Names of China

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search

The name China is recorded in English from the mid 16th century. It is of uncertain origin, but likely derived from Middle Persian and ultimately Sanskrit, perhaps after the Qin dynasty. In Chinese, common names for China include Zhongguo (中國/中国) and Zhonghua (中華/中华), while Han (/) and Tang () are common names given for the Chinese ethnicity. Other names include Huaxia (華夏/华夏), Shenzhou (神州) and Jiuzhou (九州). The People's Republic of China (Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó) and Republic of China (Zhōnghuá Mínguó) are the official names for the two contemporary sovereign states currently claiming sovereignty over the traditional area of China. "Mainland China" is used to refer to areas under the jurisdiction by the PRC usually excluding Hong Kong and Macau.

There are also names for China based on a certain ethnic group other than Han; examples include "Cathay" based on the Khitan and "Tabgach" based on the Tuoba.

Sinitic names

In mainland China, the term Zhongguo is used to refer to all territories claimed by the PRC, including mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

Zhonghua is a more literary term sometimes used synonymously with Zhongguo; it appears in the official names of both the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China. Tang is used among southern Chinese, though some restrict the term further to refer to just the Cantonese or some other south Chinese language group.[citation needed]

Zhongguo and Zhonghua

Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese

Zhongguo is the most common name for China. The first character zhōng (中) means "central" or "middle," while guó (國/国) means "state" or "states," and in modern times, "nation." The term is often translated as "Middle Kingdom" or "Central Kingdom." In ancient usage, the term referred to the "Central States" of the period before the unification of the empire; the connotation was the primacy of a culturally distinct core area, centered on the Yellow River valley, as distinguished from the tribes of the periphery.[1] In later periods, however, Zhongguo was not used in this sense; rather, the country was called by the name of the dynasty, such as "The Great Ming," "The Great Qing," as the case might be.

The term "zhōngguó" first appeared in text form in the Classic of History as the name for "the centre of civilization" or "Tianxia", depending on the interpretation.[2] The first appearance of (中國) in an artifact was in the Western Zhou vessel He zun.[3]

The general concept of the term "zhōngguó" originated from the belief that the Zhou dynasty was the "center of civilization" or "center of the world." However, there are different uses of the term "zhōngguó" in every period. It could refer to the guó (capital) of the Emperor, to distinguish from the guó of his vassals, as in Western Zhou; or it could refer to states in the central plain, to distinguish from states in outer regions. By the Han dynasty, three usages of "Zhōngguó" are common. The Book of Poetry explicitly defines "Zhōngguó" as the capital; the Records of the Grand Historian uses the concept zhong to indicate the center of civilization: "Eight famous mountains are there in Tianxia. Three are in Man and Yi. Five are in Zhōnghuá." The Records of the Three Kingdoms uses the concept of the central states in "Zhōnghuá", or the states in "Zhōnghuá" which is the center, depending on the interpretation. It records the following exhortation: "If we can lead the host of Wu and Yue to oppose Zhōngguó, then let us break off relations with them soon." In this sense, the term Zhōngguó is synonymous with Zhōnghuá (中華/中华) and Huáxià (華夏/华夏), a name for "China" that comes from the Xia dynasty.

"Middle Kingdom's Common Speech" (Medii Regni Communis Loquela, Zhongguo Guanhua, 中國官話), the frontispiece of an early Chinese grammar published by Étienne Fourmont in 1742[4]

During the middle period (8th–15th centuries) literati began to discuss "Zhong guo" (here best translated as "the central country") as both a historical place or territory and as a culture, a different sense from the modern use of Zhongguo as "China." Writers of this period used the term to express opposition to the expansionist foreign policies that incorporated outsiders into the empire, as those from the Ming dynasty did.[5] In contrast foreign conquerors typically avoided discussions of "Zhong guo" and instead defined membership in their empires to include both Han and non-Han peoples.[6]

Zhongguo appears in a formal government document for the first time in the Qing dynasty Treaty of Nerchinsk, 1689 and the term was used in communications with other states and in treaties. The Manchu rulers incorporated Inner Asian polities into their empire, and Wei Yuan, a statecraft scholar, distinguished the new territories from Zhongguo, which he defined as the 17 provinces of "China proper" plus the Manchu homelands in the Northeast. By the 19th century the term had emerged as a common name for the whole country. The empire was sometimes referred to as Great Qing but increasingly as Zhongguo (see the discussion below).[7]

Dulimbai Gurun is the Manchu name for China (中國, Zhongguo; "Middle Kingdom").[8][9][10] The Qing identified their state as Zhongguo, and referred to it as "Dulimbai Gurun" in Manchu and "China" in English. The Qing equated the lands of the Qing state (including present day Manchuria, Xinjiang, Mongolia, Tibet and other areas as "China" in both the Chinese and Manchu languages, defining China as a multi ethnic state, rejecting the idea that China only meant Han areas, proclaiming that both Han and non-Han peoples were part of "China", using "China" to refer to the Qing in official documents, international treaties, and foreign affairs, and the "Chinese language" (Dulimbai gurun i bithe) referred to Chinese, Manchu, and Mongol languages, and the term "Chinese people" (中國人 Zhongguo ren ; Manchu: Dulimbai gurun i niyalma) referred to all Han, Manchus, and Mongol subjects of the Qing.[11] Ming loyalist Han literati held to defining the old Ming borders as China and using "foreigner" to describe minorities under Qing rule such as the Mongols, as part of their anti-Qing ideology.[12]

