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When a foreign placename, or toponym, occurs in Chinese text, the problem arises of spelling it in Chinese characters, given the limited phonetics and restrictive phonology of Mandarin Chinese, and the possible meaning of those characters when treated as Chinese words. For example:
- "London Heathrow Airport" is usually rendered in Chinese text as 倫敦希斯路機場 (Lúndūn Xīsīlù Jīchǎng), with the English pronunciation of 'London' being fairly accurate, and of 'Heathrow' being less accurate: in Chinese literally this means "kinship, honest" (for London), "hope/rare, given/this, road" (for Heathrow), "aircraft, field", with the last syllable of "Heathrow" rendered as "lu" although the more accurate "lo" and "lou" are known Chinese words. However, the Cantonese pronunciation of 希斯路 (Hei1si1lou6) is much closer to "Heathrow".
Names of foreign nations are sometimes shortened to their first character when used in compounds.
For toponyms in Korea, Japan, or Vietnam, the Chinese exonym is often the Chinese pronunciation of the Korean hanja, Japanese kanji, or ancient Vietnamese Chữ Nôm writing of the toponym. In some cases, especially in Japan, the Chinese pronunciation may be completely unlike the native-language pronunciation.
|English name||Chinese name||Pinyin||Phonetic transcription?||Orthographic transcription?||Meaning||Country||Notes|
|Bangkok||曼谷||Màngǔ||Yes||No||N/A||Thailand||Phonetic transcription from Thai to Teochew dialect of Hokkien Chinese, where 曼谷 is pronounced as "bhuêng2 gog4"|
|Chiang Mai||清迈||Qīngmài||Yes||No||N/A||Thailand||Phonetic transcription from Thai to Teochew dialect of Hokkien Chinese, where 清迈 is pronounced as "cêng1 mai6"|
|Fort-de-France||法兰西堡||Fǎlánxībǎo||Yes||No||N/A||France||Names of cities beginning with the title "fort", or the equivalent of it in other Indo-European languages, tend to end with its Chinese equivalent 堡 (bǎo) (meaning "fort") in the Chinese exonym.|
|Fort Collins||柯林斯堡||Kēlínsībǎo||Yes||No||N/A||United States|
|Hanoi||河内||Hénèi||Yes||Yes||Within the River||Vietnam|
|Hiroshima (広島)||廣島||Guǎngdǎo||No||Yes||Broad Island||Japan||Orthographic transcription from Japanese kyūjitai characters|
|Ho Chi Minh City||胡志明市||Hú Zhìmíng Shì||Yes||Yes||Ho Chi Minh City||Vietnam||Orthographic transcription from ancient Vietnamese Chữ Nôm characters, which was 城庯胡志明 (Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh)|
|Kyoto||京都||Jīngdū||No||Yes||Capital||Japan||Orthographic transcription from Japanese kanji characters|
|Lisbon||里斯本||Lǐsīběn||Yes||No||N/A||Portugal||See notes below.|
|Lisbon||葡京||Pújīng||No||No||N/A||Portugal||The Chinese term is a hybrid of transcription and transliteration, with the first character 葡 (pú) being the first character of the Chinese name of Portugal 葡萄牙 (Pútáoyá), and the second character 京 (jīng) being the capital of the nation. 里斯本 (Lǐsīběn), the complete transcription of the word, is more common, though some place names use the former Chinese name, like the Grand Lisboa 新葡京 (Xīn Pújīng), a casino in Macau.|
|Los Angeles||洛杉矶||Luòshānjī||Yes||No||N/A||United States|
|Nagasaki||長崎||Chángqí||No||Yes||Long, Small Peninsula||Japan||Orthographic transcription from Japanese kanji characters|
|Narita||成田||Chéngtián||No||Yes||Developed Field||Japan||Orthographic transcription from Japanese kanji characters|
|Okinawa (沖縄)||沖縄||Chóngshéng||No||Yes||Cord of the Open Sea||Japan||Orthographic transcription from Japanese kanji characters|
|Osaka (大阪)||大坂||Dàbǎn||No||Yes||Big Hillside||Japan||Orthographic transcription from Japanese kanji characters|
|Oxford||牛津||Niújīn||No||No||Where the Oxen Ford||United Kingdom|
|Phoenix||鳳凰城||Fènghuángchéng||No||No||Fenghuang City||United States||the fenghuang is analogous to the Greek phoenix, but only superficially|
