A prefecture-level city (地级市 Pinyin: dìjí shì, literally "region-level city") or prefecture-level municipality is an administrative division of the People's Republic of China. Together with prefectures, leagues and autonomous prefectures, prefecture-level cities form the second level of the administrative structure, below provinces and above counties.
The first prefecture-level cities were created on November 5, 1983. Over the next 20 years, prefecture-level cities have come to replace the vast majority of Chinese prefectures. This process is still ongoing.
Prefecture-level cities are not "cities" in the strictest sense of the word, since they usually contain rural areas many times the size of their urban, built-up area. This is because the prefectures that prefecture-level cities have replaced are themselves large administrative units containing cities, towns, and farmland. As a result, prefecture-level cities nearly always contain counties, county-level cities, and other such subdivisions. To distinguish a "prefecture-level city" from its actual urban area (the traditional meaning of the word "city"), the term 市区 shìqū, or "urban area", is used.
Most provinces are composed entirely or nearly entirely of prefecture-level cities. Of the 22 provinces and 5 autonomous regions of Mainland China, only 3 provinces (Yunnan, Guizhou, Qinghai) and 2 autonomous regions (Xinjiang, Tibet) have more than three prefecture-level divisions that are not prefecture-level cities.
Criteria that a prefecture of China must meet to become a prefecture-level city:
- An urban centre with a non-farmer population over 250,000
- gross output of value of industry of 200,000,000 RMB
- the output of tertiary industry supersedes that of primary industry
- Over 35% of the GDP
Baoding (Hebei Province), Zhoukou (Henan), Nanyang (Henan), and Linyi (Shandong) are the largest prefecture-level cities, superseding the population of Tianjin, the least populous municipality.
15 large prefecture-level cities have been granted the status of sub-provincial city, which gives them much greater autonomy.
A sub-prefecture-level city is a county-level city with powers approaching those of prefecture-level cities.