When the Qing conquered Dzungaria in 1759, they proclaimed that the new land was absorbed into "China" (Dulimbai Gurun) in a Manchu language memorial.[13][14][15] The Qing expounded on their ideology that they were bringing together the "outer" non-Han Chinese like the Inner Mongols, Eastern Mongols, Oirat Mongols, and Tibetans together with the "inner" Han Chinese, into "one family" united in the Qing state, showing that the diverse subjects of the Qing were all part of one family, the Qing used the phrase "Zhongwai yijia" (中外一家) or "neiwei yijia" (內外一家, "interior and exterior as one family"), to convey this idea of "unification" of the different peoples.[16] A Manchu language version of a treaty with the Russian Empire concerning criminal jurisdiction over bandits called people from the Qing as "people of the Central Kingdom (Dulimbai Gurun)".[17][18][19][20] In the Manchu official Tulisen's Manchu language account of his meeting with the Torghut Mongol leader Ayuki Khan, it was mentioned that while the Torghuts were unlike the Russians, the "people of the Central Kingdom" (dulimba-i gurun 中國, Zhongguo) were like the Torghut Mongols, and the "people of the Central Kingdom" referred to the Manchus.[21]

Mark Elliott noted that it was under the Qing that "China" transformed into a definition of referring to lands where the "state claimed sovereignty" rather than only the Central Plains area and its people by the end of the 18th century.[22]

Elena Barabantseva also noted that the Manchu referred to all subjects of the Qing empire regardless of ethnicity as "Chinese" (中國之人), and used the term (中國) as a synonym for the entire Qing empire while using "Han ren" (漢人) to refer only to the core area of the empire, with the entire empire viewed as multiethnic.[23]

Joseph W. Esherick noted that while the Qing Emperors governed frontier non-Han areas in a different, separate system under the Lifanyuan and kept them separate from Han areas and administration, it was the Manchu Qing Emperors who expanded the definition of Zhongguo (中國) and made it "flexible" by using that term to refer to the entire Empire and using that term to other countries in diplomatic correspondence, while some Han Chinese subjects criticized their usage of the term and the Han literati Wei Yuan used Zhongguo only to refer to the seventeen provinces of China and three provinces of the east (Manchuria), excluding other frontier areas.[24] Due to Qing using treaties clarifying the international borders of the Qing state, it was able to inoculate in the Chinese people a sense that China included areas such as Mongolia and Tibet due to education reforms in geography which made it clear where the borders of the Qing state were even if they didn't understand how the Chinese identity included Tibetans and Mongolians or understand what the connotations of being Chinese were.[25]

In the late 19th century the reformer Liang Qichao argued in a famous passage that "our greatest shame is that our country has no name. The names that people ordinarily think of, such as Xia, Han, or Tang, are all the titles of bygone dynasties." He argued that the other countries of the world "all boast of their own state names, such as England and France, the only exception being the Central States." [26] The Japanese term "Shina" was proposed as a basically neutral Western-influenced equivalent for "China." Liang and Chinese revolutionaries, such as Sun Yat-sen, who both lived extensive periods in Japan, used Shina extensively, and it was used in literature as well as by ordinary Chinese. But with the overthrow of the Qing in 1911, most Chinese dropped Shina as foreign and demanded that even Japanese replace it with Zhonghua minguo or simply Zhongguo.[27] Liang went on to argue that the concept of tianxia had to be abandoned in favor of guojia, that is, "nation," for which he accepted the term Zhongguo.[28] After the founding of the Chinese Republic in 1912, Zhongguo was also adopted as the abbreviation of Zhonghua minguo.[29]

Qing official Zhang Deyi objected to the western European name "China" and said that China referred to itself as Zhonghua in response to a European who asked why Chinese used the term guizi to refer to all Europeans..[30]

In the 20th century after the May Fourth Movement, educated students began to spread the concept of Zhōnghuá (中華/中华), which represented the people, including 56 minority ethnic groups and the Han Chinese, with a single culture identifying themselves as "Chinese". The Republic of China and the People's Republic of China both used the title "Zhōnghuá" in their official names. Thus, "Zhōngguó" became the common name for both governments. Overseas Chinese are referred to as huáqiáo (華僑/华侨), literally "Chinese overseas", or huáyì (華裔/华裔), literally "Chinese descendant" (i.e., Chinese children born overseas).

Some Western writers use the translation "middle kingdom" or "central kingdom" to imply that China has a deeply rooted self-centered psychology as the center of the universe. Endymion Wilkinson denies that the Chinese were unique in thinking of their country as central, although China was the only culture to use the concept for their name.[31] Regarding the accuracy of the translation, Professor Chen Jian writes: "I believe that 'Central Kingdom' is a more accurate translation for 'Zhong Guo' (China) than 'Middle Kingdom'. The term 'Middle Kingdom' does not imply that China is superior to other peoples and nations around it — China just happens to be located in the middle geographically; the term 'Central Kingdom', however, implies that China is superior to any other people and nation 'under the heaven' and that it thus occupies a 'central' position in the known universe." [32]