|St. Louis||聖路易斯||Shènglùyìsī||Yes||No||N/A||United States||City names that begin with the title "saint", or the equivalent of it in Italic languages, tend to have the Chinese equivalent 聖/圣 (shèng), which ironically has both a similar pronunciation and identical meaning to the title.|
|San Diego||聖地亞哥||Shèngdìyàgē||Yes||No||N/A||United States|
|San Francisco||旧金山||Jiùjīnshān||No||No||Old Gold Mountain||United States||renamed by Chinese immigrants during the California Gold Rush|
|Santa Fe||聖塔菲||Shèngtǎfēi||Yes||No||N/A||United States|
|Sapporo||札幌||Zháhuăng||No||Yes||Placard Canopy||Japan||Orthographic transcription from Japanese kanji characters|
|Seoul||首爾||Shǒu'ěr||Yes||No||N/A||Korea||Seoul (Korean 서울) had no official hanja until 2005, until which 漢城 (Chinese Hànchéng, Korean Hanseong) was widely used. Hanseong was its name during the Joseon era until 1907, although Seoul has been in use since c.1882. 漢城 is still used, both in Chinese, as a transcription for Seoul, and Korean, as an unofficial transcription and as a separate toponym.|
|Seoul||漢城||Hànchéng||No||Yes||Han River City/Large City||Korea||See above|
|Tokyo||東京||Dōngjīng||No||Yes||East(ern) Capital||Japan||formerly known as Edo (江戸), or Jiānghù (江户) in Chinese, until Japan's capital moved from Kyoto to Tokyo in the Meiji era.|
|Washington, D.C.||华盛顿（特区）||Huáshèngdùn(tèqū)||Yes (first 3 characters)||No||Washington (Special District)||United States||refers specifically to Washington, D.C., as opposed to the State of Washington|
Nations and regions
|English name (supra- or sub-national units in italics)||Endonym in country's official language (Romanization)||Chinese||Pinyin||Transcription?||Meaning||Notes|
|Australia||澳大利亚||Àodàlìyà||Yes||N/A||澳 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "Australia"/"Australian".|
|California||加州||Jiāzhōu||Yes||N/A||contraction from 加利福尼亞州,
Mandarin Chinese Pinyin: Jiālìfúníyǎ zhōu
|Canada||加拿大||Jiānádà||Yes||N/A||加 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "Canada"/"Canadian".|
|Yes||N/A||See "United Kingdom" below|
|France||France||法国||Fǎguó||Yes||N/A||法 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "France"/"French".|
|Germany||Deutschland||德国||Déguó||Yes||N/A||德 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "Germany"/"German".|
|Italy||Italia||意大利||Yìdàlì||Yes||N/A||意 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "Italy"/"Italian".|
|Japan (日本)||Nippon or Nihon||日本||Rìběn||Yes (orthographically)||sun origin||Copied the Japanese kanji characters 日本 (Nippon) into Chinese, but 日本 is pronounced "rì běn" in standard Mandarin Chinese.|
|Korea, North||Chosŏn||朝鮮||Cháoxiǎn||Yes||morning calm|
|Korea, South||Hanguk||韓國||Hánguó||Yes||Han nation/ Han kingdom|
|India||Bhārat Gaṇarājya||印度||Yìndù||Yes||N/A||印 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "India"/"Indian" or Native American as in "American Indian".|
|Ireland||爱尔兰||Ài'ěrlán||Yes||N/A||爱 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "Ireland"/"Irish".|
|Nepal||Nepāl||尼泊尔||Níbó'ěr||Yes||N/A||尼 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "Nepal(ese)".|
|Yes||N/A||See "Ireland" above|
|Mongolia||Mongol Uls||蒙古||Ménggǔ||Yes||N/A||蒙 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean “Inner Mongolia”, an autonomous region in China, the sovereign nation of "(Outer) Mongolia", or "Mongolian".|
|Philippines||Pilipinas||菲律宾||Fěilǜbīn||Yes||N/A||菲 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "Philippines"/"Philippine"/"Filipino".|
|Russia||Rossija||俄罗斯||Éluósī||Yes||N/A||俄 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "Russia"/"Russian".|
|Southeast Asia||南洋||Nányáng||No||Southern ocean|
|Spain||España||西班牙||Xībānyá||Yes||N/A||西 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "Spain"/"Spanish".|
|Thailand||Prathet Thai||泰国||Táiguó||Yes||N/A||泰 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "Thai"/"Thailand".|
