Inspired by Gorgonzola
's mammoth effort above, I present a list of the one character
abbreviations in use for each of the provinces of the PRC, (plus some like Taiwan
they'd like back). You'll see these used in the newspapers, especially headlines which are made short and snappy like in English, but the most common sightings will be on motor vehicle license plates
. So now if you're the victim of a hit and run
when visiting China, you'll at least be able to narrow the search for the culprit down to one province.
Anhui 皖 wan Name of an ancient state of the Spring and Autumn period, centred on Qianshan County (潜山县) in what is now the north of this province.
Beijing 京 jing The character means 'capital city'. China's capital has moved many times over the years. During the Nationalist era the capital was at Nanjing (moving a few times due to war). Beijing was then known as Beiping/Peiping (北平). It regained its status as the nation's capital with the founding of the People's Republic, when the name was again changed.
Chongqing 渝 yu Another name for the Jialing River (嘉陵江), which runs through Chongqing. Chongqing was formerly part of Sichuan Province. It was given its present status as a 直辖市 (zhixia shi - municipality with provincial status 'directly under the central Government') in 1997.
Fujian 闽 min The name of a river in the province and also an ancient local tribe. One local dialect, shared with Taiwan, is called 闽南话 (minnanhua).
Gansu 甘 gan The first character of the full province name 甘肃. Dull but true. However, the province contains Dunhuang, much of what was the Tibetan region of Kham and the world's biggest herd of white yak, so is not dull at all. The capital Lanzhou is a hole though.
Guangdong 粤 yue Originally the name of the local indigenous tribe. The current phrase 两粤 liang Yue ('the two Yue regions') refers to both Guangdong and Guangxi, their former home.
Guangxi 桂 gui The cassia bark tree. The famous beauty spot Guilin 桂林 ('cassia grove') is in Guangxi, as its now more popular neighbour Yangshuo (阳朔).
Guizhou 黔 qian The name of an administrative division of the Qin Dynasty which included much of what is now Guizhou as well as parts of neighbouring Sichuan. There's a famous classical story about the man who brings the first donkey to Qian (in 柳宗元《三戒》), but that'll have to wait for another write up.
Hainan 琼 qiong Means 'fine jade'. This is thus a bit like Ireland being called 'the Emerald Isle' (Hainan is an island off the south coast). The local tourist board probably preferred it to 'ex malarial, pirate-infested swamp; now sex tourism capital of China', and any way, that'd take more than one character to say. But I digress.
Hebei 冀 ji A Warring States (475 BC - 221) BC era kingdom in the area.
Henan 豫 yu Can't find the origins of this yet I'm afraid, but I do know this is where you'll find the Shaolin Temple 少林寺. Not that that's really relevant. I'll update if I can find out more.
Heilongjiang 黑 hei Another dull one. Heilongjiang (in Manchuria) has changed its borders at lot over the years. It took its present form in 1954 when the former provinces of Hinggan (兴安 Xing'an) and Nenjiang (嫩江) were incorporated into it, if you don't count a bit in the northwest which has been swapped back and forth with Inner Mongolia a couple of times.
Hubei 鄂 e Another ancient kingdom, centred on what is now Qinyang County (沁阳县). Pronounced more like the English expression of disgust 'eurgh' than the raver drug MDMA, but this shouldn't be taken as any slight on the place.
Hunan 湘 xiang The name of a major river running through the province. One of my favourite Chinese authors 沈从文 (Shen Congwen) grew up here, and wrote marvellous short stories about the local river people and Miao tribesmen. Also the home province of Mao Zedong, a minor landlord's son from 韶山 (Shaoshan) who went on to achieve a certain notoriety.
Jilin 吉 ji Again the first character of the name, meaning 'auspiscious' or 'lucky'. Not so lucky in 1931 when the Japanese Imperial Army invaded and established the puppet state of Manchukuo, with its capital at Changchun (长春).
Jiangsu 苏 su The second part of the province name, the character means 'to revive', but is used here because it is the first character in the city name Suzhou (苏州). Jiangsu took its present name back in 1667 when it was formed out of the old 江南 (Jiangnan) province, a combination of Jiangning (江宁 now Nanjing) and Suzhou, the two principle cities. Sometimes also known as 吴 (Wu) after the Three Kingdoms state centred here.
