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Is there an official list of place names (esp. for non-Chinese places)? If a bureaucrat or journalist in China is writing about a lesser-known foreign place, how do they determine the characters?

I usually use Google maps for Chinese place names, are these names official in any way? Does anyone know how Google determined the characters for so many obscure places?

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In the PRC, the official agency that decides this seems to be the 中国地名委员会 (China Commission on Place Names).

They published a book called 外国地名译名手册 (Reference Book of Translated Foreign Place Names), which according to this Baidupedia entry includes the official translations of 18,000 place names plus general rules for translating place names from several different languages into Chinese.

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pinyinplaces.com has an extensive list of countries, cities, and states and provinces. I contacted the author, and he said he compiled the lists by buying a bunch of atlases and country maps from Chinese bookstores and culling the transliterations from them.

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