In English, we refer to origin of certain things by turning city, region or even country names into adjectives. Some examples are Sicilian cuisines, Broadway theatre, and Texan accent.
This is done differently in China due to the language. Chinese provincial abbreviations use single-characters instead.
For example, the abbreviations are used to describe the cuisine, such as 湘 Xiang dishes (Hunan cuisine), 川 Chuan dishes (Sichuan cuisine), or 粤 Yue dishes (Cantonese cuisine). They can be also for opera, such as 京 Jing opera (Peking opera) or 豫 Yu opera (Henan opera).
These abbreviations appear in vehicle license plates, and they are often used in restaurant names and menus.
Beijing (BJ) – 京 (Jīng)
The abbreviation of Beijing is 京 (jīng), as a shortening of its name and also emphasise that it is the capital.
Beijing literally means north (北 bĕi) capital (京 jīng). The character 京 (jīng) means capital. It acquired the name during the Ming dynasty to distinguish it from the previous capital, Nanjing, which literally means south (南 nán) capital (京 jīng).
Chongqing (CQ) – 渝 (Yú)
Chongqing is abbreviated as 渝 (yú). It was the Yu Prefecture (渝州) during the Sui Dynasty. Although the city was renamed during Northern Song, the old town in the city centre is called Yuzhong (渝中). The name Yu identified strongly with the city and is used as a nickname and official abbreviation for the city.
Shanghai (SH) – 沪 (Hù)
Shanghai’s abbreviation is 沪 (hù), a contraction of 沪渎 (hù dú), which literally means “harpoon ditch”. During the Jin Dynasty, the hù was a harpoon used by fishermen living in the Shanghai area, where the mouth of the Suzhou Creek flowed into the ocean. Thus, the area became known as Hudu, and hù became a common nickname and eventually the official abbreviation for Shanghai.
Tianjin (TJ) – 津 (Jīn)
Tianjin is abbreviated as 津 (jīn), a shortening of its name. Tianjin literally means heaven (天 tīan) ford (津 jīn).
There are several stories attributed to the origin of the city’s name. The most common is that Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty bestowed the name after he crossed Tianjin’s Gu River to overthrow his nephew Emperor Jianwen in the south.
Anhui (AH) – 皖 (Wǎn)
The Anhui Province was established during the Reign of Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty. Prior to that, the region was known as the Wan (皖) area because it was the State of Wan during the Spring and Autumn Period.
The mountain and river in the small kingdom of Wan were known as Mount Wan and Wan River respectively. Thus, the name Wan has been associated with the region historically. The significance of this heritage led to the province having the official abbreviation of 皖 (wǎn).
Fujian (FJ) – 闽 (Mǐn)
Fujian’s official abbreviation is 闽 (mǐn). The term refers to the Min-speaking people, the group of people living in the Fujian region historically. It also refers to the main river in the province, the Min River.
The State of Yue was a kingdom from the Spring and Autumn Period in Zhejiang. The State of Chu annexed the kingdom in 306 BC and the surviving royal family fled to Fujian where it continued to reign as the Minyue Kingdom. It lost its status as a kingdom under the Qin Dynasty, but regained its status as a tributary kingdom under the Han Dynasty. The Minyue Kingdom was eventually conquered by the Han Dynasty as it expanded south.
After the fall of the Tang Dynasty, General Wang set up the Min Kingdom during the period of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms. The Southern Tang absorbed the Min Kingdom after the latter succumbed to internal strife after the death of its founding monarch. Despite the fall of the Kingdom, the Min heritage persisted through the cultural and language.
Gansu (GS) – 甘 (Gān)
The Gansu province has the official abbreviation 甘 (gān), a contraction of its name. The term Gan refers to the Zhangye city that was formerly known as Ganzhou (甘州 gān zhōu), also known as Campichu in Marco Polo’s Travels.
Guangdong (GD) – 粤 (Yuè)
Guangdong is officially abbreviated as 粤 (yuè) due to the Yue-speaking people in the province. The people in the region spoke Yue Chinese, often referred to as Cantonese. The term Canton is etymologically derived from Cantão, the Portuguese transliteration of the term Guangdong.
Guizhou (GZ) – 贵 (Guì)
Guizhou’s official abbreviation is 贵 (guì), a contraction of its name.
Hainan (HI) – 琼 (Qióng)
The Hainan province has the official abbreviation 琼 (qióng) due to its former names Qiongya (琼崖 qióng yá) and Qiongzhou (琼州 qióng zhōu).
Hebei (HE) – 冀 (Jì)
Hebei is abbreviated as 冀 (jì) as a nod to the Ji Province (冀州 jì zhōu) of the Han Dynasty.
Heilongjiang (HL) – 黑 (Hēi)
Heilongjiang is officially abbreviated as 黑 (hēi), a shortening of its name. The province is named after the river Amur, known as Heilongjiang in Chinese, which literally means Black Dragon River.
