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Project Overview

The Chinese Toponyms Database (hereafter CTD) was developed at Sapienza, University of Rome and was publicly launched in September 2019. This project has been proposed by Victoria Almonte, now researcher at University of Tuscia, when she was a research fellow at IISO Department of University of Rome, Sapienza. It is linked to the broader research project about the formation of the Chinese geographical lexicon and the influence of Western languages between the eighth and the fifteenth century, carried out by Dr. Almonte since her Ph.D research (from 2014 to today, supervisor prof. Paolo De Troia). In addition, in 2020, the project “The Chinese zoological lexicon in the Tang, Song and Yuan dynasties” was funded as part of the call for the Start of Research at the University of Rome-Sapienza. This project, proposed by Victoria Almonte, was conceived as the natural continuation of the previous research. It has highlighted the evolution of a portion of the Chinese geographical and zoological lexicon and has analyzed the influence that other languages (in particular Arabic) had on Chinese zoo-geographical knowledge during the eighth and the fourteenth century.  The Chinese Toponyms database is now part of a larger project called ORACLEx (Open Research Environment for the Ancient Chinese Lexicon) also proposed by Victoria Almonte and Paolo De Troia. It aims to create a platform where researchers can share information and data about ancient Chinese lexicon, not limited to geography, but embracing different fields.


At the present, the CTD contains data from five geographical works written between the eleventh and the fifteenth centuries: Lingwai Daida, (Notes from the lands beyond the Passes) written by Zhou Qufei in 1178, Zhufanzhi, (Records of foreign people) written by Zhao Rukuo in 1225, Daoyi Zhilüe, (A Brief Account of Barbarian Islands) written by Wang Dayuan in 1349, Xingcha Shenglan, (The Overall Survey of the Star Raft) written by Fei Xin in 1436, and Yingya Shenglan (The overall survey of the ocean’s shores) of 1451 by Ma Huan. See here for more details.

The CTD collects the various geographical descriptions in Chinese and proposes the most reliable identifications. Where possible, a section dedicated to the English translation of the descriptions has also been provided. The aim of this project is to realize a website with a responsive database containing the Chinese toponyms used during several centuries to identify foreign territories outside from the imperial borders.

The data collection led to the creation of a stimulating exchange network between scholars of various fields of research (geographers, linguists and historians), and the compilation of the database has made it possible a reflection on several levels: the aforementioned works are connected to each other both on the basis of a chronological principle (the oldest influenced the most recent), and on the basis of the reliability of the contents (the

most recent works are richer in terms of content and often even more reliable than the previous ones). In addition, interesting similarities could be found comparing the descriptions of the various territories: not only the authors use in some cases the same toponym, but the ethnographic and zoological lexicon also has correspondences. The main objective of the CTD and the ORACLEx Project is to create an online environment that allows scholars to trace the origin of a Chinese toponym and its use in ancient works and to undertake analysis paths on several levels, working simultaneously thanks to the cloud-based environment platform. The CTD was in fact originally created in Microsoft ACCESS, but later, thanks to the support of a professional webmaster (word+image di T. Zuliani), an online interface has been created. It makes the database usable both to simple visitors and to potential collaborators who, with the authorization of the supervisor, can autonomously insert and / or modify new entries in the back end.

The aim is to create an interactive search platform in which scholars can search for a specific toponym, compare the various identification hypotheses, directly approach the classical texts from which the toponym was extrapolated and provide proposals and / or suggestions. The long-term goal is therefore to create an OPEN RESEARCH ENVIRONMENT in which, by logging in with their credentials, each researcher can, in addition to consulting, contribute and implement sources, results and hypotheses. The virtual user will have the lists of toponyms, geographical descriptions in Chinese and, where possible in English, and the list of zoological terms, available in a single platform in a uniform manner.


A useful development of the project will consist in the activation of a fruitful collaboration with other scholars, in order to implement the number of works included in the database, both Chinese sources and in other languages. In this way, it will be possible to create a real platform for exchange and comparison, where primary sources in different languages can be compared and studied by researchers from different areas. Thanks to its several potentials of consultation, the CTD is aimed at a wide circle of researchers and scholars: primarily sinologists, but also historians of international relations along the maritime and terrestrial silk road, ethnographers, linguists interested in the aspects most closely linked to historical linguistics, Indianists, Arabists, Africanists who want to deal with Chinese sources and who want to share the geographical descriptions contained in sources of other languages.

Chinese together with the ORACLEx project aspire to become successful “case studies” in order to implement the data organization and taxonomy in different fields and covering a larger time frame. The designed solution to realize this ambitious goal is to promote to networking between different research groups in a new web-based OPEN RESEARCH ENVIROMENT: in this platform researchers, students and guru, as already said, will be able to “push” and “pull” information to increase the quantity and the quality of the contents. A hierarchical community structure will be designed in order to select, review, publish and share the knowledge between all the researchers in the world.