Apologies that this is a bit off the main focus of the forum, but there aren't any Mongolian or Tibetan stacks yet.

There are dozens to hundreds of Chinese sites repeating each other that Qarhan (察尔汗)—an important playa in Qinghai that gets called a 盐湖 apparently because Chinese doesn't distinguish between salt flats and salt lakes—is a transcription of a Mongolian name meaning "world of salt" (盐的世界) or "salt pond" or "salt marsh" (盐泽). None of those sites offer the supposed Mongolian word and apparently none can, since there's no Mongolian word for "salt" (let alone "world" or "lake") that sounds even vaguely similar.

The larger Qaidam Basin (柴达木盆地) around Qarhan also gets glossed—also incorrectly—as a transcription of a Mongolian name about salt, which shows what's probably going on with Qarhan. The Tibetan word for salt is ཚྭ (Wylie: ''tshwa'') which would get transcribed ca in Tibetan Pinyin if it were coming over directly. It gets turned into ᠴᠠ (''ča'') or ца ("tsa"), however, in Mongolian which the Chinese system romanizes as qa.

So it looks like Qarhan should be from a Tibetan word about salt.

There's nothing "world" or "pond" or "marsh" that even remotely fits, but the Tibetan word for "plain" or "flatland" seems to be ཐང (''thang'') so maybe the original name was something like "salt flat" and and was written ཚྭ་ཐང་ or ཚྭ་ཐང་།... Maybe?

But do any of y'all know enough about Tibetan, Mongolian, Chinese transcriptions, or Chinese Baidufu to be able to find out what actually happened there? Default Google just keeps washing up more sites repeating the obviously wrong and obviously copied-from-others'-work story about it being directly from Mongolian.

  • 2
    I’m voting to close this question because it's not about Chinese. It's seems more suited for Linguistics.SE
    – blackgreen
    Aug 11, 2020 at 21:26

1 Answer 1


in brief, 察爾汗 is derived from mongolian.

the long explanation:

about 1763, there was a large-scale standardisation of names from mongolian, tibetan and various languages used by muslim into han chinese and manchurian. the result was the 24-volume book "欽定西域同文志" (~ made by imperial order 欽定, western region 西域, same language 同文, record 志).

the internet archive (which is blocked in "that area") has a copy:


volume 1 has the rationale, guidelines (p1-p42) and table of contents (p43-p57), volume 14-17 are kokonur related


my interpretation is, the mongolian character "цагаан" "tsagaan" ("white" colour) is transliterated to "察罕" (older version) or 察爾汗 (modern version) in chinese and "qarhan" in english.

in the above mentioned book, volume 14, there're several places starting with "察罕"

"察罕鄂博" https://archive.org/details/06078140.cn/page/n72

"察罕哈達" https://archive.org/details/06078140.cn/page/n78

"察罕托輝烏魯" https://archive.org/details/06078140.cn/page/n88

"察罕托羅海" https://archive.org/details/06078140.cn/page/n106

enter image description here enter image description here

all of them mentioned "蒙古語察罕白色" (~in mongolian, "qarhan" means white colour). most likely, "qarhan" / "tsagaan" (察罕) referred to the color of salt, not the salt itself.

further description of playa, or salt lake are modern suffix.

have fun :)

  • Thank you so much! Editing your reply, I take it that 'flour' was a typo for 'colour' since there's no 面粉 mentioned anywhere. Was that right? Also, any idea where the 尔 came from? Is it something that was picked up in the Manchu transcription?
    – lly
    Aug 7, 2019 at 15:16
  • Also, if I understand correctly, the name is a clipping. Chahan (Ebo|Hada|Tuohuiwulu|Tuoluo Sea) would've been a transcription of a full Mongolian name meaning "White [Something]" and the Chinese eventually just stopped saying the rest of it? Any idea which one would've be the original?
    – lly
    Aug 7, 2019 at 15:51
  • @ lly thanks for your editing. it's a typo, my apologies :( Aug 7, 2019 at 16:11
  • about the character "爾". well, i guess, in that area, "r" would be transliterated to "爾" deliberately. qa - r - han Aug 7, 2019 at 16:18
  • no idea about which one is the original. the literary chinese language is fuzzy enough, further, the chinese geography in the past, i would say, un-preise. Aug 7, 2019 at 16:26

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