"Zhōngguó" in different languages
  • Burmese : Alaï-praï-daï
  • Czech: Říše středu (literally: "The Empire of the Center")
  • Dutch: Middenrijk (literally: "Middle Empire")
  • Finnish: Keskustan valtakunta (literally: "The State of the Center")
  • French: Empire du Milieu (literally: "Middle Empire") or Royaume du milieu (literally: "Middle Kingdom")
  • German: Reich der Mitte(literally: "Middle Empire")
  • Hmong: Suav Teb, Roob Kuj, Tuam Tshoj, 中國. (literally: Land of the Xia, The Middle Kingdom, Great Qing.)
  • Hungarian: Középső birodalom (literally: "Middle Empire")
  • Indonesian: Tiongkok (from Tiong-kok, the Hokkien name for China)
  • Italian: Impero di Mezzo (literally: "Middle Empire")
  • Japanese: Chūgoku (中国; ちゅうごく)
  • Kazakh: Juñgo (جۇڭگو)
  • Korean: Jungguk (중국; 中國)
  • Li: Dongxgok
  • Manchu: China in Manchu.svg (Dulimbai gurun) or ᠵᡠᠨ᠋ᡬᠣ (Jungg'o)[FN 1]
  • Mongol:China in Mongolian.svg (Dumdadu ulus)[FN 2]
  • Polish: Państwo Środka
  • Russian: Срединное Царство (Sredínnoye Tsárstvo) (literary: "Middle Empire"); Поднебесная (Podnebésnaya) - related to 天下 (Tiānxià, "under heaven").
  • Swedish: Mittens rike (literally: Kingdom of the Middle)
  • Tibetan: Krung-go (ཀྲུང་གོ་)
  • Uyghur: Junggo (جۇڭگو)
  • Vietnamese: Trung Quốc (中國)
  • Zhuang: Cunghgoz (older orthography: Cungƅgoƨ)
"Zhōnghuá" in different languages
  • Indonesian: Tionghoa (from Tiong-hôa, the Hokkien counterpart)
  • Japanese: Chūka (中華; ちゅうか)
  • Korean: Junghwa (중화; 中華)
  • Kazakh: Juñxwa (حالىق)
  • Li: Dongxhwax
  • Manchu: ᠵᡠᠩᡥᡡᠸᠠ (Junghūwa)
  • Zhuang: Cunghvaz (Old orthography: Cuŋƅvaƨ)
  • Tibetan: ཀྲུང་ཧྭ (krung hwa)
  • Uyghur: جۇڭخۇا (Jungxua)
  • Vietnamese: Trung Hoa (中華)


Chinese name
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese alphabet hán
Korean name
Japanese name
Kana かん

The name Han (漢/汉; pinyin: hàn) comes from the Han dynasty, who presided over China's first "golden age". During the Sixteen Kingdoms and Southern and Northern Dynasties periods, various non-Chinese ethnic groups invaded from the north and conquered areas of North China, which they held for several centuries. It was during this period that people began to use the term "Han" to refer to the natives of North China, who (unlike the invaders) were the descendants of the subjects of the Han dynasty.

During the Yuan dynasty Mongolian rulers divided people into four classes: Mongols, Semu or "Color-eyeds", Hans, and "Southerns". Northern Chinese were called Han, which was considered to be the highest class of Chinese. This class "Han" includes all ethnic groups in northern China including Khitan and Jurchen who have in most part sinicized during the last two hundreds years. The name "Han" became popularly accepted.

During the Qing dynasty, the Manchu rulers also used the name Han to distinguish the local Chinese from the Manchus. After the fall of the Qing government, the Han became the name of a nationality within China.

Today the term "Han Persons", often rendered in English as Han Chinese, is used by the People's Republic of China to refer to the most populous of the 56 officially recognized ethnic groups of China. The "Han Chinese" are simply referred to as "Chinese" by some.


Chinese name
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese alphabet đường
Korean name
Japanese name
Kana とう (On), から (Kun)

The name Tang (; pinyin: Táng; Jyutping: Tong4) comes from the Tang Dynasty, who presided over China's second golden age. It was during the Tang Dynasty that South China was finally and fully Sinicized; hence it is usually South Chinese who refer to themselves as "Tang". For example, Chinatowns worldwide are usually referred to generally as Tong-yan-gaai (唐人街; pinyin: Tángrénjiē; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Tn̂g-lâng-ke; literally: "Tang People Street"), while China is called Tong-saan (唐山; pinyin: Tángshān; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Tn̂g-soaⁿ; literally: "Tang Mountain").

Among Taiwanese, Tn̂g-soaⁿ has been used, for example, in the saying, "has Tangshan father, no Tangshan mother" (有唐山公、無唐山媽; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: ū Tn̂g-soaⁿ kong, bô Tn̂g-soaⁿ má).[33] This refers how the Han people crossing the Taiwan Strait in the 17th and 18th centuries were mostly men, and that many of their offspring would be through intermarriage with Taiwanese aborigine women.


The name Huaxia (華夏/华夏; pinyin: huáxià), generally used as a sobriquet in Chinese text, is the combination of two words:

  • Hua which means "flowery beauty" (i.e. having beauty of dress and personal adornment 有服章之美,謂之華).
  • Xia which means "greatness, grandeur" (i.e. having greatness of social customs/courtesy/polite manners and rites/ceremony 有禮儀之大,故稱夏).[34]

These two terms originally referred to the elegance of the traditional attire of the Han Chinese (漢服 Hàn fú, or simply 衣冠Yī guān, literally clothes and headgear) and the Confucian concept of rituals (禮/礼 ).

Tianxia and Tianchao

Tianxia (天下; pinyin: Tiānxià) literally means "under heaven"; and Tianchao (天朝) means "Heavenly Dynasty". These terms were usually used in the context of civil wars or periods of division, in which whoever ends up reunifying China is said to have ruled Tianxia, or everything under heaven. This fits with the traditional Chinese theory of rulership in which the emperor was nominally the political leader of the entire world and not merely the leader of a nation-state within the world.


Jiangshan (江山; pinyin: Jiāngshān) literally means "Rivers and mountains". This term is quite similar in usage to Tianxia, and simply refers to the entire world, and here the most prominent features of which being rivers and mountains. Use of this term is also common as part of the phrase "designing rivers and mountains" meaning maintaining and improving government and policy in the world.


The name Jiuzhou (九州; pinyin: jiǔ zhōu) means "nine domains". Widely used in pre-modern Chinese text, the word originated during the middle of Warring States period of China. During that time, the Huang He river region was divided into nine geographical regions; thus this name was coined. (Consult Zhou for more information.)


