Exploring Geographies in Chinese: An Adventure of Phonetics and Characters. Chinese geography names.
Learning geography (地理, Dìlǐ) in Chinese can be a daunting task for English speakers, as both phonetic and character differences pose unique challenges. Unlike European languages, Chinese geography names often require the knowledge of specific characters, making it nearly impossible to recognize locations without prior understanding. In this article, we will explore these challenges by using simplified Chinese characters, pinyin, and traditional characters for specific locations such as Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan. To start, let’s familiarize ourselves with some basic vocabulary: mountain (山, Shān), country (国家, Guójiā), and city (城市, Chéngshì).
II. Greater China: Geographical Names
Greater China (大中华地区, Dà Zhōnghuá Dìqū) consists of several key areas: Macao (澳门, 澳門, Àomén), Hong Kong (香港, 香港, Xiānggǎng), Taiwan (台湾, 台灣, Táiwān), and mainland China (中国大陆, Zhōngguó Dàlù). Mainland China is divided into tier 1 (一线城市, Yīxiàn Chéngshì), tier 2 (二线城市, Èrxiàn Chéngshì), and tier 3 (三线城市, Sānxiàn Chéngshì) cities, with tier 1 cities being the most developed and economically advanced. Coastal provinces (沿海省份, Yánhǎi Shěngfèn) include Guangdong (广东, Guǎngdōng), Zhejiang (浙江, Zhèjiāng), Fujian (福建, Fújiàn), Jiangsu (江苏, Jiāngsū), Shandong (山东, Shāndōng), and Liaoning (辽宁, Liáoníng), while inland provinces (内陆省份, Nèilù Shěngfèn) comprise Sichuan (四川, Sìchuān), Hebei (河北, Héběi), Henan (河南, Hénán), Hunan (湖南, Húnán), and Anhui (安徽, Ānhuī). Note that Hebei has a small area of coastline.
The northeastern region, Dongbei (东北, Dōngběi), includes the provinces of Liaoning, Jilin (吉林, Jílín), and Heilongjiang (黑龙江, Hēilóngjiāng). Major cities in Greater China are Beijing (北京, Běijīng), Shanghai (上海, Shànghǎi), Guangzhou (广州, Guǎngzhōu), Hangzhou (杭州, Hángzhōu), Nanjing (南京, Nánjīng), and Chengdu (成都, Chéngdū).
For Taiwan, the traditional character for “Tai” is 臺. Major Taiwanese cities like Taipei (台北, 臺北, Táiběi) and Kaohsiung (高雄, 高雄, Gāoxióng) use traditional characters in addition to simplified characters.
III. China’s Neighboring Countries
Bordering countries (邻国, Línguó) share a direct boundary with China. China has 14 neighboring countries, each with varying border lengths and capital cities. These countries are:
- Afghanistan (阿富汗, Āfùhàn) – 76 km border; capital: Kabul (喀布尔, Kābù’ěr)
- Bhutan (不丹, Bùdān) – 470 km border; capital: Thimphu (廷布, Tíngbù)
- India (印度, Yìndù) – 3,488 km border; capital: New Delhi (新德里, Xīndélǐ)
- Kazakhstan (哈萨克斯坦, Hāsàkèsītǎn) – 1,533 km border; capital: Nur-Sultan (努尔苏丹, Nǔ’ěrsūdān)
- Kyrgyzstan (吉尔吉斯斯坦, Jí’ěrjísītǎn) – 1,063 km border; capital: Bishkek (比什凯克, Bǐshénkǎikè)
- Laos (老挝, Lǎowō) – 423 km border; capital: Vientiane (万象, Wànxiàng)
- Mongolia (蒙古, Ménggǔ) – 4,677 km border; capital: Ulaanbaatar (乌兰巴托, Wūlánbātuō)
- Myanmar (缅甸, Miǎndiàn) – 2,185 km border; capital: Naypyidaw (内比都, Nèibǐdū)
- Nepal (尼泊尔, Níbó’ěr) – 1,389 km border; capital: Kathmandu (加德满都, Jiādémǎndū)
- North Korea (朝鲜, Cháoxiǎn) – 1,416 km border; capital: Pyongyang (平壤, Píngrǎng)
- Pakistan (巴基斯坦, Bājīsītǎn) – 523 km border; capital: Islamabad (伊斯兰堡, Yīsīlánbǎo)
- Russia (俄罗斯, Éluósī) – 4,209 km border; capital: Moscow (莫斯科, Mòsīkē)
- Tajikistan (塔吉克斯坦, Tǎjíkèsītǎn) – 414 km border; capital: Dushanbe (杜尚别, Dùshàngbié)
- Vietnam (越南, Yuènán) – 1,297 km border; capital: Hanoi (河内, Hénèi)
In addition to these bordering countries, Japan (日本, Rìběn) and South Korea (韩国, Hánguó) are also important neighbors in East Asia. Japan’s capital is Tokyo (东京, Dōngjīng), while South Korea’s capital is Seoul (首尔, Shǒu’er). Though Japan and South Korea do not share a direct border with China, they are geographically close and play significant roles in the region. More information about Japan, including its regions and cities, will be provided later in this article.
