and truly put this province on the map.

10. Zhejiang

Shady street in Hangzhou Zhejiang

A tree-lined street in Hangzhou, Zhejiang. Image by James Peng on Pixabay.

  • Population: 58 million
  • Capital: Hangzhou

Located on the east coast, just south of Shanghai, Zhejiang is a hilly province with picturesque scenery. The capital, Hangzhou, is regarded as one of China’s greenest and most beautiful cities.

11. Yunnan

Rooftops in Yunnan Province China

Yunnan rooftops. Image by Charlottees on Pixabay.

  • Population: 48 million
  • Capital: Kunming

Yunnan borders Vietnam, Laos and Burma in the south of China. Capital city Kunming has one of the mildest climates in China due to its low latitude and high elevation.

12. Jiangxi

Longhu Mountain Jiangxi China

The Longhu Mountain area. Image by HelloRF Zcool on Shutterstock.

  • Population: 46 million
  • Capital: Nanchang

Dragon Tiger Mountain (Mt Longhu), in the northeast of Jiangxi, is said to be the birthplace of Taoism. On the other end of the cultural spectrum, the fifteenth series of American TV show Survivor was filmed just 25 miles (40 km) from the capital.

13. Liaoning

Dalian historic building

Historic building in Dalian. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

  • Population: 43 million
  • Capital: Shenyang

Liaoning’s seaside city Dalian attracts hordes of tourists. And it has a rich history – it was founded by the Russians and you can still find Russian-style architecture lining the streets.

14. Fujian

Cool Xiamen art

Cool Xiamen art. Image by cnattorney on Pixabay.

  • Population: 39 million
  • Capital: Fuzhou

Fujian is a special province located on the country’s southeast coast. It’s culturally and linguistically diverse, and offers plenty of historical and cultural attractions.

The province is famous for its ancient buildings known as Fujian Tulou, a major tourist drawcard. There are plenty of other amazing things to do in Fujian too, like checking out the cultural city of Quanzhou.

Most people arrive in the province via Xiamen or Fuzhou, the capital. There are quite a few things to do in Fuzhou (despite the city not seeing many overseas tourists) like hiking in the mountains and dining on local seafood. Most tourists spend time at Sanfang Qixing, or 3 Lanes 7 Alleys, an historical village which has great food and shopping.

If you love the beach, then head to seaside city Xiamen, known for its cool culture and pedestrian-only Piano Island.

See the Fuzhou travel guide as well as the Xiamen travel guide.

15. Shaanxi

Terracotta Army Xi'an Shaanxi

The Terracotta Warriors. Image by janeb13 on Pixabay.

  • Population: 38 million
  • Capital: Xi’an

This province is popular with both domestic and foreign tourists alike – the Terracotta Army is one of China’s best places to visit.

Even the capital, Xi’an, is steeped in history. It’s enveloped by an ancient city wall that you can walk along.

See the Xi’an travel guide.

16. Heilongjiang

Ice Festival in Harbin Heilongjiang

Ice Festival in Harbin, Heilongjiang. Image by Erica Li on Unsplash.

  • Population: 37 million
  • Capital: Harbin

Located in the northeast of China, this province has a strong Russian influence. Capital city Harbin embraces the cold by focusing on winter tourism, like the world-renowned Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival.

See the Harbin travel guide.

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17. Shanxi

Hanging Temple Shanxi

The spectacular Hanging Temple in Shanxi. Image by Took on Pixabay.

  • Population: 37 million
  • Capital: Taiyuan

The Datong area, in the north of Shanxi, is rich with history. The Yungang Caves and Hanging Temple are highlights.

18. Guizhou

Guiyang Guizhou province

Guiyang is surrounded by lush forests. Image by lin2015 on Pixabay.

  • Population: 36 million
  • Capital: Guiyang

Doing away with much of its former heavy industry, capital city Guiyang has made a conscious effort to fuel its economy via tech and big data.

See the Guiyang travel guide.

19. Jilin

Park in Changchun

Changchun city park, Jilin. Image by Xiao Wei on Shutterstock.