This name means Divine Land (神州; pinyin: Shénzhōu) and comes from the same period as Jiuzhou. It was thought that the world was divided into nine major states, one of which is Shenzhou, which is in turn divided into nine smaller states, one of which is Jiuzhou mentioned above.


This name, Four Seas (四海; pinyin: sìhǎi), is sometimes used to refer to the world, or simply China, which is perceived as the civilized world. It came from the ancient notion that the world is flat and surrounded by sea.

Dalu and Neidi

Dàlù (大陸/大陆; pinyin: dàlù), literally "mainland" in this context, is used as a short form of Zhōnggúo Dàlù (中國大陸/中国大陆, Mainland China), excluding (depending on the context) Hong Kong and Macau, and/or Taiwan. This term is used in official context in both the mainland and Taiwan, when referring to the mainland as opposed to Taiwan. In certain contexts, it is equivalent to the term Neidi (内地; pinyin: nèidì, literally "the inner land"). While Neidi generally refers to the interior as opposed to a particular coastal or border location, or the coastal or border regions generally, it is used in Hong Kong specifically to mean mainland China excluding Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. Increasingly, it is also being used in an official context within mainland China, for example in reference to the separate judicial and customs jurisdictions of mainland China on the one hand and Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan on the other.

Official names

People's Republic of China

People's Republic of China
Chinese name
Simplified Chinese
Traditional Chinese
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese alphabet Trung Hoa Nhân dân Cộng hòa quốc
Korean name
Hangul 중화인민공화국
Hanja 中華人民共和國
Japanese name
Kanji 中華人民共和国
Kana ちゅうかじんみんきょうわこく

The name New China has been frequently applied to China by the Communist Party of China as a positive political and social term contrasting pre-1949 China (the establishment of the PRC) and the new socialist state. This term is also sometimes used by writers outside mainland China. The PRC was known to many in the West during the Cold War as "Communist China" or "Red China" to distinguish it from the Republic of China which is commonly called "Taiwan", "Nationalist China" or "Free China". In some contexts, particularly in economics, trade, and sports, "China" is often used to refer to mainland China to the exclusion of Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. In reporting by western news services, "China" typically refers to the People's Republic of China including Hong Kong and Macau,[citation needed] particularly when reporting politics.

The official name of the People's Republic of China in various official languages and scripts:

Other languages:

  • Afrikaans: Volksrepubliek van Sjina
  • Arabic: جمهورية الصين الشعبية (Jumhūriyyah al-Sīn al-Sha'bīyah)
  • Bengali: গণপ্রজাতন্ত্রী চীন Gônoprojatontrī Chīn (People's Republic of China) or গণচীন GônoChīn (People's China)
  • Bishnupriya Manipuri: গণচীনর জাতীয় ফিরালহান
  • Bosnian/Croatian/Montenegrin: Narodna Republika Kina
  • Bulgarian: Китайска народна република
  • Burmese: တရုတ်ပြည်သူ့သမ္မတနိုင်ငံ
  • Catalan: República Popular de la Xina
  • Czech: Čínská lidová republika
  • Danish: Folkerepublikken Kina
  • Dutch: Volksrepubliek China
  • Esperanto: Popolrespubliko de Ĉinio
  • Estonian: Hiina Rahvavabariik
  • Filipino: Republikang Popular ng Tsina
  • Finnish: Kiinan kansantasavalta
  • French: République populaire de Chine
  • Gaelic: Daon-Phoblacht na Síne
  • German: Volksrepublik China
  • Greek: Λαϊκή Δημοκρατία της Κίνας (Laïki Dimokratía tis Kínas)
  • Hebrew: הרפובליקה העממית של סין (HaRepublikah Ha'ammit shel Sin)
  • Hindi: चीनी जनवादी गणराज्य Chīnī Janvādī Gaņarājya
  • Hungarian: Kínai Népköztársaság
  • Indonesian language: Republik Rakyat Tiongkok (alternatively: Republik Rakyat Cina)
  • Icelandic: Alþýðu-Lýðveldið Kína
  • Italian: Repubblica Popolare Cinese
  • Japanese: 中華人民共和国 (Kana: ちゅうかじんみんきょうわこく; Romaji: Chūka Jinmin Kyōwakoku)
  • Khmer: សាធារណរដ្ឋប្រជាមានិតចិន (Sathearanakroth Prorcheaminet Chen)
  • Kirghiz: Kıtay El Respublikası
  • Latvian Ķīnas Tautas Republika (ĶTR; Ķīnas TR)
  • Lithuanian Kinijos liaudies respublika
  • Macedonian: Народна Република Кина (Narodna Republika Kina)
  • Malay: Republik Rakyat China
  • Nepali: जनगणतन्त्र चीन (janaganatatra Chin)
  • Novial: Populen Republike de China
  • Persian: جمهوری خلق چین (Jomhuri-ye khalq-e Chin)
  • Polish: Chińska Republika Ludowa (abbreviation: ChRL)
  • Romanian: Republica Populară Chineză
  • Russian: Китайская народная республика (abbreviation: КНР, Kitaiskaya Narodnaya Respublika)
  • Serbian: Народна Република Кина (Narodna Republika Kina)
  • Slovak: Čínska ľudová republika
  • Slovenian: Ljudska republika Kitajska
  • Spanish: República Popular de China
  • Swahili: Jamhuri ya Watu wa China ( Uchina )
  • Swedish: Folkrepubliken Kina
  • Tajik: Ҷумҳурии Халқии Чин (Jumhurii Khalqii Chin)
  • Tatar: Kıtay Xalık Cömhüriyaten
  • Thai: สาธารณรัฐประชาชนจีน (rtgsSatharanarat Pracha Chon Chin; "People's Republic of China")
  • Turkish: Çin Halk Cumhuriyeti
  • Ukrainian: Китайська Народна Республіка (abbreviation: КНР, Kytais"ka Narodna Respublika)
  • Urdu: عوامی جمہوریہ چین (Awami Jamhooriya Chīn)
  • Uzbek: Xitoy Xalq Respublikasi
  • Vietnamese: Cộng Hòa Nhân Dân Trung Hoa
  • Welsh: Tsieina
  • Yiddish: מענטשנ'ס רעפובליק פון כינע

