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Fu (country subdivision)

Chinese name
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese phủ
Korean name
Japanese name

Fu (府) is a traditional administrative division used in the East Asian cultural sphere, translated variously as prefecture, urban prefecture or city. They were first instituted as a regular form of administrative division in the Tang Dynasty of China, but were later adopted in Vietnam, Japan and Korea. At present, only two fu still remain: Kyoto-fu and Osaka-fu in Japan.

The term fu is still used in Chinese to refer to the Provinces of Thailand, even though they are natively known as changwat. The provinces of neighbouring countries Burma, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam are all called sheng (省), the same name used for the provinces of Taiwan and Mainland China.


Fu (府) means an office or a command institution. The character appears, for example, in the Chinese words for "government" (政府, Zhėngfǔ) or "official's residence" (府邸, Fǔdǐ), and names of official institutions such as the "Imperial Household Department" (內務府, Nèiwùfǔ) or "Office of the President" (總統府, Zǒngtǒngfǔ).

Japanese language uses the Chinese character in the words government (政府 seifu?) and shogunate (幕府 bakufu?).


One of the earlier uses of fu as part of the name of an administrative division was the Protectorate of the Western Regions (西域都護府, Xīyù Dūhù Fǔ) in the Han Dynasty, in 60BC. Duhu Fu, translated as "protectorate", literally meant "Office of the Commander-Protector".

In 627, the second emperor of the Tang Dynasty, Emperor Taizong (r. 626−649) reorganised political divisions setting up 10 circuits (道, dào), overseeing the Chinese prefectures, including 43 commanderies or Dudu Fu (都督府, dūdū fǔ, literally "Office of the Commander-Governor"), which were border prefectures with a more powerful governor.[1] Zhou (州, Zhōu) was the more common name for an inland prefecture. Dudu Fu was shortened to Fu, and the convention developed that larger prefectures would be named fu, while smaller prefectures would be called zhou. One of the earliest cities to be called a fu was Chengdu-fu (成都府) in the Song Dynasty. By the time of the 14th Century Ming Dynasty, the term had become common across provinces: typically, each prefecture's capital city was called a fu.

After the end of the Qing Dynasty in 1912, the Republic of China removed fu as a type of subdivision in order to streamline administrative divisions, recategorising them into counties (縣, xiàn) or cities (市, shì). The People's Republic of China inherited these divisions of mainland China in 1949, and did not reinstate fu.


As part of the Taika Reform in (645), the capitals of the Provinces of Japan were named kokufu (国府?, "province capitals"). The fu character is an element still found in several Japanese city names, such as Dazaifu (太宰府?), Fuchū (府中?), Hōfu (防府?), Kōfu (甲府?), Rifu (利府?) and the old name for Shizuoka, Sunpu (駿府?).

During the Meiji Restoration, the newly formed Meiji government enacted Fuhanken Sanchisei in 1868, splitting the country into three varieties of prefecture. One of these were fu, used for urban prefectures as opposed to rural prefectures ( ken?). The first two urban prefectures ( fu?) were created on June 14, 1868: Kyoto-fu and Hakodate-fu. By the end of 1868, ten fu had been established: Kyoto, Hakodate, Osaka, Nagasaki, Edo (later Tokyo), Kanagawa, Watarai, Nara, Nara, Echigo (later Niigata) and Kōfu. Due to some prefectures gaining non-urban land or being amalgamated into other territories in 1869, three remained: Kyoto-fu, Osaka-fu and Tokyo-fu.

During the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Japanese Government wished to tighten control of the local autonomy of the different areas of Tokyo.[2] The Home Ministry published a plan to rename Tokyo to a metropolis ( to?), but the special wards of Tokyo (35 in 1938) objected to the plan. In 1943 the plan was implemented, and Tokyo-fu and Tokyo-shi were merged to become the current Tokyo Metropolis. This brought the number of fu in Japan to its current number of two: Kyoto-fu and Osaka-fu.


Bu (부, 府) has been used in use in Korea since the Goryeo Dynasty as designating a city. The city of Kaesong was designated Kaesong-bu in 995. The 1485 code of law Gyeongguk daejeon designates the city of Seoul as Hanseong-bu (漢城府) and Kaesong as Kaesong-bu. In the 17th Century, additional areas were designated bu, including Ganghwa-bu, Suwon-bu and Gwangju-bu.

