How should I pronounce Chinese city names
Literal translations of Chinese country names
Literal translations of Chinese country names
When translating names of countries into Chinese, try Chinese characters with a positive meaning or signs with a similar pronunciation how to use the original name.
Translating these Chinese country names back into English or German often results in funny translations.
Of course, there are a variety of possible translations for most Chinese characters, and we've only selected one at a time.
Therefore, they are not literal translations of Chinese names, but rather of the Chinese characters used in the names. Have fun on our tour around the globe!
Chinese country names - Europe
France: 法国, faguo. Fa is supposed to be reminiscent of the sound of “France” and means law and order.
Germany: 德国, deguo. De should remind of the initial sound of “Germany” and translated means morality, virtue.
Netherlands: 荷兰, helan. Translated as a “lotus orchid”, Helan is similar to the word Holland.
United Kingdom: 英国, ying guo. Whether it is “brave country” or “great country”, “英” refers to England / the United Kingdom.
Russia: 俄罗斯 e luo si. The first character of this Chinese word alone has the meaning “Russian” in Chinese and is in no way similar to the pronunciation of “Russia”. The other two characters mean “this” and “catch”. A strange translation.
Belgium: 比利时, bi li shi. “Time to Compare Profits”. Interesting!
Iceland: 冰岛, bing dao. Like the actual name of Iceland, the Chinese translation means “ice island”.
Belarus: 白俄罗斯, bai e luo si. As in German, the Chinese name for this Eastern European country is “Belarus”.
Montenegro: 黑山, hi shan. Translates “black mountain”, which corresponds to the ethnological meaning of the name.
Switzerland: 瑞士, rui shi “happy gentleman”. With this unusual translation one wonders where this name comes from. The Chinese translation is based on the Latin name of Switzerland, which was then the Roman province of Raetia.
Hungary: 匈牙利, xiong ya li. “Hunnenzahn Profit”. In Cantonese, 匈 is pronounced as “hung” and 牙 as “nga”. This could be a reference to the mythical voting of Hungarians from the Huns and the Xiongnu, an ancient people in northern China.
Italy: 意大利, yi da li. “Hope for higher profits”. It also sounds like 一 大 粒, “one big piece”.
Spain: 西班牙, xi ban ya. The translation in German is “western class tooth”, the Chinese pronunciation is supposed to be reminiscent of “Hispania”.
Greece: 希腊, xi la. “Longing for a barbecue”. Well okay, not exactly, but “hope for cured meat” doesn't sound that good.腊 can also refer to the twelfth month of the Chinese lunar calendar, so “hoping for the twelfth month of the year” would also be a possible translation.
Ireland: 爱尔兰,Ài’ěrlán. “Love your orchid”. This Chinese translation is based on the pronunciation of “Ireland”.
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Chinese country names - America:
Canada:加拿大, jia na da. "Add keep big".
Mexico: 墨西哥, mo xi ge. "Ink Western Big Brother".
Haiti: 海地, hai di. “Meerland”.
Guatemala: 危地马拉, gua di ma la. “In the land of danger the horse pulls”. This name of the Central American state is used in mainland China. In Taiwan, the official name of Guatemala is “瓜地马拉”: “In the land of melons, the horse pulls”.
Brazil: 巴西, ba xi. The Chinese character has many different meanings, so it is difficult to translate it clearly. The pronunciation of this state in Chinese is supposed to be reminiscent of “Brazil”. Literally translated it means “next to the west”.
Ecuador: 厄瓜多尔, e gua duo er. This somewhat complicated name can be roughly translated as “so much trouble with melons”. The last syllable 尔 is omitted from the Taiwanese name.
Chile: 智利, zhi li. The name of the longest South American country promises "beneficial wisdom".
Peru: 秘鲁, bi lu. Peru is the homeland of the Incas and the name of the country literally means “unfriendly secret” from Chinese.
UNITED STATES: 美国, meiguo. The first character means “beauty”. But the Chinese don't necessarily think America is beautiful. This character was chosen because it is similar to the English “mer” in “America”.
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Chinese Country Names - Asia and the Pacific:
China: 中国, Zhong guo. The German designation of China as “Middle Kingdom” is derived from the translation “Kingdom of the Middle”. In Chinese history, the Chinese viewed themselves as the center of the earth.
Japan:日本, rub. “Land of the Rising Sun” or “The Origin of the Sun”.
Korea: 高丽, gao li. "Goryeo" is the name of the dynasty that made Korea from 900 to 1400 AD. ruled.
- South Korea:韩国, han guo. This is what Koreans call their own country.
- North Korea: 北 朝鲜, at chao xian. “North Joseon”, Joseon is the name of the dynasty that ruled Korea from 1400 to 1910.
Australia:澳大利亚, ao da li ya “big bay, small profits”.
India: 印度, yin you. “Pressure strength”.
Singapore: 新加坡, xin jia po. “Newly added slope”.
Vietnam: 越南, yue nan. “Southern” stands for the geographical position of Vietnam in relation to China.
Yemen: 也门, ye men. “Also a door”.
Israel: 以色列, yi se lie. “List sorted by color”.
Syria: 叙利亚, xu li ya. Translated, Syria would be “telling about the advantages of Asia”.
Bhutan: 不丹, bu dan “Not red”.
Cambodia: 柬埔寨, jian pu zhai. “Letter to the plain of the fortress”.
Malaysia: 马来西亚, ma lai xi ya. "A horse comes to West Asia". Quite strange as this country is in southeast Asia.
Thailand: 泰国 tài guó. Literally translated this means “land of peace”.
Laos: 老挝, lao where. This translation is a little difficult.挝 has an incorrect meaning and is mainly used for the Chinese name of Laos. It could also mean “hit”, so Laos would then be “old hit”.
New Zealand:新西兰 xīn xī lán. “New Western Orchid”.
Indonesia: 印度尼西亚 yìn dù ní xī yà. "Pressure Strength Buddhist Nun West Asia". A rather long and complicated name, which is partly broken down into the two Chinese characters 印尼 (yìn ní). These mean "pressure Buddhist nun".
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Chinese country names - Africa:
South Africa: 南非, nan fei. Fei stands for Africa in the word “feizhou”, so it literally means “South Africa”.
Chad: 乍得Zhàdé ”Sudden Morale”.
Egypt: 埃及, ai ji. “Catching up to the dust”.
Central African Republic: 中非共和国 Zhōng fēi gònghéguó. That is also a direct translation.中 means central, 非 Africa and 共和国 means republic.
Cape Verde: 佛得角Fó dé jiǎo. “Buddha's virtuous horn” or “Buddha's virtuous cap”.
Namibia: 纳米比亚, na mi bi ya. “Compare Extremely Small Profits”.
Djibouti: 吉布提Jíbùtí. "Wear the lucky cloth".
Gabon: 加蓬Jiāpéng. “Add daisies”.
Chinese conversation: 你 是 哪 国人?
nǐ shì nǎ guó rén?你 是 哪 国人？ From which country do you come? wǒ shì xīn xī lán rén.我 是 新西兰人。 I'm from New Zealand.
Can't get enough of our literal translations?
Fortunately, we have also literally translated city names and animal names from Chinese into German!
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Moritz has worked for LTL as a German freelancer since 2019. He enjoys exploring the world and diving into foreign cultures. Especially traditional Chinese characters, which have always fascinated him.
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