Currently, local government in China is structured in a hierarchy on four different levels. With the village being the grassroots, and not considered part of the hierarchy, local government advances through the township, county, prefecture or municipality, and the province as the geographical area of jurisdiction increases.
Each level in the hierarchy is responsible for overseeing the work carried out by lower levels on the administrative strata. At each level are two important officials. A figure that represents the Communist Party of China, colloquially termed the Party chief or the Party Secretary, acts as the policy maker. This figure is appointed by their superiors. The head of the local People’s Government, is, in theory, elected by the people. Usually called a governor, mayor, or magistrate, depending on the level, this figure acts to carry out the policies and most ceremonial duties. The distinction has evolved into a system where the Party Secretary is always in precedence above the leader of the People’s Government.
After Deng Xiaoping took power in 1978 greater autonomy has been given to provinces in terms of economic policy implementation as well as other areas of policy such as education and transportation. As a result, some provincial authorities have evolved tendencies of operating on a de facto federal system with Beijing.
Prominent examples of greater autonomy are seen in the provinces of Guangdong and Zhejiang, where local leaders do little to adhere to the strict standards issued by the Central Government, especially economic policy.
In addition, conflicts have arisen in the relations of the central Party leaders with the few provincial-level Municipalities, most notably the municipal government of Shanghai and the rivalry between former Beijing mayor Chen Xitong and Jiang Zemin. The removal of Shanghai Municipality Party Secretary Chen Liangyu in September 2006 is the latest example.
China’s system of autonomous regions and autonomous prefectures within provinces are formally intended to provide for greater autonomy by the ethnic group majority that inhabits the region.
In practice, however, power rests with the Party secretary. Beijing will often appoint loyal party cadres to oversee the local work as Party secretary, while the local Chairman of the region’s government is regarded as its nominal head. Power rests with the Party secretary.
To avoid the solidification of local loyalties during a cadre’s term in office, the central government freely and frequently transfers party cadres around different regions of the country, so a high ranking cadre’s career might include service as governor or party secretary of several different provinces.
Edited from Wikipedia