Monday, July 17, 2017

Towns Dropping Through Cracks

Just a brief note about mapping Tibet. The first step is to research cities/habitations and sort out the regions within Tibet, based on geography and historical references.  Here's my list of towns in Tibet:

The reader can see I've carved off one section already, a region that covers the upper valley of the Indus River in far western Tibet.  Guge was conquered by the Kingdom in Ladakh after 1630 (or so, details are sketchy).

I don't have a map yet, I won't for a bit, though these are easier to make because, hey, no coast. For the moment I just want to bitch about starting in China and the problems that brings.

Since naming (and I talked about this before) is a free-for-all, I'm having some trouble.  I have three atlases I'm working from, Google Earth, the site (which gives the lat-long-elevation details) and wikipedia . . . and guess what?  None of them match.

The names are listed as different, or an atlas has the city marked and named but Google Earth shows no place at that location, or there is a place there but under a completely different name and nothing on the web connects the two names together.  As always, there are many listed towns in fallingrain with the same name, often none of them having coordinates anywhere near where the map specifies the place should be.  And so on.

It is worse than I feared.  Apparently, Pinyin has broken down so completely that no one can be sure what the correct Pinyin name is for a place. In several cases I found multiple names, with x's for s's or z's for s's, where both names were listed as Pinyin though they did not agree.

No, I did not keep an example.  Try Shigatse, that was was a fun one, or Ch'ung-te, which can't agree on whether there should be a hyphen or an apostrophe or if the name shouldn't Qamdo or whatever.  I have it listed as Chamdo, above, but that is by no means the "real" name.  I don't think anyone has agreed on it's real name.

Perhaps the whole thing is a scheme by the Chinese military intelligence to hopelessly confuse invasion by ensuring that no two maps made by the outside world can possibly agree.

Anyway, there are several places on the list for which I have no proof whatsoever (Amkyonyang) even exist; the coordinates shown for it are actually for a place called Amjogxung . . . I have no idea if these are the same place, but it is close to where one of my atlases lists the place.  The internet ~ the entire internet ~ has never heard of the atlas spelling I have.

Which is just weird.


  1. You will never find a definitive name using western letters. That is not how Chinese works. If you want to know more how Chinese works, I recomends this video:

    TL:DR Our letters cannot write all Chinese sounds, that is why no one agree how to write the names...

  2. I know.

    But it is strange that we have agreed on standards for Cirilic text and Arabic text. Sub-Saharan Africa has issues as well; but it is a question of things like French masters spelling "wa" with "oua" ~ we can find that in the United States, too, with places like Oachita. Yet still, I could find details on Wikipedia that associated the names together, so that a given place would have five or six names linked together on the page.

    China is a whole new level. There may be some attempt to recapture Chinese sound, but it is also because different dialects/languages have completely different names for the town. And strangely, very little effort is being made to link these different names to each other. Each source seems to give this name as though it is the only real name; and Wikipedia matches up only two or three alternatives.

    It's funny. Before 1979, every atlas and map I can find agree 100% on the names of places: Anglo-British standards. Then linguists got involved.

  3. Cyrilic and Arabic (as Latin and Greek) are both phonetic and derived from phoenician. In these four scripts, you write what you say (or kind of).

    China and its neighbours have a very old cultural baggage involving writting and in Chinese you write what your speech meant not the sounds you have made. How you speak 红 doesn't matter, what matters is that you understand that 红 means the color of red.

    In truth, there is no Chinese language. China has as many languages as the whole Europe.
    You can find some of them here:

    What you are seeing in maps is the name of places in various "languages", that is why none of them agree exactly. You don't need to go that further to see a place with many names. Just go to Germany, Deutschland, Allemagne, Tyskland, Saksamo, Vokietija or whatever you want to call it...

    Some eastern languages (like japanese and korean) have less troubles translating because they have a sylabic writting system.

    And sub-saharan languages has trouble because they don't have writting systems or have poor writting systems (mostly derived from egyptian hieroglyphs).

    I just want to say write the way you want. Beijing, Peking, whatever...If you really, really want to have standards and write the names correctly it should be 北京 or "Northern capital" (because it is what it means).

  4. So I arrive month later and I'm fairly sure you've already thought of that, but as long as you have a latitude and a longitude finding the altitude is quite easily done through a variety of website (for instance :

    This doesn't solve the problem, as one still has to find latitude and longitude (which usually are on wikipedia, and may be accessed from google map by clicking), but that removes one atlas from your process: .

    Hope this somehow helps.

  5. Yep, been doing that for years.

    When I've been completely stumped for elevation, I've gone to GoogleEarth, found the settlement and used that number.

    There were several "towns" that were listed in my 1952 atlas for the Sahara desert region, some of which were French forts, some of which were villages that existed in the Sahel at that time that have been made non-existent by desertification. For some of these places, I did not even have latitude and longitude numbers. I had to measure the location with a physical ruler, against meridian lines on my map, then hunt around on GoogleEarth until finding the actual ruin caught on the satellite image. Sometimes, from a note on GoogleEarth, I was able to confirm that this was, in fact, Bordj Oullet #5 or some such place, and sometimes I wasn't; it was just an unnamed ruined village, that I would have to designate as the one I was looking for.

    After all, this is only a game. It's not like I will be held accountable for picking the wrong village. But I do try to be as accurate as I can, because it matters to me.


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