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Encyclopedia > China in world languages

The different usages of China in world languages generally derives from two sources, according to how knowledge of China reached the culture, whether by:

  • the northern land_route traversing the length of Asia
  • the southern sea-route
    • The name has nearly always been some form of the name *[tSina], such as China, Chin, Sin, and Sinoe.

The fact that there exists several different conceptions of what China is in the first place also complicates the situation. For example, Chinese people carefully make the distinction between China proper inhabited by ethnic Han Chinese, or what is often referred to simply as "Chinese" outside of China, and China, which also includes Tibetans, Uighurs, Zhuang, Yanbianese Koreans, Mongols, and Manchus, and many other ethnic groups. On the other hand, many others, especially those advocating independence or greater autonomy for Tibet and other non_Han Chinese regions, tend to equate China with China proper.


Han Chinese names

In modern China, the term Zhongguo is used to refer to all of China, including China proper, Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, and Tibet. By contrast, Han refers to the Han Chinese ethnic group, who are mostly concentrated in China proper, Manchuria, and only parts of the other 3 regions. There is no general Chinese term for just China proper, or just the territories inhabited by Han Chinese.

Zhonghua is a more literary term 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 synonymously with Han among southern Chinese, though some restrict the term further to refer to just Cantonese or some other south Chinese language group.


Middle Kingdom (中國/中国 pinyin: zhōnggu) in Mandarin

The Chinese traditionally positioned the emperor of China at the center of the world, conceiving concentric rings that extends from the cultural center to barbarlic borderlands. This notion was accepted in Korea, Vietnam and other countries to some degree, but not in the "northwestern crescent" that includes Mongolia, Turkestan and Tibet. They did not have terms to refer to this concept in the first place. The ROC and PRC impose it on them either by literal translation or transliteration. This word can be trace back as early as Zhou dynasty.

  • Bahasa Indonesia: Tiongkok (from the Min-nan name for China)
  • Chinese: Zhongguo (中國; 中国)
  • Japanese: Chuugoku (中国; ちゅうごく)
  • Korean: Jungguk (중국; 中國)
  • Vietnamese: Trung-quốc
  • Manchu:
  • Tibetan:
  • Mongol:
  • Uighur:


Middle Prosperity (中華/中华 pinyin: zhōnghu) in Mandarin, originally referred to the culturally rich Henan.

  • Bahasa Indonesia: Tionghua (from the Min-nan counterpart)
  • Overseas Chinese: Hua (華 or 华)
  • Vietnamese: Trung-Hoa


The name Han (漢/汉 pinyin: hn) comes from the Han Dynasty, who presided over China's first golden age. During the Sixteen Kingdoms and Northern and Southern Dynasties periods, various non_Chinese ethnic groups invaded from the north and conquered 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 ruler divided people into four classes i.e. Mogolians, Color-eyeds, Hans and Southens. The northen Chinese were called Han who are the highest class of Chinese. The name of "Han" was became popular accepted.

In Qing Dynasty Manchu ruler also used the name of Han to distinguish the local Chinese and Manchus. When the Republic was set up the Han became a nationality name.

Today the term 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. "Han Chinese" is simply referred to as "Chinese" outside China, especially among advocates of independence for non-Han Chinese regions.


The name Tang (唐 pinyin: tng, Cantonese: tong4) comes from the Tang Dynasty, who presided over one of China's golden ages. 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 dominantly Cantonese; they are hence referred to generally as Tongyankai (唐人街 pinyin: tngrnjiē), or "Street of Tang People". The name Tongsau (唐手) (a form of martial arts similar to karate) also originates from the same source. Cantonese people may also use Tang to refer exclusively to Cantonese themselves.


The name Huaxia (华夏 pinyin: huxi) is the combination of two words:

  • Hua which means prosper.
  • Xia which could mean the Xia dynasty or grandiose.

This word has been widely used to refer to Huang He river valley similar to Middle Prosper before Han become popular.


The name Jiuzhou (九州 pinyin: jiu3zhou1) means nine states. The word originate during the middle of Warring States Period of China. During the time, the Huang He river region was divided into 9 geographical regions. Thus name was thus coined. Consult Zhou for more information.

Chixian Shenzhou

Divine Land (神州 pinyin Shnzhōu) come from the same period as Jiuzhou. It was thought that the world was divided into 9 major states. Each of the 9 major states was divided into 9 small states. And one of the small state consists of the Jiuzhou mentioned above. This small state was called 赤县神州.


Four Seas (四海 pinyin si4hai3) sometimes is used to refer to China, other times it simply means "the country". It come from the ancient thinking that land was surrounded by sea in all four directions.

Other names

Names used in 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 especially similar pronunciation with those of Chinese. Those used in European languages have indirect names that came via the sea-route and bear little resemblance to what is used in China.