Jiangxi 赣 gan A river in the province.
Liaoning 辽 liao The Liao Dynasty (907-1125) was founded by the Khitan, nomadic pastoralists from the Siramuren Valley in what is now this province. They used the Chinese name (which means 'broad expanse') for their grassland home when they captured the then capital Kaifeng in 907 and set up their own ruling dynasty, adopting the culture and institutions of their new subjects. Jacques Gernet in his shelf-bending 'A History of Chinese Civilization' blames their subsequent adoption of Buddhism for a decline in the martial vigour required for the job as cruel feudal overlords.
Inner Mongolia 蒙 meng 蒙古 (menggu) means Mongolia, and is used for both the independent state, which the Chinese often refer to as 'Outer Mongolia' (外蒙 - for many years the Nationalist government in Taiwan still counted this as part of China, which was amusing since you'd think they'd start on getting the country back first before claiming former colonies), and the part lucky enough to benefit from the enlightened rule of the Chinese Communist Party. Read this webpage for one Mongol person's account of how marvellous this has been.
Ningxia 宁 ning Now an 'Autonomous Region' this small province is home to many Hui, who although counted as a 'national minority' are mostly ethnically Han but are Muslims. They love being subjects of the PRC too. Their various uprisings were mostly conducted in a spirit of fun.
Qinghai 青 qing Mostly what was the Tibetan province of Amdo but including some bits of Kham for good measure too. The Dalai Lama was born here. The Chinese name (literally 'blue lake') refers to the famous Koko-Nor.
Shandong 鲁 lu Another Warring States period kingdom, but with the rather significant claim to fame of being the home of Confucius.
Shanxi 晋 jin A state in the Zhou dynasty (c.1066 BC to 221 BC) that included Southern Shanxi; later the name of a dynasty founded by Sima Yan 司马炎 265-420; also a name of one of the Five Dynasties 936-946.
Shaanxi 陕 shan Just a place name I'm afraid. Don't confuse it with the identically pronounced 疝 which means a swelling of the scrotum.
Shanghai 沪 hu The name given to the lower reaches of the Song River (松江) as it flows through the Paris of the East.
Sichuan 川 chuan Means river, part of the full province name meaning 'four rivers'. Also often called 蜀 (Shu), home of Three Kingdoms hero Liu Bei and his preternaturally wise adviser Zhuge Liang. Present day Sichuan, despite losing Chongqing (q.v.) is larger than before due to the incorporation of most of Xikang (西康 - the Kham region of Tibet) in 1955.
"Taiwan" 台 tai "There is only one China in the world, and Taiwan is part of China. The Government of the People's Republic of China is the sole legal government of China." See denial.
Tianjin 津 jin Another one of those groovy 直辖市 (zhixia shi) like Chongqing. The former Treaty Port took its present administrative boundaries in 1973.
Tibet 藏 zang Also unquestionably an integral part of the Motherland, and don't let any of those Dalai clique splittists tell you otherwise. They insist on calling it U-Tsang ('central plain') or Bod (pronounced 'pö' in Lhasa dialect).
Xinjiang 新 xin And the controversial colonies keep coming thick and fast. Otherwise known as East Turkestan, this far western province is home to the Uygur, some Kazakhs and assorted other non-Han ethnic groups. The Han are working to remedy this situation by immigrating here in droves.
Yunnan 滇 dian The name of a lake in the province. Yunnan ('south of the clouds') is a fascinating and beautiful place, and the home of many different ethnic groups. The former Nanzhao Kingdom based around the town of Dali flourished here, expanding greatly after 750 until conquered by the Mongols in the thirteenth century. Dali has recently been conquered again, this time by smelly hippy backpackers and their banana pancakes. Those locals not running guesthouses are said to prefer the Golden Horde.
Zhejiang 浙 zhe Named after the Zhe River. Provincial capital is the beautiful (if a bit spoilt recently) 杭州 (Hangzhou).
(That's enough Chinese provinces - Ed.)