Place names in China

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Place names in China primarily refers to Han Chinese names, but also to those used by China's minorities.


In his study of place-names in China, J. E. Spencer notes that "although Chinese names indicate both domestic cultural and geographical influences, they almost never indicate cultural influence from other parts of the world",[1] a tendency that also appeared to be characteristic of Chinese place-names in Singapore.[2]

Tibetan, Mongolian, Uighur and tribal minorities of China's names are phonetically transcribed into Chinese.[3]

In Chinese grammar[edit]

Names for places in China, when referred to in Chinese contain a class identifier. In English this is often translated, while the rest of the name is not. The class identifier in Chinese is placed at the end, in English with the exceptions of mountains and lakes the identifier is placed at the end too. For names of lakes and mountains "X Lake" [4] / "Lake X" and "X Mountain" / "Mount X" both is used.

Some mountain ranges like Tian Shan are referred to English by the Chinese name. "Tian" means sky or heaven and "Shan" means mountain(s), so Tian Shan literally translates as the "Heaven Mountains".

List of class names[edit]

E = English, C = Chinese, P = Pinyin

Group Class (E) Class (C) Class (P) Example (E) Example (P)
Administrative Autonomous Region 自治区 Zìzhìqū Tibet Autonomous Region Xīzàng Zìzhìqū
Administrative Province Shěng Hebei Province Héběi Shěng
Administrative County 县 / 縣 -xian She County, Hebei Shè Xiàn
Administrative Province (archaic) -zhou Guizhou
Administrative Autonomous county 自治县 Zìzhìxiàn Dachang Hui Autonomous County
Administrative City Shì Chengdu City Chéngdū Shì
Administrative District Bincheng District Bīnchéng Qū
Administrative League Méng Alxa League Ālāshàn Méng
Administrative Autonomous banner 自治旗 Zìzhìqí Evenk Autonomous Banner Èwēnkèzú Zìzhìqí
Landform Mountains 山脉 Ailao Mountains Āiláo Shān
Landform Mountain Shān Tianmu Mountain Tiānmù Shān
Landform Peak Feng
Landform Island Dǎo Liugong Island Liúgōng Dǎo
Landform Plateau 草原 Cǎoyuán Bashang Plateau Bàshàng Cǎoyuán
Landform Peninsula 半岛 bàn dǎo Shandong Peninsula Shāndōng bàn dǎo
Landform Valley 沟 (formally 峡) Insukati Valley
Landform Pass Guān Kunlun Pass Kūnlún Guān
Landform Desert 沙漠 Shāmò Taklamakan Desert Tǎkèlāmǎgān Shāmò
Landform Gorge Xiá Wu Gorge Wū Xiá
Landform Basin 盆地 Péndì Tarim Basin Tǎlǐmù Péndì
Landform Cave Dòng Xianren Cave Xiānrén Dòng
Landform Plain 平原 Píngyuán Chengdu Plain Chéngdū Píngyuán
Landform Rock 磯/矶 Swallow Rock Yànzi Jī
Landform/Water Glacier 冰川 bīnchuān Mingyong Glacier
Landform/Water Spring Quán Baimai Spring Bǎi Mài Quán
Landform/Water Waterfall 瀑布 Pù Bù Hukou Waterfall Hǔ Kǒu Pù Bù
Landform/Water River Huai River Huái Hé
Landform/Water River Jiāng Chang River Cháng Jiāng
Landform/Water Lake Ayding Lake Àidīng Hú
Landform/Water Sea, X Gulf Hǎi Bohai Sea Bó Hăi
Landform/Water Bay Wān Bohai Bay Bóhǎi Wān
Landform/Water Strait 海峡 hǎixiá Taiwan Strait
Landform/Water Reservoir 水库 Shuǐkù Jiangkou Reservoir Jiāngkǒu Shuǐkù
Landform/Water Harbour Gang Hong Kong Xiānggǎng


Chinese reckon five directions:

  • East: 东, Dong — e.g., Guangdong (广东), "Eastern Part of the Expanse"
  • West: 西, Xi — e.g., Xi'an (西安), "Western Pacified Area"
  • South: 南, Nan — e.g., Hainan (海南), "South of the Sea"
  • North: 北, Bei — e.g., Beijing (北京), "Northern Capital"
  • Central/Middle: 中, Zhong —e.g., Hanzhong (汉中), "Middle of the Han"

From the early concept of yin and yang (阴 and 阳), originally based upon exposure to the sun, many placenames also incorporate them. Old Luoyang was located on the north bank of the Luo. Old Hanyang was located on the north bank of the Han, while the eponymous county seat of Hanyin was located on the south bank. When a placename is derived from a mountain, however, these positions are reversed: the yang side is the mountain's south face and the yin side its north.


  1. ^ Spencer, Joseph Earle (1941). Chinese Place Names and the Appreciation of Geographic Realities. p. 77.
  2. ^ Yeoh, Brenda S. A. (2013). Contesting Space in Colonial Singapore: Power Relations and the Urban Built Environment. p. 232. OCLC 868218855.
  3. ^ Ryavec, Karl E. (1994). "Important New Sources for the Study of Tibetan Geography: An Analysis of a Recent Chinese County Place Name Index of Dzamthang in Eastern Tibet". Central Asiatic Journal. 38 (2): 222. JSTOR 41927981.
  4. ^ - Ministry of Water Resources