IV. Southeast Asia: Countries and Cities in Chinese
This paragraph introduces Southeast Asian countries and cities, some of which, such as Kuala Lumpur, have large overseas Chinese populations. Southeast Asia (东南亚, Dōngnányà) is a diverse region, while overseas Chinese population (华侨人口, Huáqiáo rénkǒu) refers to the Chinese diaspora living outside of China.
The countries and cities in Southeast Asia include:
- Indonesia (印度尼西亚, Yìndùníxīyà) – Capital: Jakarta (雅加达, Yǎjiādá)
- Major cities: Surabaya (泗水, Sìshuǐ), Medan (棉兰, Miánlán)
- Thailand (泰国, Tàiguó) – Capital: Bangkok (曼谷, Màngǔ)
- Major cities: Chiang Mai (清迈, Qīngmài), Pattaya (芭堤雅, Bādìyǎ)
- Malaysia (马来西亚, Mǎláixīyà) – Capital: Kuala Lumpur (吉隆坡, Jílóngpō)
- Major cities: Penang (槟城, Bīnchéng), Johor Bahru (新山, Xīnshān)
- Philippines (菲律宾, Fēilǜbīn) – Capital: Manila (马尼拉, Mǎnílā)
- Major cities: Cebu (宿务, Sùwù), Davao (达沃, Dáwò)
- Myanmar (缅甸, Miǎndiàn) – Capital: Naypyidaw (内比都, Nèibǐdū)
- Major cities: Yangon (仰光, Yǎngguāng), Mandalay (曼德勒, Màndélè)
- Vietnam (越南, Yuènán) – Capital: Hanoi (河内, Hénèi)
- Major cities: Ho Chi Minh City (胡志明市, Húzhìmíng Shì), Da Nang (岘港, Xiàngǎng)
- Cambodia (柬埔寨, Jiǎnpǔzhài) – Capital: Phnom Penh (金边, Jīnbiān)
- Major cities: Siem Reap (暹粒, Xiánlì), Sihanoukville (西哈努克市, Xīhànùkè Shì)
- Laos (老挝, Lǎowō) – Capital: Vientiane (万象, Wànxiàng)
- Major cities: Luang Prabang (琅勃拉邦, Lángbólābāng), Savannakhet (沙湾拿喀, Shāwānàkē)
- Singapore (新加坡, Xīnjiāpō) – Capital: Singapore (新加坡, Xīnjiāpō)
Sometimes, Indonesia is also referred to as 印尼 (Yìnní) in Chinese, which is an abbreviation of the full name 印度尼西亚 (Yìndùníxīyà).
V. Major Countries and Cities in Europe, North America, South America, Africa, and Oceania in Chinese
This section introduces the names of major countries and cities in Europe (欧洲, Ōuzhōu), North America (北美洲, Běiměizhōu), South America and Latin America (南美洲, Nánměizhōu; 拉丁美洲, Lādīng Měizhōu), Africa (非洲, Fēizhōu), and Oceania (大洋洲, Dàyángzhōu).
