Research Article: Spatial-temporal characteristics and causes of changes to the county-level administrative toponyms cultural landscape in the eastern plains of China

Date Published: May 28, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Yingying Wang, Yingjie Wang, Lei Fang, Shengrui Zhang, Tongyan Zhang, Daichao Li, Dazhuan Ge, Tzai-Hung Wen.


As part of the cultural landscape, administrative toponyms do not only reflect natural and sociocultural phenomena, but also help with related management and naming work. Historically, county-level administrative districts have been stable and basic administrative regions in China, playing a role in the country’s management. We explore the spatio-temporal evolutionary characteristics of the county-level administrative toponyms cultural landscape in China’s eastern plains areas. A Geographical Information System (GIS) analysis, Geo-Informatic Tupu, Kernel Density Estimation, and correlation coefficients were conducted. We constructed a GIS database of county-level administrative toponyms from the Sui dynasty onward using the Northeast China, North China, and Yangtze Plains as examples. We then summarized the spatio-temporal evolutionary characteristics of the county-level administrative toponyms cultural landscape in China’s eastern plains areas. The results indicate that (1) the number of toponyms has roughly increased over time; (2) toponym densities on the three plains are higher than the national average in the corresponding timeframe since the Sui; and (3) county-level administrative toponyms related to mountains and hydrological features accounted for more than 30% of the total in 2010. However, the percentage of county-level administrative toponyms related to natural factors on the three plains has decreased since the Sui. To explore the factors influencing this spatio-temporal evolution, we analyzed the correlations between the toponyms and natural factors and human/social factors. The correlation degree between toponym density and population density is the highest, and that between toponym density and Digital Elevation Model (DEM) the lowest. Temperature changes were important in toponym changes, and population changes have influenced toponym changes over the last 400 years in China.

Partial Text

A place begins to exist when people assign it a name and meaning, differentiating it from the larger, undifferentiated space [1]. Thus, toponyms (or place names) are names given to places by people. Toponyms are also defined as names for natural and manmade geographic features assigned to particular spaces [2]. As a cultural landscape, toponyms are the preservation and mark of regional culture on the surface level, and directly reveal the spatial distribution of languages and ethnic origins. The term “toponyms cultural landscape” refers to the group characteristics of toponyms formed by consistent factors in a certain area [3]. Moreover, the toponyms cultural landscape does not only reflect the characteristics of the historical and current natural environment, but also records information such as major political changes, the prosperity or decline of a nation, ethnic migration, religious beliefs, and military activities [4, 5]. Toponyms are frequently used to label, identify, and locate sites in space, and are subjective explanations by local inhabitants from the time of naming [6]. In China, studies concerning toponyms at the earliest stage appeared alongside academic works on China’s ancient geography, such as Shang Shu·Yu Gong, Classic of Mountains and Seas (Shan Hai Jing), Geographical Records on the History of the Han Dynasty, and Commentary on the Water Classic (Shui Jing Zhu), which all recorded important information on toponyms [7]. Because of their increasing significance, studies on toponyms attracted the attention of the government and academia. During the Republic of China (ROC) (1912–1949), The Great Dictionary of Chinese Toponyms and Historical Records Test Names were representative works of Chinese toponymy. Following the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, the periodical China Toponyms was published in 1984, and featured many scholars’ academic achievements regarding toponyms [7, 8]. After the 1st Toponyms Census of China in the 1980s, many works were published that interpreted toponyms from the perspectives of linguistics, historiography, culturology, and geography [9–15]. That established the theoretical foundation for the study of toponyms.

This paper intuitively demonstrated the spatial-temporal characteristics and causes of changes in the county-level administrative toponyms cultural landscape in China’s eastern plains areas through the application of GIS spatial analysis, Geo-Informatic Tupu, KDE method, and correlation coefficients. The conclusions are summarized as follows.




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