Henan (HA) – 豫 (Yù)
The Henan province is abbreviated as 豫 (yù). Yu the Great (大禹 dà yŭ), the founding ruler of the Xia Dynasty, divided ancient China into Nine Provinces. Yu Province (豫州 yù zhōu) was the area where Henan is.
Hubei (HB) – 鄂 (È)
Hubei’s official abbreviation is 鄂 (è) due to its heritage from the Western Zhou Dynasty. The eastern part of Hubei was known as the State of E during the Western Zhou Dynasty.
Another popular abbreviation for the province is 楚 (chǔ), named after the State of Chu that existed in the region during the Eastern Zhou Dynasty.
Hunan (HN) – 湘 (Xiāng)
The Hunan province uses the abbreviation 湘 (xiāng), after the Xiang River that runs through the province from south to north.
Jiangsu (JS) – 苏 (Sū)
Jiangsu is abbreviated as 苏 (sū), a contraction of its name. Jiangsu is named after the two cities, Jiangning (now known as Nanjing) and Suzhou.
Jiangxi (JX) – 赣 (Gàn)
The Jiangxi province has the official abbreviation 赣 (gàn), named after the Gan River that runs across the province from south to north, into the Yangtze River. Jiangxi is also known as the Ganpo Dadi (贛鄱大地), which literally means the Great Land of the Gan River and the Poyang Lake.
Jilin (JL) – 吉 (Jí)
Jilin is officially abbreviated as 吉 (jí), a shortening of its name, which literally means auspicious (吉 jí) forest (林 lÍn). Jilin is actually shortened from the Manchu phrase jilin wula (吉林乌拉), which means along the river.
Liaoning (LN) – 辽 (Liáo)
Liaoning province has the abbreviation 辽 (liáo), a contraction of its name, and also a nod to the Liao River that flows through the region.
Qinghai (QH) – 青 (Qīng)
The official abbreviation for Qinghai is 青 (qīng), a contraction of its name. The province is named after the Qinghai Lake, the largest lake in China.
Shaanxi (SN) – 陕 (Shǎn)
The Shaanxi province’s abbreviation is 陕 (shǎn), a shortening of its name. Shaanxi literally means West of the Shan pass.
Shandong (SD) – 鲁 (Lǔ)
Shandong is abbreviated as 鲁 (lǔ), after its nickname 齐鲁 (qílǔ). During the Spring and Autumn period, the States of Qi and Lu existed in the region. Although the State of Qi was a major power during its time, the State of Lu became renowned for being the home of Confuscius and Mozi. Thus, the State of Lu bears immense cultural influence and the term Lu holds great heritage significance for the province.
Shanxi (SX) – 晋 (Jìn)
Shanxi’s official abbreviation is 晋 (jìn), named after the State of Jin that existed in the province during the Spring and Autumn period.
Sichuan (SC) – 川 (Chuān)
Sichuan province uses the abbreviation 川 (chuān), a contraction of its name. Sichuan is the contraction of the term Sì Chuānlù (四川路) referring to division of the Northern Song Dynasty’s administrative circuit in the area into four. Chuan refers to plains.
Sichuan also has the nickname 巴蜀 (bāshŭ), in reference to the States of Ba and Shu that occupied the Sichuan Basin during the Spring and Autumn period. The term Shu continued to be a significant heritage for the region, with later states in the area using the same name, such as Shu during the Three Kingdoms period, and Former Shu and Later Shu during the Ten Kingdoms period. The term Shu is still often used to refer to Sichuan.
Yunnan (YN) – 云 (Yún)
Yunnan’s official abbreviation is 云 (yún), a contraction of its name. Yunnan literally means South of the Yunling Mountains.
The province is also abbreviated as 滇 (diān), after Lake Dian in the region. The area in central Yunnan was referred to as Dian during the Spring and Autumn period, after General Zhuang Qiao of Chu established the Dian Kingdom.
Zhejiang (ZJ) – 浙 (Zhè)
The Zhejiang province is abbreviated as 浙 (zhè), a contraction of its name. The province is named after the Zhe River, later renamed as Qiantang River, that flows through the region.
Guangxi (GX) – 桂 (Guì)
Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region’s official abbreviation is 桂 (guì), named after the city of Guilin, which was the provincial capital during the Ming and Qing dynasties, before Nanning was made capital.
Inner Mongolia (NM) – 蒙 (Měng)
The official abbreviation for Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region is 蒙 (měng), a contraction of its Chinese name 内蒙古 (nèi měnggǔ).
Ningxia (NX) – 宁 (Níng)
Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region has the official abbreviation 宁 (níng), a contraction of its name. Ningxia
Xizang (XZ) – 藏 (Zàng)
Xizang Tibetan Autonomous Region’s official abbreviation is 藏 (zàng), a contraction of its name.
Xinjiang (XJ) – 新 (Xīn)
The Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region uses the abbreviation 新 (xīn), a contraction of its name.