Republic of China

Republic of China
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese alphabet Trung Hoa Dân Quốc
Hán-Nôm 中華民國
Korean name
Hangul 중화민국
Hanja 中華民國
Japanese name
Kanji 中華民国
Kana ちゅうかみんこく

Since its founding in 1912, the Republic of China, or ROC, has sometimes been referred to as "Republican China" or "Republican Era" (民國時代), in contrast to the empire it replaced, or as "Nationalist China", after the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang). 中華 (Zhonghua), means China in the cultural sense; while 民國 (mínguó), literally "people's country", means "republic".[35][36] With the separation from mainland China in 1949 as a result of the Chinese Civil War, the territory of the Republic of China has largely been confined to the island of Taiwan and some other small islands. Thus, the country is often simply referred to as simply "Taiwan", although this may not be perceived as politically neutral. (See Taiwan Independence.) Amid the hostile rhetoric of the Cold War, the government and its supporters sometimes referred to itself as "Free China" or "Liberal China", in contrast to People's Republic of China (which was historically called the "Bandit-occupied Area" (匪區) by the ROC).

The official name of the Republic of China in various languages

  • Traditional Chinese: 中華民國 (pinyin: Zhōnghuá Mínguó; zhuyin: ㄓㄨㄥ ㄏㄨㄚˊ ㄇㄧㄣˊ ㄍㄨㄛˊ) - Official language and script
  • Simplified Chinese: 中华民国 (pinyin: Zhōnghuá Mínguó)
  • Japanese: 中華民国 (Kana: ちゅうかみんこく; Romaji: Chūka Minkoku)
  • Korean: 중화민국 (中華民國; Junghwa Minguk)
  • Bengali: চীন প্রজাতন্ত্র (Chīn Projatôntro)
  • Bosnian/Croatian/Montenegrin: Republika Kina
  • Catalan: República de la Xina
  • Estonian: Hiina Vabariik
  • French: République de Chine
  • German: Republik China
  • Hebrew: הרפובליקה הסינית (HaRepublikah HaSinit)
  • Latvian: Ķīnas Republika (also: Taivāna)
  • Lithuanian: Kinijos Respublika (also: Taivanis, Formoza)
  • Mongolian: Бүгд Найрамдах Хятад Улс (Bügd Nayramdah Hyatad Uls) (Official in the State of Mongolia), ᠪᠦᠭᠦᠳᠡ ᠨᠠᠶᠢᠷᠠᠮᠳᠠᠬᠤ ᠳᠤᠮᠳᠠᠳᠤ ᠤᠯᠤᠰ (Bügüde Nayiramdaqu Dumdadu Ulus) (Official in Inner Mongolia)
  • Macedonian: Република Кина (Republika Kina)
  • Polish: Republika Chińska
  • Serbian: Република Кина (Republika Kina)
  • Spanish: República China
  • Swedish: Republiken Kina
  • Thai: สาธารณรัฐจีน (Satharanarat Chin)
  • Vietnamese: Trung Hoa Dân Quốc (中華民國)

Names in non-Chinese records

Names used in the rest of Asia, especially East and Southeast Asia, are usually derived directly from words in a language of China learned through the land-route. Those languages belonging to a former dependency (tributary) or Chinese-influenced country have an especially similar pronunciation to that of Chinese. Those used in Indo-European languages, however, have indirect names that came via the sea-route and bear little resemblance to what is used in China.

Chin, China

English, most Indo-European languages, and many others use various forms of the name "China" and the prefix "Sino-" or "Sin-" from the Latin Sina.[37][38] Europeans had knowledge of a country known as Thina or Sina from the early period;[39] the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea from perhaps the first century AD recorded a country known as Thin (θίν).[40] The English name for "China" itself is derived from Middle Persian (Chīnī چین), which is itself thought to have been derived from Sanskrit Cīnāh (चीन).[41] The modern word "China" originated with Portuguese explorers of the 16th century. It was first recorded in 1516 in the journal of the Portuguese explorer Duarte Barbosa.[42][43] The journal was translated and published in England in 1555.[44]

China (referring to today's Guangdong), Mangi (inland of Xanton (Shandong)), and Cataio (located inland of China and Chequan (Zhejiang), and including the capital Cambalu, Xandu, and a marble bridge) are all shown as separate regions on this 1570 map by Abraham Ortelius

The traditional etymology, proposed in the 17th century by Martin Martini and supported by later scholars such as Paul Pelliot and Berthold Laufer, is that the word "China" and its related terms are derived from the Qin state which existed on the furthest west of China since the 9th century BC, and which later unified China to form the Qin Dynasty (, Old Chinese: *dzin).[39][45][46] This is still the most commonly held theory, although many other suggestions have been mooted.[47][48] The existence of the word Cīna in ancient Hindu texts was noted by the Sanskrit scholar Hermann Jacobi who pointed out its use in the work Arthashastra with reference to silk and woven cloth produced by the country of Cīna. The word is also found in other texts including the Mahābhārata and the Laws of Manu.[49] The Indologist Patrick Olivelle however argued that the word Cīnā may not have been known in India before the first century BC, nevertheless he agreed that it probably referred to Qin but thought that the word itself was derived from a Central Asian language.[50] Some Chinese and Indian scholars argued for the state of Jing (荆, another name for Chu) as the likely origin of the name.[48] Another suggestion, made by Geoff Wade, is that the Cīnāh in Sanskrit texts refers to an ancient kingdom centered in present-day Guizhou, called Yelang, in the south Tibeto-Burman highlands.[49] The inhabitants referred to themselves as Zina according to Wade.[51]