Europe (欧洲, Ōuzhōu):
- France (法国, Fǎguó) – Capital: Paris (巴黎, Bālí)
- Largest cities: Paris (巴黎, Bālí), Lyon (里昂, Lǐ’áng), Marseille (马赛, Mǎsài)
- Germany (德国, Déguó) – Capital: Berlin (柏林, Bólín)
- Largest cities: Berlin (柏林, Bólín), Hamburg (汉堡, Hànbǎo), Munich (慕尼黑, Mùníhēi)
- United Kingdom (英国, Yīngguó) – Capital: London (伦敦, Lúndūn)
- Largest cities: London (伦敦, Lúndūn), Birmingham (伯明翰, Bómínghàn), Manchester (曼彻斯特, Mànchèsītè)
- Italy (意大利, Yìdàlì) – Capital: Rome (罗马, Luómǎ)
- Largest cities: Rome (罗马, Luómǎ), Milan (米兰, Mǐlán), Naples (那不勒斯, Nàbùlèsī)
- Spain (西班牙, Xībānyá) – Capital: Madrid (马德里, Mǎdélǐ)
- Largest cities: Madrid (马德里, Mǎdélǐ), Barcelona (巴塞罗那, Bāsāiluónà), Valencia (瓦伦西亚, Wǎlúnxīyà)
North America (北美洲, Běiměizhōu):
- United States of America (美国, Měiguó) – Capital: Washington, D.C. (华盛顿, Huáshèngdùn)
- Largest cities: New York City (纽约, Niǔyuē), Los Angeles (洛杉矶, Luòshānjī), Chicago (芝加哥, Zhījiāgē)
- States: California (加利福尼亚州, Jiālìfúníyàzhōu), Texas (德克萨斯州, Dékèsàsīzhōu), Florida (佛罗里达州, Fóluólǐdázhōu)
2. Canada (加拿大, Jiānádà) – Capital: Ottawa (渥太华, Wòtàihuá)
- Largest cities: Toronto (多伦多, Duōlúnduō), Montreal (蒙特利尔, Méngtèlìěr), Vancouver (温哥华, Wēngēhuá)
South America and Latin America (南美洲, Nánměizhōu; 拉丁美洲, Lādīng Měizhōu):
- Colombia (哥伦比亚, Gēlúnbǐyà) – Capital: Bogotá (波哥大, Bōgēdà)
- Largest cities: Bogotá (波哥大, Bōgēdà), Medellín (麦德林, Màidélín), Cali (卡利, Kǎlì)
- Mexico (墨西哥, Mòxīgē) – Capital: Mexico City (墨西哥城, Mòxīgē Chéng)
- Largest cities: Mexico City (墨西哥城, Mòxīgē Chéng), Guadalajara (瓜达拉哈拉, Guādálāhālā), Monterrey (蒙特雷, Méngtèléi)
- Argentina (阿根廷, Āgēntíng) – Capital: Buenos Aires (布宜诺斯艾利斯, Bùyínóusī Àilìsī)
- Largest cities: Buenos Aires (布宜诺斯艾利斯, Bùyínóusī Àilìsī), Córdoba (科尔多瓦, Kē’ěrduōwǎ), Rosario (罗萨里奥, Luósàlǐ’ào)
- Brazil (巴西, Bāxī) – Capital: Brasília (巴西利亚, Bāxīlìyà)
- Largest cities: São Paulo (圣保罗, Shèngbǎoluó), Rio de Janeiro (里约热内卢, Lǐyuērènèilú), Salvador (萨尔瓦多, Sà’ěrwǎduō)
Africa (非洲, Fēizhōu):
- Morocco (摩洛哥, Móluògē) – Capital: Rabat (拉巴特, Lābātè)
- Largest cities: Casablanca (卡萨布兰卡, Kǎsàbùlánkǎ), Rabat (拉巴特, Lābātè), Marrakesh (马拉喀什, Mǎlākāshí)
- Egypt (埃及, Āijí) – Capital: Cairo (开罗, Kāiluó)
- Largest cities: Cairo (开罗, Kāiluó), Alexandria (亚历山大, Yàlìshāndà), Giza (吉萨, Jísà)
- South Africa (南非, Nánfēi) – Capital: Pretoria (比勒陀利亚, Bǐlètuōlìyà)
- Largest cities: Johannesburg (约翰内斯堡, Yuēhàn Nèisībǎo), Cape Town (开普敦, Kāipǔdūn), Durban (德班, Débān)
Oceania (大洋洲, Dàyángzhōu):
- Australia (澳大利亚, Àodàlìyà) – Capital: Canberra (堪培拉, Kānpéilā)
- Largest cities: Sydney (悉尼, Xīní), Melbourne (墨尔本, Mò’ěrběn), Brisbane (布里斯班, Bùlǐsībān)
- New Zealand (新西兰, Xīnxīlán) – Capital: Wellington (惠灵顿, Huìlíngdùn)
- Largest cities: Auckland (奥克兰, Àokèlán), Wellington (惠灵顿, Huìlíngdùn), Christchurch (基督城, Jīdūchéng)
These are some of the major countries and cities in Europe, North America, South America, Africa, and Oceania. This basic vocabulary can help you understand and discuss geographical names in Chinese, making your language learning journey more exciting and engaging.