  • Population: 26 million
  • Capital: Changchun

Jilin borders North Korea in the northeast of China, and is a leading automotive manufacturer. The capital, Changchun, means ‘long spring’ – despite it having a relatively short spring. In fact, Jilin is one of the coldest provinces.

20. Gansu

Great Wall in Gansu province

You can see part of the Great Wall of China in Gansu. Image by Matyas Rehak on Shutterstock.

  • Population: 26 million
  • Capital: Lanzhou

Gansu is one of the least populated, yet largest China provinces by size. The biggest and most intact entrance to the Great Wall can be found in Gansu.

21. Taiwan

Taiwan at night

Taipei is stunning at night. Image by Timo Volz on Pixabay.

  • Population: 25 million
  • Capital: Taipei

The island of Taiwan is only 81 miles (130 km) from mainland China at the narrowest point. China claims sovereignty over Taiwan. However, Taiwan sees itself as an independent nation.

22. Hainan

Resort in Sanya Hainan one of China's smallest provinces

Hainan is one of the smallest China provinces. Image by Pavel Roev on Unsplash.

  • Population: 9 million
  • Capital: Haikou

Fly into Sanya, the country’s popular summer playground. Yalong Bay is regarded as one of Hainan’s best beaches, home to international hotels and resorts.

23. Qinghai

Qinghai Muslim man

Qinghai Muslim man. Image by James Jiao on Shutterstock.

  • Population: 6 million
  • Capital: Xining

Qinghai is home to a fusion of different ethnic groups, resulting in an interesting mix of cultures and cuisines. It’s the most sparsely populated yet biggest Chinese province.

China’s 5 autonomous regions

You’ve probably heard of Tibet.

But did you know there are four other areas that comprise China’s autonomous regions?

Guangxi, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia and Xinjiang, as well as Tibet, all have their own local government – just like the provinces do.

However, due to the higher proportion of ethnic minorities in the autonomous regions, they have more legislative rights.

With the exception of Guangxi, which borders Vietnam and the South China Sea, the autonomous regions are located inland. All have a lower standard of living than the provinces dotted along the eastern seaboard.

1. Guangxi

Yangshuo China

A mountainside in Yangshuo. Image by Fiona Davies.

  • Population: 49 million
  • Capital: Nanning
  • Ethnic groups: Han, Zhuang, Yao, Miao

Tourist towns Guilin and Yangshuo offer spectacular scenery with mountains and rivers. Some of the most magnificent rice terraces in the world are also found in Guangxi, including the Longji Rice Terraces.

See the Nanning travel guide.

2. Inner Mongolia (Nei Menggu)

Inner Mongolian horsemen

Inner Mongolian horsemen. Image by marywenstrom on Pixabay.

  • Population: 25 million
  • Capital: Hohhot
  • Ethnic groups: Han, Mongol, Manchu

Inner Mongolia has an interesting mix of Russian and traditional Mongolian herder cultures. Visit Hohhot’s temples or venture out and enjoy the open space of the grasslands.

See the Hohhot travel guide.

3. Xinjiang

Mosque Xinjiang China

A mosque in Xinjiang. Image by Vined on Pixabay.

  • Population: 25 million
  • Capital: Urumqi
  • Ethnic groups: Uyghur, Han, Kazakh, Hui

This diverse region borders eight countries including Russia, Afghanistan and India. Sadly, ethnic tensions in Xinjiang have escalated in recent years.

4. Ningxia

Camel ride Ningxia

Camel ride in Ningxia Autonomous Region. Image by Hiki Liu on Unsplash.

  • Population: 6 million
  • Capital: Yinchuan
  • Ethnic groups: Han, Hui

Archaeological wonder, the Western Xia Tombs, are the royal mausoleums of the emperors in the Western Xia Dynasty. Built between the 11th and 13th centuries, they’re a stone’s throw from the capital, Yinchuan, in this northern desert region.

And, there are plenty of other things to see and do in Yinchuan.