The term "China" can also be used to refer to:

  • the modern states known as the People's Republic of China (PRC) and (before the 1970s) the Republic of China (ROC)
  • "Mainland China" (中國大陸/中国大陆, Zhōngguó Dàlù in Mandarin), which is the territory of the PRC minus the two special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau;
  • "China proper", a term used to refer to the historical heartlands of China without peripheral areas like Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, Tibet, and Xinjiang

In economic contexts, "Greater China" (大中華地區/大中华地区, dà Zhōnghuá dìqū) is intended to be a neutral and non-political way to refer to Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

Sinologists usually use "Chinese" in a more restricted sense, akin to the classical usage of Zhongguo, to the Han ethnic group, which makes up the bulk of the population in China and of the overseas Chinese.

Barbuda's 1584 map, also published by Ortelius, already applies the name China to the entire country. However, for another century many European maps continued to show Cathay as well, usually somewhere north of the Great Wall

Kina is used to refer to China in North Europe now and the pronunciation is [ʃina]. This name still comes from the Qin Dynasty. In Swedish, Kinesiska means Chinese, the language used in Kina.

List of derived terms

Seres, Ser, Serica

Seres (Σῆρες) was the ancient Greek and Roman name for the northwestern part of China and its inhabitants. It meant "of silk," or "land where silk comes from." The name is thought to derive from the Chinese word for silk, "" (絲/丝). It is itself at the origin of the Latin for silk, "serica". See the main article Seres for more details.

This may be a back formation from serikos (σηρικος), "made of silk", from sêr (σηρ), "silkworm," in which case Seres is "the land where silk comes from."

Sinae, Sin

A mid-15th century map based on Ptolemy's manuscript Geography. Serica and Sina are marked as separate countries (top right and right respectively).

Sinae was an ancient Greek and Roman name for some people who dwelt south of the Seres in the eastern extremity of the inhabitable world. References to the Sinae include mention of a city that the Romans called Sera Metropolis, which may be modern Chang'an. The name The Latin prefixes Sino- and Sin-, which are traditionally used to refer to China and the Chinese, came from Sinae.[52] It is generally thought that China, Sina and Thina are variants that ultimately derived from Qin, which was the westernmost state in China that eventually formed the Qin Dynasty.[40] There are however other opinions on its etymology (See section on China above). Henry Yule thought that this term may have come to Europe through the Arabs, who made the China of the farther east into Sin, and perhaps sometimes into Thin.[53] Hence the Thin of the author of the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, who appears to be the first extant writer to employ the name in this form; hence also the Sinæ and Thinae of Ptolemy.[39][40]

Some denied that Ptolemy's Sinæ really represented the Chinese as Ptolemy called the country Serice and the capital Sera, but regarded them as distinct from Sinae.[40][54] Marcian of Heraclea (a condenser of Ptolemy) tells us that the "nations of the Sinae lie at the extremity of the habitable world, and adjoin the eastern Terra incognita". The 6th century Cosmas Indicopleustes refers to a "country of silk" called Tzinista, which is understood as referring to China, beyond which "there is neither navigation nor any land to inhabit".[55] It seems probable that the same region is meant by both. According to Henry Yule, Ptolemy's misrendering of the Indian Sea as a closed basin, meant that Ptolemy must also have misplaced the Chinese coast, leading to the misconception of it as a separate country.[53]

In the Hebrew Bible, there is a mention of a faraway country Sinim in the Book of Isaiah 49:12 which some had assumed to be a reference to China.[40][56] In Genesis 10:17, a tribes called the Sinites were said to be the descendants of Canaan, the son of Ham, but they are usually considered to be a different people, probably from the northern part of Lebanon.[57][58]

  • Arabic: Ṣīn صين
  • French/English (prefix of adjectives): Sino- (i.e. Sino-American), Sinitic (the Chinese language family).
  • Hebrew: סין
  • Latin: Sinæ
  • Irish: An tSín


This group of names derives from Khitan, an ethnic group that originated in Manchuria and conquered parts of Northern China. Due to long domination of Northern China by these nomadic conquerors, it was considered by northwestern people as the land of the Khitan. In English and in several other European languages, the name "Cathay" became widely used for all of China largely as a result of translations of the adventures of Marco Polo, which used this word for northern China.

There is no evidence that either in the 13th or 14th century, Cathayans, i.e. Chinese, travelled officially to Europe, but it is possible that some did, in unofficial capacity, at least in the 13th century. For, during the campaigns of Hulagu (the grandson of Genghis Khan) in Persia (1256–65), and the reigns of his successors, Chinese engineers were employed on the banks of the Tigris, and Chinese astrologers and physicians could be consulted. Many diplomatic communications passed between the Hulaguid Ilkhans and the Christian princes. The former, as the great khan's liegemen, still received from him their seals of state; and two of their letters which survive in the archives of France exhibit the vermilion impressions of those seals in Chinese characters—perhaps affording the earliest specimen of those characters which reached western Europe.


"Tabgach" came from the metatheses of "Tuoba" (*t'akbat), a dominant tribe of the Xianbei, and the surname of the Northern Wei Dynasty in the 5th century before sinicisation. It referred to Northern China, which was dominated by half-Xianbei, half-Chinese people.