|United Kingdom||英国||Yīngguó||Yes||N/A||英 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "Britain"/"British"/"England"/"English".|
|United States||美国||Měiguó||Yes||N/A||美 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "America(n)".|
|Vietnam||Việt Nam||越南||Yuènán||Yes (orthographically)||Yue, south||Copied the ancient Vietnamese Chữ Nôm characters 越南 (Việt Nam) into Chinese, but 越南 is pronounced "yuè nán" in standard Mandarin Chinese.|
|Part of a series on|
|Historical Chinese exonyms|
|Byzantine Empire||佛菻||Fúlǐn||Friedrich Hirth surmised that Fulin may have been based on the accusative form of Constantinopolis in Greek, -polin in Constantinopolin, the Eastern Roman' Empire's capital city Constantinople. Using historical phonetic pronunciations of Cantonese and Japanese, Hirth also speculated that Fulin in Middle Chinese was pronounced Butlim or Butlam and came from the Syriac pronunciation for Bethlehem. While some scholars of the 20th century believed that Fulin was a transliteration of Ephrem, an ancient word for Israel, Samuel N. C. Lieu highlights how more recent scholarship has deduced that Fulin is most likely derived from the Persianate word for the Roman Empire shared by several contemporaneous Iranian languages (Middle Persian: hrwm; Parthian: frwm; Sogdian: ßr'wm-; Bactrian: фромо).|
|Egypt||海西||Haixi||"West of the Sea"|
|Emesa||汜復||Sifu||According to Hirth and Arkenberg|
|Europe||泰西||Tàixī||literally "Far West"|
|Ferghana||大宛||Dàyuān||Reconstructed from Middle Chinese pronunciation|
|India||天竺||Tiānzhú||Originally pronounced as Hin-duk 天竺 in Old Chinese , it comes from the Chinese transliteration of the Persian Hindu, which is itself derived from the Sanskrit Sindhu, the native name of the Indus River. Persians travelling in northwest India named the region after the river around the 6th century BC.Tianzhu is just one of several Chinese transliterations of Sindhu. Shēndú (身毒 OC n̥i[ŋ][d]ˤuk) appears in Sima Qian's Shiji and Tiandu (天篤) is used in the Hou Hanshu (Book of the Later Han). Yintejia (印特伽) comes from the Kuchean Indaka, another transliteration of Hindu.|
|Japan||倭||Wō||Pronounced Wa in Japanese; possibly a graphic pejorative|
|Petra||汜復||Sifu||According to John E. Hill, "an arm of a river which rejoins the main stream" or more aptly "rejoined water courses." He believes this is directly related to the reservoir and cistern flood-control system harnessing the many streams running through the settlement and nearby canyons, or wadis, such as the Wadi Musa ("Valley of Moses").|
|Roman Empire||大秦||Dàqín||literally "Great Qin"|
- "Error - blumine.net". blumine.net. Retrieved 2017-01-10.
- Lieu, Samuel N.C. (2013). "The 'Romanitas' of the Xi'an Inscription," p. 227, in Li Tang and Deitmer W. Winkler (eds), From the Oxus to the Chinese Shores: Studies on East Syriac Christianity in China and Central Asia. Zürich & Berlin: Lit Verlag. ISBN 978-3-643-90329-7.
- Hirth, Friedrich (1939) . China and the Roman Orient: Researches Into Their Ancient and Mediaeval Relations as Represented in Old Chinese Records (reprint ed.). Leipzig, Munich, Shanghai, & Hong Kong: Georg Hirth; Kelly & Walsh. pp. 286–290.
- Lieu (2013), pp 127-128.
- Cheung, Martha Pui Yiu (2014) . "Zan Ning (919–1001 CE), To Translate Means to Exchange". An Anthology of Chinese Discourse on Translation: From Earliest Times to the Buddhist Project. Routledge. p. 181. ISBN 978-1-317-63928-2.
- Yu, Taishan (November 2013). "China and the Ancient Mediterranean World: A Survey of Ancient Chinese Sources". Sino-Platonic Papers (242): 73.
- Yu, Huan (September 2004). John E. Hill, ed. "The Peoples of the West from the Weilue 魏略 by Yu Huan 魚豢: A Third Century Chinese Account Composed between 239 and 265, Quoted in zhuan 30 of the Sanguozhi, Published in 429 CE [Section 11 – Da Qin (Roman territory/Rome)]". Depts.washington.edu. Translated by John E. Hill. Retrieved 2016-09-17.