IN EUROPE and America it is the custom to name the towns and countries after some hero or race, or after some distinctive feature of the terrain. We have Athens for a goddess; Rome, Alexandria, Constantinople, Petrograd or Leningrad, Washington, and San Francisco, for men; and England, Scotland, France, Belgium, and Normandy for the race that dwells there. As for Ireland it is not certain whether the people named the country or the country the people. A friend of mine once told me that on the old maps, Scotland was Scotia Minor and Ireland, Scotia Major. Paris takes its name from the tribe of Parisii, who inhabited the region round about Lutece, the ancient name of the town where Paris now is. London owes its name to features of the countryside, to llyn, a pond, and dinas, a hill.
In China, however, where men count for little and women for less (until they are grandmothers), towns and provinces derive their names from their location relative to a great river or lake, or to a chain of mountains, or to the sea.
In China also the manner of describing one location in respect to another is peculiar. Our words “left,” “right,” “in front of,” and “behind” are often replaced by the cardinal directions: north—pe, south—nan, east—tung, and west—si. When pointing out an object in a room, for instance, we should say that it is in front of, or to the right of the table; the Chinese says that it is to the north of the table or against the east wall.
This system of speech is used in naming many of the provinces as well as the two well-known cities, Peking (be djing). North Capital, and Nanking, South Capital.
In order to appreciate the force of Chinese provincial names we must first fix the position of the three great rivers of China, which are from north to south, the Hwang Ho, the Yangtze Kiang, and the Si Kiang, of several ranges of mountains, and of one important lake.
The Hwang Ho, or Yellow River, which now empties into the Gulf of Pechili, some distance to the west of Chefoo, less than a century ago flowed into the Hwang Hai, or Yellow Sea, at what is now twelve hours’ steaming distance to the northward of the mouth of the Yangtze Kiang.
The Yangtze Kiang (Blue River), or Yahngzee Djang, as it is pronounced, the greatest of the rivers of China, flows through the heart of China from Tibet to the Yellow Sea. In the south there is the Si Kiang or West River, which is important as a navigable stream. Though it forms the boundaries of no territories, it affords an excellent means of communication for pirates and others between the sea and the provinces of Kwangtung and Kwangsi. It flows parallel to the northern boundary of Tonkin, French Indo-China, and finally empties between Macao on the south, and Hong Kong, a lofty island to the northeast.
Canton is situated above the mouth of the Si Kiang as is Shanghai near the mouth of the Yangtze—about sixty miles from the sea. It is the capital of Kwangtung, of which the word Canton is a corrupt pronunciation.
About eight hundred miles up the Yangtze, a hundred miles above Hankow and Wuchang, there is a great lake called Tungting which connects with the Yangtze to the north. At the head of this lake is Changsha (Long Sands) where there are usually American and foreign gunboats present to exercise a quieting influence in the town and the province of Hunan.
Three hundred miles to the north of Tungting Lake are the Fui Nui Shan (or mountains) which extend in a general east and west direction south of Shansi. Immediately to the west of this range is another, the Tsing Ling Shan. Between the two is the very important Tungkwan Pass which affords passage from Central China into the north, to Mongolia and beyond.
In the western part of Shantung is the Tai Shan or Great Mountain range, which runs north and south. Tai Shan is sacred as the birthplace and final resting place of Kung Fu Tze or Confucius.
Armed with the foregoing bits of information, the Chinese puzzle easily resolves itself. In the old days of the empire the territory south of the Yangtze used to be called Kiang Nan or “South of the River.” This territory extended from the sea westward to Tungting Lake. Being of unwieldy size it was split up into two provinces: Tche Kiang Nan or “On the Coast South of the River” and Kiang Nan Si, or “South of the River West.” The Nan having been dropped, we have the present provincial names Chekiang and Kiangsi. The latter province is bounded on the west by Hunan, or “South of the Lake,” hu, the word for lake, referring to Tungting Lake.
To the north of this lake and extending along the north bank of the Yangtze is the province of Hupeh or “North of the Lake,” in which province Hankow is situated. North of Hupeh but south of the Hwang Ho is Honan, “South of the Ho,” ho being another name for river. Still to the north of Honan is the province of Shansi or “West of the Mountains,” the mountains being probably the sacred Tai Shan. To the northeast of Honan and jutting out into the sea toward Chosen or Korea is Shantung or “East of the Mountain,” east of the Tai Shan. On the north coast of Shantung are Weihaiwei and Chefoo where the British and American Asiatic fleets base in the summer, the latter at Chefoo.
Between Shantung and Honan and to the northward is the province of Chihli or “Direct Rule,” sometimes called Pechili or “North Direct Rule.” Peking is in this province, the capital of most of the emperors, whence the name Pechili.
Returning to the middle west, we have to the west of Shansi the province of Shensi whose name in Chinese means “West of the Pass,” the pass in question being that of Tungkwan above mentioned. It may be interesting to note that Shensi is pronounced like Shansi by the Chinese but with a different tone. It is only spelled differently in Latin characters to make a distinction for Europeans. To the south of Shensi lies Szechwan, the largest province in China and the richest in grains and minerals of all the eighteen provinces. It takes its name from sze, four, and chwan, river. The four rivers are the tributaries of the great Yangtze Kiang which rises in the Tibetan highlands.
The three southernmost provinces from the sea westward are Kwangtung or “The Broad East,” in which is Canton; Kwangsi, “The Broad West;” and Yunnan or “The Cloudy South.”
Of the remaining five provinces of the eighteen, three have names compounded from principal cities or prefectures. Of these, Kiangsu (in which are Shanghai and Nanking) was named for Kiangning, the ancient name of Nanking, and for Suchow. West of Kiangsu is Anhwei, which lies both north and south of the Yangtze, between Honan and Kiangsu. It was named for its chief prefectures. Kansu, in the extreme northwestern part of China extending toward eastern Turkestan, was named for the cities Kanchow and another Suchow.
Kweichow or “The Precious District” is the high-sounding name of the province in western China, between Szechwan and Kwangsi, on the northwest and southeast, respectively, and Yunnan and Hunan on the west and east. It is one of the most mountainous and unproductive parts of China. Perhaps this name was given as the Greeks named the Furies “the Gracious Ones” and the Black Sea the “Hospitable Sea,” for the sake of propitiating the evil spirits which are rife in the land.
The last of the eighteen provinces has the best name—Fukien or “The Happy Establishment.” This province lies on the coast between Chekiang and Kwangtung. In it are the ports of Amoy and Foochow.
We have seen that bodies of water and mountains, both of which have a close relationship to feng-shui, or “wind and water” (which are at the base of the Taoist geomantic superstitions) have largely determined the choice of the names of the provinces of the old Celestial Empire. Of western hero worship as manifest in the nomenclature of towns and countries of Europe and America, there is none. In China it is the sage, not the warrior, who is honored— and not the man but the principle.
 In Kubla Khan’s time Tartar influence named Peking Cambulac or City of the Great Khan.