For example, tourist-favorite Mount Helan overlooks the city and you can go hiking there or check out the centuries-old rock art. There’s also the whacky Shui Dong Gou paleolithic park.

5. Tibet (Xizang)

Potala Palace Tibet

Potala Palace, Tibet. Image by maquake on Pixabay.

  • Population: 3 million
  • Capital: Lhasa
  • Ethnic groups: Tibetan, Han, Hui

Full of harsh and rugged terrain, Tibet has only been open to tourists since the 1980s. The iconic Potala Palace, perched on top of a hill in capital Lhasa, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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China’s 4 municipalities

There are four direct-controlled municipalities in China – Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Chongqing.

They’re basically large, densely populated urban areas which act like provinces. They don’t have a capital city because they already are cities.

Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin have held municipality status for quite some time, while Chongqing is a relative newcomer to the group. It merged with neighboring cities and was classed as a municipality in the late 1990s.

Chongqing is the largest municipality and the only one located inland.

1. Chongqing


Fishing on the Yangtze River. Image by Mathieu Vivier on Pixabay.

  • Population: 31 million
  • Area: 82,300 sq km

The grand Yangtze River flows through this mega-city. You can board one of the many river boats and cruise past the famous Three Gorges.

See the Chongqing travel guide.

2. Shanghai

The Bund Shanghai

Dancing at The Bund. Image by Adli Wahid on Unsplash.

  • Population: 24 million
  • Area: 6,341 sq km

Shanghai is a thriving, cosmopolitan metropolis. Walk along The Bund and take in the beautiful European facades. You can see why some people call this city the Paris of the East.

See the Shanghai travel guide.

3. Beijing

Tourist at the Forbidden City Beijing

A hot day in Beijing. Image by Mike Cairnduff.

  • Population: 21 million
  • Area: 16,800 sq km

Best enjoyed in fall or spring, Beijing is the home of China’s best sightseeing, all in one place. From the Forbidden City and Summer Palace to the many sections of the Great Wall of China, tourists are spoiled for choice.

See the Beijing travel guide.

4. Tianjin

Bridge over Hai River Tianjin

Bridge over the Hai River in Tianjin. Image by Mike Cairnduff.

  • Population: 15 million
  • Area: 11,305 sq km

Just 30 minutes by bullet train to Beijing, this metropolis has some colonial architecture mixed with modern skyscrapers. A section of the Great Wall of China can be accessed from Tianjin.

See the Tianjin travel guide.

China’s 2 special administrative regions

Hong Kong and Macau are China’s special administrative regions, or SARs for short.

Historically a British-controlled trading port, Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997. Macau was handed back by the Portuguese in 1999.

While the SARs have different arrangements for things like government, currency and education, the central government is tightening its grip on the SARs’ autonomy.

1. Hong Kong

Colorful signs in Hong Kong

Colorful signs in Hong Kong. Image by Jason Lam on Pixabay.

  • Population: 7 million
  • Area: 1,108 sq km

A world-leading financial center, Hong Kong acts as a hub between the West and China’s mainland. Recent anti-government protests have raised a question mark over the region’s autonomy and civil liberties.

See the Hong Kong travel guide.

2. Macau

Ruins of St Paul in Macau China

Ruins of St Paul’s in Macau. Image by Kon Karampelas on Pixabay.

  • Population: 600,000
  • Area: 29 sq km

Macau is a short ferry ride from Hong Kong. It’s famous for its casinos, its Portuguese flavor and the Ruins of St Paul’s – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

China provinces and regions are unique and diverse

With so many differences across each province and region, it’s difficult to generalize when talking about China. But that’s what makes the country so unique.

Whether you’re planning on traveling to China, or you’re simply learning about China, you’ll find there are so many interesting things to discover.

Next, read about the best places to visit in China. Or, if you’re after something a little quirkier, find out why Chinese people drink hot water.

Page last updated 10 May 2023. Population statistics are from Statista. Commercial relationship disclosure: The Helpful Panda has commercial arrangements with organizations that may appear on this page, such as affiliate links. See our terms for more info.


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