From Sanskrit Cin (चीन), possibly derives from the name of the Qin Empire (2nd century BC).

Marco Polo described China specifically as Chin, which is the word used in Persian, the main lingua franca on his route. Barbosa (1516) and Garcia de Orta (1563) mentioned China.

  • Albanian: Kin
  • Basque: Txina
  • Bosnian: Kina
  • Catalan: Xina
  • Czech: Čna (read chee-nah)
  • Danish: Kina
  • Dutch: China
  • English: China
  • Esperanto: Ĉinujo or Ĉinio or Ĥinujo
  • Estonian: Hiina
  • Filipino (Tagalog): Tsina
  • Finnish: Kiina
  • French: Chine (read sheen)
  • German: China (read she-nah, in some southern dialects also key-nah)
  • Hebrew: Sin (סִין)
  • Hindi: Cheen (चीन)
  • Hungarian: Kna
  • Irish: An tSn
  • Indonesian: Cina
  • Italian: Cina (read chee-na)
  • Interlingua: China
  • Japanese: Shina (支那) — considered offensive, see Portuguese: China ʃi'nɐ
  • Romanian: China (read key-nah)
  • Serbian: Кина (read key-nah)
  • Slovak: Čna (read chee-nah)
  • Spanish: China (read chee-nah)
  • Swedish: Kina
  • Thai: Jiin (จีน)
  • Turkish: in
  • Tamil: Cheenaa
  • Urdu: čīn (چين)
  • Welsh: Tsieina

The mention of the Chinas in ancient Sanskrit literature, both in the Laws of Manu and in the Mahabhrata, has often been supposed to prove the application of the name before the predominance of the Qin Dynasty. But the coupling of that name with the Daradas, still surviving as the people of Dardistan, on the Indus River, suggests it as more probable that those Chinas were a kindred race of mountaineers, whose name as Shinas in fact likewise remains applied to a branch of the Dard ethnicity.


A name possibly of origin separate from "Chin"

  • Arabic: Sin صين
  • Latin/Greek: Sin
  • English adjectives: (i.e. Sino-American)

The name probably came to Europe through the Arabs, who made the China of the farther east into Sin, and perhaps sometimes into Thin. 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 Sin and Thinae of Ptolemy.

Some denied that the Sin of Ptolemy really represented the Chinese. But if we compare the statement of Marcianus of Heraclea (a mere condenser of Ptolemy), when he tells us that the "nations of the Sinae lie at the extremity of the habitable world, and adjoin the eastern Terra Incognita," with that of Cosmas, who says, in speaking of Tzinista, a name of which no one can question the application to China, that "beyond this there is neither habitation nor navigation" -- we cannot doubt the same region to be meant by both. The fundamental error of Ptolemy's conception of the Indian Sea as a closed basin rendered it impossible but that he should misplace the Chinese coast. But most scholar still believe Sin is China, because:

  • the name of Sina come down among the Arabs from time immemorial as applied to the Chinese
  • in the work of Ptolemy, this name certainly represented the farthest known East
  • Ptolemy's configurations and longitudes are inaccurate, and yet he described India as well, whose coordination was faulty, like that of Sin.


An earlier usage than Sin, possibly related.

  • Greek: Seres, Serikos
  • Latin: Serica

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


This group of names derives from Khitan, an ethnic group that originated in Manchuria and conquered Northern China. Due to long domination of Northern China by these non-Chinese 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.

  • Classical Mongolian: Kitad
  • English: Cathay
  • Kazan Tatar: Qıtay
  • Medieval Latin: Cataya, Kitai
  • Mongolian: Hyatad (Хятад)
  • Russian: Kitai (Китай)
  • Slovene: Kitajska
  • Uygur: Hyty

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 at Tabriz. 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 character which reached western Europe.


"Tabgach" came from the metatheses of "Tuoba" (*takbat), a dominant tribe of the Xianbei. It referred to Northern China, which was dominated by half-Xianbei, half-Chinese people.

  • Byzantine Greek: Taugats
  • Orhon Kok-Turk: Tabgach (variations Tamgach)


Manchu: nikan

Rgya nag

Tibetan: rgya nag


From Chinese Manzi (southern barbarians). The division of North China and South China under the Jinn 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 (and inferior) from North Chinese. As Marco Polo used it, the word "Manzi" reached to the Western world as "Mangi".

  • Chinese: Manzi (蠻子)
  • Latin: Mangi

See also

  Results from FactBites:
Names of China - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (2278 words)
The Chinese traditionally positioned the Emperor of China at the center of the world, conceiving of concentric rings that extend from the cultural center to barbaric borderlands.
The mention of the Chinas in ancient Sanskrit literature, both in the Laws of Manu and in the Mahabhārata, has often been supposed to prove the application of the name before the predominance of the Qin Dynasty.
The division of North China and South China under the Jinn 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.
  More results at FactBites »



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