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Bernard M -- Taipei English Tutor

Bernard M - English Conversation / TOEFL / IELTS 一對一英文會話

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Social/Political Divisions

Below are political social and divisions in ascending (形容詞) order of size and/or complexity. The divisions are in bold. Divisions that are roughly equivalent are on the same line and separated from other divisions by solid lines. Examples of some political divisions are given in regular text underneath the division name where it seems useful or helpful to do so.


Nuclear family

Extended family







Westchester County (in New York state, U.S.A.)

Los Angeles County (in California, U.S.A.)

State Province
N.Y. (U.S.A.) Fujian (China) Zürich (Switzerland) Tokyo (Japan)

Hokkaidō (Japan)

Autonomous Region

Tibet (China) Navaho Nation Indian Reservation
Jewish Autonomous Region (Russia) Hopi Indian Reservation

Nation State Nation-state Country

Ancient Greek city states

Medieval Italian City States

Vatican City

U.S.A. League of Nations Swiss Confederation(3)
The Soviet Union
Germany Hanseatic League

The United States(4)
The United States(5)

(1781-1788) (especially the Northern states
during the Civil War)

The Confederate States of America

(the southern states during the Civil War)



British Empire

British Commonwealth

Roman Empire

Chinese Empire

The names of political and administrative units are often used in a variety of ways so some political divisions are excluded from the hierarchy because they did not fit anywhere easily.
Below are a few examples of some terms which are used in more than one way:

  • A municipality according to is "A political unit, such as a city, town, or village, incorporated for local self-government." Under the same entry it says that a municipality can also be reserved for large or important cities. The wikepedia article on municipalities says that a grouping of cities, towns or villages may also be called a municipality. Therefore the size of municipalities can vary considerably.
  • Cities should be clear enough but in China "cities" is used to denote rather different entities at three different political levels.
  • District: This clssification is used in a myriad of ways in different countries.
(1) We often hear of the decline in family values in conjunction with the replacement of the extended family by the nuclear family. But apparently the nuclear family has been far more common since the fourteenth century, both in Europe and in China, than previously thought. See Francis Fukuyama's Trust: The social virtues and the creation of prosperity, 1996 paperback edition, p. 105.

(2) Some important city-states of
...ancient Greece were Athens, Sparta, and Thebes.
...Italy in the Rennaissance were Pisa, Florence, Venice, and Genoa.
...the German Hanseatic League were Hamburg, Bremen, and Lübeck.
(3) Switzerland is also often referred to as the Swiss Federation. In fact, their governing laws are called the Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation.

(4) The United States Articles of Confederation were in effect from 1781 until the U.S. Constitution was adopted the year following Rhode Island's ratification (the ninth state to do so) in 1789.

(5) The United States is comprised of 50 states, one district (Washington D.C.) and a number of territories , of which the better known are Puerto Rico, Guam, United States Virgin Islands, and American Samoa. Washington D.C. and the territories are not part of any state.

In addition to the multiple usages listed above, the words designating a country are seriously deficient in that they make no reference to ethnicity (名詞). Dictionaries list country, nation and state as synonyms. But the idea of a state as strictly a political organization seen as separate from the ethnic background of its inhabitants is different from a political organization established by a large ethnic group that claims the right to self-rule precisely because of its ethnic unity and large numbers. The Nazi state was not just another European country: its nationalism can only be understood in light of ethnic chauvinism. Pierre L. Van Den Berghe's elucidated far more precise definitions of states and nations with respect to ethnicity in The Ethnic Phenomenon (p. 61), which unfortunately have not entered the mainstream.

The only two divisions in the above listings that are defined in terms of ethnicity are the autonomous regions and Indian Reservations. Many countries have various kinds of autonomous regions, the two examples are from China and Russia. China has five autonomous regions, one of which is Tibet ("Free Tibet" bumper stickers are commonly seen in California). In these regions the Han Chinese are a minority. In fact, the preamble to the constitution of The People's Republic of China acknowledges the contribution of different ethnic groups as follows: "The people of all nationalities [which I read as ethnic group] in China have jointly created a splendid culture and have a glorious revolutionary tradition." The preamble goes on to refer to China as a "unitary multi-national state built up jointly by the people of all its nationalities."
The other example is given because it is something of an oddity.  According to the wikepedia entry and the Jewish population of the Jewish Autonomous Region of Russia is actually less than 5%!

Interestingly, the connection between nation and ethnicity is, perhaps coincidentally, made by the inclusion of the word nation in the name of the Navajo reservation.

Another example of the connection between nation and ethnicity is that the former Soviet Union's passports had a separate entry for ethnic background apart from identifying one as a Soviet citizen (The Ethnic Phenomenon p.77).

Statelets should actually be divided into two categories: full-fledged (形容詞) small states and pseudo-states. The first category would include places such as:
Monaco, Andorra, San Morino, and The Vatican. These have clearly demarcated borders, are internationally recognized and have often experienced years of stability. The Vatican is also a city-state.

The second category would include places to which the term statelet is applied pejoratively. I've seen it applied in this manner to Israel before it achieved nationhood, various areas in northern Iraq controlled by a groups other than the central government, Northern Ireland, Lebanon as well as many others. These statelets are not internationally recognized, they have often been created recently, many of them suffer from severe social disorder and either have no central government or one which is simply not internationally recognized. The Kurdish controlled area in northern Iraq is a statelet hoping to become a "regular" country.

There is no simple rule for deciding which political divisions are good or bad. Tyranny can be found in small city-states as well as large nations. The enormously large Soviet Union (22.4 million km²) was a totalitarian state held together by force, whereas the British Commonwealth (31.4 million km²) is entirely a voluntary association of nations. Economic success also varies wildly among countries and neither a large nor small land mass necessarily determines whether a polity will be poor or wealthy. Many small countries are economic basket cases but by one measure of wealth, tiny Luxumberg ranked first whereas China ranked 108th (see

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