The first municipalities were the 11 cities of Nanjing, Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin, Qingdao, Chongqing, Xi'an, Guangzhou, Hankou, Shenyang, and Harbin. They were established in 1927 soon after the cities (in the modern official sense) were created during the 1920s. Nominally Dalian was a municipality as well, although it was under Japanese Occupation. These cities were first called special municipalities/cities (特別市), but were later renamed Yuan-controlled municipalities (院轄市), then direct-controlled municipalities by the Central Government (直轄市). After the Kuomintang moved to Taiwan, they upgraded Taipei and Kaohsiung to municipalities.
After the communist takeover of mainland China in 1949, Anshan, Benxi, and Fushun were made municipalities (direct-control) as well, while Qingdao, Shengyang, and Harbin were reduced to provincial municipalities. Hankou was merged to Wuhan. There remained 12 municipalities in mainland China, until Dalian was elevated in 1950. In June 1952, Harbin was restored to municipality-status, along with Changchun. Except Beijing and Tianjin, which were under central control, all other municipalities were governed by the greater administrative areas. In June 1954, 11 of the 14 municipalities were reduced to provincial municipalities, many of them becoming the capitals of the provinces they were in. Only Beijing, Shanghai, and Tianjin were left, until Chongqing was restored in 1997. Tianjin was also temporarily reverted to the province-controlled status from 1958 to 1967, becoming the capital of Hebei Province.
The first municipalities were created on Taiwan when Taipei was made a Yuan-controlled municipality in 1967. The same was done for Kaohsiung in 1979. They are the only two municipalities currently under the ROC administration. Since 1994, Yuan-controlled municipalities have been officially called direct-control municipalities to emphasize their autonomy. Besides significant political, economic, and cultural development, a ROC municipality must have population of over 12,150,000.
The lowest-level cities are very ubiquitous. In the ROC they are county-controlled cities (smaller than counties); in the PRC, they are county-level cities (县级市), controlled by prefectures and equal to counties in status. In between municipality and basic city is provincial municipality (see Political divisions of China#Levels).