VI. Phonetic Similarities and Differences
In this section, we explore how some geographical names in Chinese sound similar to their English counterparts, while others are quite different. We will also look at cases where Chinese names are similar-sounding and how Japanese cities and islands have unique pronunciations.
- Similar Sounding Names in English and Chinese:
- Berlin (柏林, Bólín)
- London (伦敦, Lúndūn)
- Moscow (莫斯科, Mòsīkē)
- Different Sounding Names in English and Chinese:
- Korea (韩国, Hánguó)
- Bangkok (曼谷, Màngǔ)
- Similar Sounding Words in Chinese:
- Bali (Island) (巴厘岛, Bālídǎo) and Paris (巴黎, Bālí)
- Mexico (墨西哥, Mòxīgē) and Moscow (莫斯科, Mòsīkē)
- Japanese Cities and Islands:
- Tokyo (東京, Dōngjīng) – different from the Japanese pronunciation Tōkyō
- Osaka (大阪, Dàbǎn) – different from the Japanese pronunciation Ōsaka
- Yokohama (横滨, Héngbīn) – different from the Japanese pronunciation Yokohama
- Nagoya (名古屋, Mínggǔwū) – different from the Japanese pronunciation Nagoya
- Sapporo (札幌, Zháhuǎng) – different from the Japanese pronunciation Sapporo
- Honshu (本州, Běnzhōu) – different from the Japanese pronunciation Honshū
- Hokkaido (北海道, Běihǎidào) – different from the Japanese pronunciation Hokkaidō
- Kyushu (九州, Jiǔzhōu) – different from the Japanese pronunciation Kyūshū
In this section, we have explored the phonetic similarities and differences between English and Chinese geographical names. It is crucial to be aware of these variations when learning Chinese, as they can help avoid confusion and enhance communication.
VII. Japanese Geographical Names in Chinese
Japanese geographical names, such as cities, islands, and provinces, often use similar or the same characters in Chinese. Some examples include:
- Tokyo (東京, Dōngjīng)
- Osaka (大阪, Dàbǎn)
- Mount Fuji (富士山, Fùshìshān)
Japan’s main islands also share characters with their Chinese counterparts:
- Honshu (本州, Běnzhōu)
- Hokkaido (北海道, Běihǎidào)
- Okinawa (冲绳, Chōngshéng)
- Shikoku (四国, Sìguó)
- Kyushu (九州, Jiǔzhōu)
These examples demonstrate the connections between Chinese and Japanese geographical names, with shared characters often conveying similar meanings.
VIII. Continents in Chinese
In Chinese, the term for continents (大洲, dàzhōu) is used to describe the large landmasses that make up the world (世界, shìjiè). Here are the names of the continents in Chinese:
- Asia (亚洲, Yàzhōu)
- Africa (非洲, Fēizhōu)
- Europe (欧洲, Ōuzhōu)
- North America (北美洲, Běiměizhōu)
- South America (南美洲, Nánměizhōu)
- Australia (澳洲, Àozhōu) – Note that this term refers to both the continent of Australia and the country.