Manchu: Nikan was a Manchu ethnonym of unknown origin that referred specifically to the ethnic group known in English as the Han Chinese; the stem of this word was also conjugated as a verb, nikara(-mbi), and used to mean "to speak the Chinese language." Since Nikan was essentially an ethnonym and referred to a group of people (i.e., a nation) rather than to a political body (i.e., a state), the correct translation of "China" into the Manchu language is Nikan gurun, literally the "Nikan state" or "country of the Nikans" (i.e., country of the Hans).

This exonym for the Han Chinese is also used in the Daur language, in which it appears as Niaken ([njakən] or [ɲakən]).[60] As in the case of the Manchu language, the Daur word Niaken is essentially an ethnonym, and the proper way to refer to the country of the Han Chinese (i.e., "China" in a cultural sense) is Niaken gurun, while niakendaaci- is a verb meaning "to talk in Chinese."


Japanese: Kara (から; variously written in kanji as 唐 or 漢). An identical name was used by the ancient and medieval Japanese to refer to the country that is now known as Korea, and many Japanese historians and linguists believe that the word "Kara" referring to China and/or Korea may have derived from a metonymic extension of the appellation of the ancient city-states of Gaya.

The Japanese word karate (空手, lit. "empty hand"), referring to a form of martial arts, was earlier also written as 唐手 (lit. "Chinese hand") in respect of its Chinese origin.


Japanese: Morokoshi (もろこし; variously written in kanji as 唐 or 唐土). This obsolete Japanese name for China is believed to have derived from a kun reading of the Chinese compound 諸越 Zhūyuè or 百越 Bǎiyuè as "all the Yue" or "the hundred (i.e., myriad, various, or numerous) Yue," which was an ancient Chinese name for the societies of the regions that are now southern China.

The Japanese common noun tōmorokoshi (トウモロコシ, 玉蜀黍), which refers to maize, appears to contain an element cognate with the proper noun formerly used in reference to China. Although tōmorokoshi is traditionally written with Chinese characters that literally mean "jade Shu millet," the etymology of the Japanese word appears to go back to "Tang morokoshi," in which "morokoshi" was the obsolete Japanese name for China as well as the Japanese word for sorghum, which seems to have been introduced into Japan from China.


From Chinese Manzi (southern barbarians). The division of North China and South China under the Jin dynasty and Song dynasty weakened the dogma that China should be unified, and it was common for a time to call the politically disparate North and South by different names. While Northern China was called Cathay, Southern China was referred to as Mangi. Manzi often appears in documents of the Mongol Yuan dynasty. The Mongols also called Southern Chinese "Nangkiyas" or "Nangkiyad", and considered them ethnically distinct from North Chinese. As Marco Polo used it, the word "Manzi" also reached the Western world as "Mangi" (Machin ماچين Māṣīn ماصين). The Chinese, themselves, saw "Mangi" as a derogation and never used it as self appellation.[citation needed] The name is also commonly used on medieval maps.


  1. Dulimbai gurun, rendered in Unicode as ᡩ᠋ᡠᠯᡳᠮᠪᠠ᠊ᡳ ᡬᡠᡵᡠᠨ and ᠵᡠᠨ᠋ᡬᠣ, is the official name for "China" in Manchu language.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Dumdadu ulus, rendered in Unicode as ᠳᠤᠮᠳᠠᠳᠤ ᠤᠯᠤᠰ, is the official name for "China" used in Inner Mongolia, whilst Хятад Улс (Khyatad uls) is the name for China within the State of Mongolia. The former is a derivative of Middle Kingdom, whilst the latter is a derivative of Cathay.
  3. Rendered in Unicode as ᠪᠦᠭᠦᠳᠡ ᠨᠠᠶᠢᠷᠠᠮᠳᠠᠬᠤ ᠳᠤᠮᠳᠠᠳᠤ ᠠᠷᠠᠳ ᠤᠯᠤᠰ