In 1895 after the Donghak Peasant Revolution and the Treaty of Shimonoseki, a series of wide changes called the Gabo Reform were enacted. One of these changes was to split the Eight Provinces of Korea into 23 bu. The districts were named after the capitals of each district, and also included rural areas. A year later in August 1896, these districts were replaced by 13 new provinces, using the previous word do (도; 道). The 23 districts were:

Andong, Chuncheon, Chungju, Daegu, Dongnae, Gangneung, Gongju, Haeju, Hamhŭng, Hanseong, Hongju, Incheon, Jeju, Jeonju, Jinju, Kaesŏng, Kanggye, Kapsan, Kyŏngsŏng, Naju, Namwon, P'yŏngyang and Ŭiju.

After the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1910 and the occupation of Korea by Japan, many areas were renamed and local government was reorganised. On April 1, 1914, twelve bu were created: Seoul (then Gyeongseong (京城府 Keijō-fu?)), Incheon, Gunsan, Mokpo, Daegu, Busan, Masan, Pyongyang, Chinnampo, Sinuiju, Wonsan and Chongjin. Between 1930 and 1944, 10 more were added by the Japanese government: Kaesong and Hamhung in 1930, Daejeon, Jeonju and Gwangju in 1935, Rason (1936), Haeju (1938), Jinju (1939), Kimchaek (1941) and Hungnam (1944).

After the Potsdam Declaration and Japan's defeat in World War II, as well as the Division of Korea, the term was no longer used.


The word was borrowed in Sino-Vietnamese as phủ, and used as an administrative unit in 15–19th Century Vietnam.[3][4] Administrative division of new frontier territories into phủ was particularly used as the Vietnamese expanded southwards and inland.[5] The administrative reorganization by Minh Mạng along Chinese models following the death of his father in 1832, fixed the position of the phủ as an intermediary administrative division between the new larger unit of the tỉnh province, and the existing local huyện sub-prefecture or district, and power was concentrated with provincial governors. The position of local prefects and district heads remained unaffected.[6][7]


  1. ^ Twitchett, D. (1979), Cambridge History of China, Sui and T'ang China 589-906, Part I, vol.3, Cambridge University Press, p. 203, 205, ISBN 0-521-21446-7 
  2. ^ Kurt Steiner, Local government in Japan, Stanford University Press, 1965, p. 179
  3. ^ Karl Hack, Tobias Rettig Colonial Armies in Southeast Asia 2006 Page 152 "31 A phu is an administrative subdivision of a province. 32 A huyen is an administrative subdivision of a phu."
  4. ^ Donald F. Lach, Edwin J. Van Kley - Asia in the Making of Europe, Volume III: A Century of Advance. 1998 Page 1278 " 1998 ""The huyen was an administrative unit — a subprefecture — within the province which first came into use in the fifteenth century. See Whitfield, op. cit. (n. 2), p. 118. '6'Each province was divided into several phu or prefectures. Ibid , p
  5. ^ Choi Byung Wook Southern Vietnam Under the Reign of Minh Mạng (1820-1841) 2004 Page 34 "As in other regions dominated by the Vietnamese, a Vietnamese frontier administrative unit called phủ was formed in the regions of the Khmer, in Tra Vinh and Soc Trang in 1789.66 But the position as leader or head of this unit was allocated ..."
  6. ^ Journal asiatique Société asiatique (Paris, France), Centre national de la recherche scientifique (France), Gallica (Organization) - 1834 Page 475 "A cette époque il a voulu marcher sur les traces de l'empereur de Chine et a divisé son royaume en tinh ou métropoles. Il y a laissé les phù et les huyên comme auparavant. L'ordre a été changé, mais le fond de l'administration est le même."
  7. ^ Jacob Ramsay Mandarins and Martyrs: The Church and the Nguyen Dynasty in Early ... 2008 Page 37 "provinces (tỉnh) over which directly appointed governors-general (tổngđốc), one to every two provinces, and every two provinces, and governors (tuấn phủ), to every other province, ruled.51 Under the provincial structure, a descending hierarchy of smaller territorial jurisdictions was organized: these included the prefecture (phủ), the district (huyện), the canton (tổng), and the village ... Just as bureaucratic order provided the foundation for the administration of the kingdom, attention to key sites of ritual power projected the"