A brief about Chinese cultural geography

For quite some time now, I have been yearning to learn more about the ‘Middle Kingdom’.  And I was delighted to set my eyes on John Keay’s authoritative work on China: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3896708-china

China is a country where the cultural and historical leanings still play an important role in the domain of domestic and foreign policies. While the first emperor is still held highly by the Chinese, the last emperor is largely forgotten. Also, as the propaganda http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticize_Lin,_Criticize_Confucius indicates, the cultural icon – Confucius was maligned and similarities drawn up between Lian Bao and Confucius to validate the Marxist interpretaion of history. Hence, it comes as no surprise that the long history of this nation has been written and rewritten many times to legitimize the ruling powers.

About the Chinese geography, thankfully and not surprisingly, many of the places’ names are indicative of their geographic locations. There are a few quick formulae to associate the names with their locations on the map. The words ‘Bei, Dong, Naan and Xi’ stand for the four directions: North, East, West, South. The word Shan means mountains. A combination of these words gives us the names of a few provinces:

1. Shandong – which from the formula given above translates to ‘east of the mountains’. The mountains here refer to the Taihang Mountains. This province lies at the base of the fertile Yellow River Delta and has played a major role in the Chinese civilization. The province is also a pivotal site for Taoism, Chinese Buddhism and Confucianism.

2. Shanxi – would translate to ‘mountain west’ – and thus lies on the west of the Taihang Mountains.

3. To the west of Shanxi lies Shaanxi (yes! they are different!) – named so as it lies to the west of a district called Shaanzhou.

3. The Yellow River is known as the ‘Hwang He’ and it yields names of two more provinces: ‘He-bei’ and ‘He-Naan’.

Together the five provinces form the cradle of the Chinese civilization.

Another important river in China is the Yangzi. The river forms huge lakes in the central China. The chinese word ‘Hu’ means lakes. Thus, we get two more provinces – one to the north of Yangzi called Hubei and the other to the south meaning Hunaan. To the south lie two provinces names Guangdong (on the east) and Guangxi (to its west). Along the coast and to the north of Guangdong lie the provinces of Fujian, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Zhejiang and Anhui which unfortunately have no directional nomenclature. along with Sichuan and Guizhou, all the territories mentioned above including the ‘cradle’ provinces together form the core of Chinese territories.

The provinces of China
The provinces of China

The remaining 11 provinces which include Xinjiang, Tibet, Taiwan, Nei Mongol, the three provinces of Manchuria etc. are the outer territories and these have had significant repute of tumult with the core Chinese civilizations throughout history.

The word Beijing itself translates to the ‘North Capital’. Its mirror image – Nanjing or the ‘south capital’ lies in the Jingsu province.

I will end this post now. Hopefully I am able to relate at least some of these names to their cartographical positions.



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