- Antarctica (南极洲, Nánjízhōu)
By familiarizing yourself with the Chinese names of the continents, you can further enhance your understanding of global geography in the context of the Chinese language.
IX. Oceans, Lakes, Seas, Salt Lakes, and Rivers in Chinese
In Chinese, different terms are used to describe bodies of water: 海 (hǎi) for seas and oceans, 湖 (hú) for lakes, and 洋 (yáng) for the open ocean. Let’s explore the Chinese names for major oceans, lakes, seas, salt lakes, and rivers around the world.
- Pacific Ocean (太平洋, Tàipíngyáng)
- Atlantic Ocean (大西洋, Dàxīyáng)
- Indian Ocean (印度洋, Yìndùyáng)
- Baltic Sea (波罗的海, Bōluódì Hǎi)
- North Sea (北海, Běihǎi)
- South China Sea (南海, Nánhǎi)
- East China Sea (东海, Dōnghǎi)
- Yellow Sea (黄海, Huánghǎi)
- Bohai Sea (渤海, Bóhǎi)
- Black Sea (黑海, Hēihǎi)
- Mediterranean Sea (地中海, Dìzhōnghǎi)
- Lake Baikal (贝加尔湖, Bèijiā’ěr Hú)
- Khuvsgul Lake (库苏古尔湖, Kùsūgǔ’ěr Hú)
- Qinghai Lake (青海湖, Qīnghǎi Hú)
- West Lake (西湖, Xī Hú)
- Caspian Sea (里海, Lǐhǎi)
- Lake Titicaca (的的喀喀湖, Dídíkēkē Hú)
- Poyang Lake (鄱阳湖, Póyáng Hú)
- Great Salt Lake (大盐湖, Dà Yán Hú)
- Uyuni Salt Lake (乌尤尼盐湖, Wūyóuní Yán Hú)
- Ganges (恒河, Héng Hé)
- Amazon (亚马逊河, Yàmǎxùn Hé)
- Nile (尼罗河, Níluó Hé)
- Rhine (莱茵河, Láiyīn Hé)
- Danube (多瑙河, Duōnǎo Hé)
- Volga (伏尔加河, Fú’ěrjiā Hé)
- Seine (塞纳河, Sènà Hé)
- Mississippi (密西西比河, Mìxīxībǐ Hé)
- Mekong (湄公河, Méigōng Hé)
- Yangtze (长江, Chángjiāng)
- Yellow River (黄河, Huánghé)
- Indus River (印度河, Yìndù Hé)
- Irrawaddy (伊洛瓦底江, Yīluòwǎdǐ Jiāng)
X. Mountain Ranges and Mountains in Mandarin
China boasts a diverse landscape, featuring numerous mountain ranges and peaks. In this section, we will explore the Chinese names of famous mountains and mountain ranges in China and around the world.
- Himalayas (喜马拉雅山脉, Xǐmǎlāyǎ Shānmài) – Home to Mount Everest (珠穆朗玛峰, Zhūmùlǎngmǎ Fēng, 8,848 meters), the world’s highest peak
- Andes (安第斯山脉, Āndìsī Shānmài) – The longest continental mountain range in the world
- Alps (阿尔卑斯山脉, Ā’ěrbēisī Shānmài) – A significant mountain range in Europe
- Rocky Mountains (落基山脉, Luòjī Shānmài) – A major mountain range in North America
China’s famous mountains include:
- Mount Tai (泰山, Tàishān, 1,545 meters) – One of the Five Great Mountains of China, located in Shandong Province
- Mount Hua (华山, Huàshān, 2,154 meters) – Known for its steep and narrow paths, located in Shaanxi Province
- Mount Huang (黄山, Huángshān, 1,864 meters) – Famous for its unique granite peaks and ancient pine trees, located in Anhui Province
- Mount Emei (峨眉山, Éméishān, 3,099 meters) – A UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains of China, located in Sichuan Province
- Tai Mo Shan (大帽山, Dàmào Shān, 957 meters) – The highest peak in Hong Kong
- Jade Mountain (玉山, Yùshān, 3,952 meters) – The highest mountain in Taiwan
- Snow Mountain (雪山, Xuěshān, 3,886 meters) – The second highest mountain in Taiwan
Other notable mountains around the world:
- Mount Kilimanjaro (乞力马扎罗山, Qǐlìmǎzhāluó Shān, 5,895 meters) – Africa’s highest peak
- Mount McKinley (麦金利山, Màijīnlì Shān, 6,190 meters) – Also known as Denali, the highest peak in North America
- Mont Blanc (勃朗峰, Bólǎng Fēng, 4,808 meters) – The highest peak in the Alps and Western Europe
- Mount Fuji (富士山, Fùshì Shān, 3,776 meters) – Japan’s highest and most iconic mountain
- Mount Kinabalu (神山, Shénshān, 4,095 meters) – The highest peak in Southeast Asia, located in Malaysia
- Aconcagua (阿空加瓜山, Ākōngjiāguā Shān, 6,959 meters) – The highest peak in South America, located in Argentina
Understanding Chinese terms for mountains:
In Chinese, there are several terms used to describe different aspects of mountains, hills, and their features. Understanding these terms can help in recognizing and differentiating various geographical elements:
- 峰 (Fēng) refers to a peak, which is the highest point of a mountain.