  1. Joseph Esherick, "How the Qing Became China," in Empire to Nation: Historical Perspectives on the Making of the Modern World (Rowman & Littlefield, 2006), pp. 232–233
  2. 《尚書•梓材》:「皇天既付中國民越厥疆土于先王」
  3. "China's 7 wonders (中國七大奇蹟)." 何尊. Retrieved on 2010-05-01.
  4. FOURMONT, Etienne. "Linguae Sinarum Mandarinicae hieroglyphicae grammatica duplex, latinè, & cum characteribus Sinensium. Item Sinicorum Regiae Bibliothecae librorum catalogus… (A Chinese grammar published in 1742 in Paris)". Archived from the original on 2012-03-06.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Jiang 2011, p. 103.
  6. Peter K Bol, "Geography and Culture: Middle-Period Discourse on the Zhong Guo: The Central Country," (2009), 1, 26.
  7. Esherick, "How the Qing Became China," pp. 232–233
  8. Hauer 2007, p. 117.
  9. Dvořák 1895, p. 80.
  10. Wu 1995, p. 102.
  11. Zhao 2006, pp. 4, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14.
  12. Mosca 2011, p. 94.
  13. Dunnell 2004, p. 77.
  14. Dunnell 2004, p. 83.
  15. Elliott 2001, p. 503.
  16. Dunnell 2004, pp. 76-77.
  17. Cassel 2011, p. 205.
  18. Cassel 2012, p. 205.
  19. Cassel 2011, p. 44.
  20. Cassel 2012, p. 44.
  21. Perdue 2009, p. 218.
  22. Elliot 2000, p. 638.
  23. Barabantseva 2010, p. 20.
  24. Esherick 2006, p. 232.
  25. Esherick 2006, p. 251.
  26. Liang quoted in Joseph Esherick, "How the Qing Became China," in Empire to Nation: Historical Perspectives on the Making of the Modern World (Rowman & Littlefield, 2006), p. 235, from Liang Qichao, "Zhongguo shi xulun" Yinbinshi heji 6:3 and in Lydia He Liu, The Clash of Empires: The Invention of China in Modern World Making (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), p. 77–78.
  27. Douglas R. Reynolds. China, 1898–1912: The Xinzheng Revolution and Japan. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press 1993 ISBN 0674116607), pp. 215–16 n. 20.
  28. Henrietta Harrison. China (London: Arnold; New York: Oxford University Press; Inventing the Nation Series, 2001. ISBN 0-340-74133-3), pp. 103–104.
  29. Endymion Wilkinson, Chinese History: A Manual (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, Rev. and enl., 2000 ISBN 0-674-00247-4 ), 132.
  30. Lydia He. LIU; Lydia He Liu (30 June 2009). The Clash of Empires: the invention of China in modern world making. Harvard University Press. pp. 80–. ISBN 978-0-674-04029-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  31. Wilkinson, p. 132.
  32. Mao's China and the Cold War. University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-4932-4)
  33. Tai, Pao-tsun (2007). The Concise History of Taiwan (Chinese-English bilingual ed.). Nantou City: Taiwan Historica. p. 52. ISBN 9789860109504.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  34. 孔穎達《春秋左傳正義》:「中國有禮儀之大,故稱夏;有服章之美,謂之華。」
  35. 《中華民國教育部重編國語辭典修訂本》:「以其位居四方之中,文化美盛,故稱其地為『中華』。」
  36. Wilkinson. Chinese History: A Manual. p. 32.
  37. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th ed (AHD4). Boston and New York, Houghton-Mifflin, 2000, entries china, Qin, Sino-.
  38. Axel Schuessler (2006). ABC Etymological Dictionary of Old Chinese. University of Hawai'i Press. p. 429. ISBN 978-0824829759.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  39. 39.0 39.1 39.2 Yule, Henry. Cathay and the Way Thither. pp. 2–3. ISBN 8120619668.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> "There are reasons however for believing the word China was bestowed at a much earlier date, for it occurs in the Laws of Manu, which assert the Chinas to be degenerate Kshatriyas, and the Mahabharat, compositions many centuries older that imperial dynasty of Ts'in ... And this name may have yet possibly been connected with the Ts'in, or some monarchy of the like title; for that Dynasty had reigned locally in Shen si from the ninth century before our era..."
  40. 40.0 40.1 40.2 40.3 40.4 Samuel Wells Williams (2006). The Middle Kingdom: A Survey of the Geography, Government, Literature, Social Life, Arts and History of the Chinese Empire and Its Inhabitants. Routledge. p. 408. ISBN 978-0710311672.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  41. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. "China". Houghton-Mifflin (Boston), 2000.
  42. "China". Oxford English Dictionary (1989). ISBN 0-19-957315-8.
  43. ""The Very Great Kingdom of China"". The Book of Duarte Barbosa. ISBN 81-206-0451-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> In the Portuguese original, the chapter is titled "O Grande Reino da China".
  44. Eden, Richard (1555). Decades of the New World: "The great China whose kyng is thought the greatest prince in the world."
    Myers, Henry Allen (1984). Western Views of China and the Far East, Volume 1. Asian Research Service. p. 34.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  45. Wade, Geoff. "The Polity of Yelang and the Origin of the Name 'China'", Sino-Platonic Papers, No. 188, May 2009. pp. 8-11
  46. Berthold Laufer (1912). "The Name China". T'oung Pao. 13 (1): 719–726. doi:10.1163/156853212X00377.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  47. Yule, Henry. Cathay and the Way Thither. pp. 3–7. ISBN 8120619668.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  48. 48.0 48.1 Wade, pp. 12–13.
  49. 49.0 49.1 Wade, Geoff. "The Polity of Yelang and the Origin of the Name 'China'". Sino-Platonic Papers, No. 188, May 2009, p. 20.
  50. Liu, Lydia He, The clash of empires, p. 77. ISBN 9780674019959. "Scholars have dated the earliest mentions of Cīna to the Rāmāyana and the Mahābhārata and to other Sankrit sources such as the Hindu Laws of Manu."
  51. Wade, Geoff (May 2009). "The Polity of Yelang and the Origin of the Name 'China'" (PDF). Sino-Platonic Papers. 188. Retrieved 4 October 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> "This thesis also helps explain the existence of Cīna in the Indic Laws of Manu and the Mahabharata, likely dating well before Qin Shihuangdi."
  52. "Sino-". Merriam-Webster.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  53. 53.0 53.1 Yule, Henry. Cathay and the Way Thither, Volume 1. p. xxxvii. ISBN 8120619668.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  54. Yule, Henry. Cathay and the Way Thither, Volume 1. p. xl. ISBN 8120619668.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  55. Stefan Faller. "The World According to Cosmas Indicopleustes – Concepts and Illustrations of an Alexandrian Merchant and Monk". Transcultural Studies. 1: 193–232.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  56. Sir William Smith, John Mee Fuller, eds. (1893). Encyclopaedic dictionary of the Bible. p. 1328.CS1 maint: uses editors parameter (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  57. John Kitto (ed.). A cyclopædia of biblical literature. p. 773.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  58. Sir William Smith, John Mee Fuller, eds. (1893). Encyclopaedic dictionary of the Bible. p. 1323.CS1 maint: uses editors parameter (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  59. Yang, Shao-yun (2014). "Fan and Han: The Origins and Uses of a Conceptual Dichotomy in Mid-Imperial China, ca. 500-1200". In Fiaschetti, Francesca; Schneider, Julia (eds.). Political Strategies of Identity Building in Non-Han Empires in China. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag. p. 23.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  60. Samuel E. Martin, Dagur Mongolian Grammar, Texts, and Lexicon, Indiana University Publications Uralic and Altaic Series, Vol. 4, 1961

See also

ru:Китайская цивилизация#Этимология