- 山 (Shān) denotes a mountain, a prominent landform that typically rises above its surroundings.
- 丘 (Qiū) represents a hill, which is a smaller and lower landform compared to a mountain.
- 山脉 (Shānmài) is used to describe a mountain range, a series of mountains connected by high ground.
- 山脊 (Shānjǐ) represents a ridge, a long, narrow elevated land formation that separates adjacent valleys or basins.
- 山口 (Shānkǒu) indicates a mountain pass, a navigable route through a mountain range or over a ridge.
It is interesting to note that many geographical names, such as country and province names, contain the character for mountain (山). Some examples include:
- 山东省 (Shāndōng Shěng) – Shandong Province
- 山西省 (Shānxī Shěng) – Shanxi Province
- 阿富汗 (Āfùhàn) – Afghanistan, where “汗” is a phonetic approximation and “阿富” means rich or abundant, giving the sense of a mountainous, rich land.
By familiarizing yourself with these Chinese terms, you can better understand and appreciate the geography described in Chinese texts.
XI. Conclusion and Learning Strategies
In this article, we explored the fascinating world of Chinese geography, covering a wide range of geographical names in Chinese, including continents, oceans, lakes, seas, mountains, and cities. We also discussed phonetic similarities and differences between Chinese and English geographical names, as well as the various terms related to mountains.
To effectively learn Chinese geography, you can employ various strategies:
- Look at maps on the internet that display Chinese characters. This will help you visualize the geographical names and their Chinese counterparts.
- Practice describing places you have visited or want to visit in Chinese to your mirror image. This exercise will help you internalize the new vocabulary.
- Attend language exchange meetups and engage in conversations about geography. Share your favorite places and ask questions to practice your Chinese skills.
Here are some questions you can use during conversations to practice your Chinese:
- 你迄今为止完成的最好的徒步旅行是什么？(Nǐ qìjīn wéizhǐ wánchéng de zuì hǎo de túbù lǚxíng shì shénme?) – Which was the best hike you have done so far?
- 你最想乘坐游轮游览哪条河？(Nǐ zuì xiǎng chéngzuò yóulún yóulǎn nǎ tiáo hé?) – What river would you love to go on a cruise on?
- 在你生活中有没有一座特别的山？(Zài nǐ shēnghuó zhōng yǒu méiyǒu yī zuò tèbié de shān?) – Do you have a mountain that has a special meaning in your life?
- 世界上你最喜欢的城市是哪一个？(Shìjiè shàng nǐ zuì xǐhuān de chéngshì shì nǎ yīgè?) – Which is your favorite city in the world?
- 与法国接壤的国土面积最大的国家是哪个？(Yǔ Fǎguó jiērǎng de guótǔ miànjī zuìdà de guójiā shì nǎge?) – Which country has the largest land border with France? (Hint: it is Brazil).
By incorporating these learning strategies into your routine, you can effectively expand your knowledge of Chinese geography and boost your language skills. Happy exploring!