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how did china get its name

how did china get its name

how did china get its name

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Names of China

The names of China include the many contemporary and historical appellations given in various languages for the East Asian country known as Zhōngguó (中國/中国, “middle country”) in its national language, Standard Mandarin. China, the name in English for the country, was derived from Portuguese in the 16th century, and became common usage in the mid 19th century. It is believed to be a borrowing from Middle Persian, and some have traced it further back to Sanskrit. It is also thought that the ultimate source of the name China is the Chinese word “Qin” (Chinese: ), the name of the dynasty that unified China but also existed as a state for many centuries prior. There are, however, other alternative suggestions for the origin of the word.

Another names

Chinese names for China, aside from Zhongguo, include Zhōnghuá (中華/中华, “central beauty”), Huáxià (華夏/华夏, “beautiful grandness”), Shénzhōu (神州, “divine state”) and Jiǔzhōu (九州, “nine states”). Hàn (/) and Táng () are common names given for the Chinese ethnicity, despite the Chinese nationality (Zhōnghuá Mínzú) not referencing any singular ethnicity. 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 of the PRC, usually excluding Hong Kong and Macau.

There are also names for China used around the world that are derived from the languages of ethnic groups other than the Han; examples include “Cathay” from the Khitan language and “Tabgach” from Tuoba.


China (Chinese: 中国; pinyin: Zhōngguó), officially the People’s Republic of China (PRC; Chinese: 中华人民共和国; pinyin: Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó), is a country in East Asia. It is the world’s most populous country, with a population of more than 1.4 billion. China spans five geographical time zones and borders 14 different countries, the second most of any country in the world after Russia. Covering an area of approximately 9.6 million square kilometers (3,700,000 sq mi), it is the world’s third or fourth largest country. The country consists of 23 provinces, four municipalities, five autonomous regions, and two Special Administrative Regions (Hong Kong and Macau). The national capital is Beijing.

how did china get its name
how did china get its name

China emerged as one of the world’s first civilizations in the fertile basin of the Yellow River in the North China Plain. China was one of the world’s foremost economic powers for most of the two millennia from the 1st until the 19th century. For millennia, China’s political system was based on absolute hereditary monarchies, or dynasties, beginning with the semi-legendary Xia dynasty in the 21st century BCE. Since then, China has expanded, fractured, and re-unified numerous times. In the 3rd century BCE, the Qin reunited core China and established the first Chinese empire.

The most advanced technologies

The succeeding Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE) saw some of the most advanced technology at that time, including papermaking and the compass, along with agricultural and medical improvements. The invention of gunpowder and movable type in the Tang dynasty (618–907) and Northern Song dynasty (960–1127) completed the Four Great Inventions. Tang culture spread widely in Asia, as the new Silk Road brought traders to as far as Mesopotamia and the Horn of Africa. The Qing dynasty, China’s last dynasty, which formed the territorial basis for modern China, suffered heavy losses to foreign imperialism in the 19th century.

How Did China Really Get Its Name?

China’s national identity reaches back many thousands of years – and in that national identity, the name cannot be undervalued. In the West, China is of course called China, but in its own language it’s known as ‘Zhongguo’, translating roughly to ‘Middle Kingdom.’ Here’s everything you need to know.

The first known recording of the term ‘Zhongguo’ comes from a ritual vessel dating around 1000 B.C. called the He Zun. Though the country had not yet been unified (that wouldn’t happen until 221 B.C.), Zhongguo was used to refer to the central Yellow River valley, around which the ruling Western Zhou dynasty was centered.

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Throughout its history, China has engaged in an ‘us vs. them’ mentality, believing themselves to be civilized and outside tribes to be barbaric. ‘Zhongguo’ thus does not necessarily imply that early dynasties viewed their position as the center of the world, but rather that there was a necessary linguistic distinction between those under the protection of the given dynasty and those outside that protection.

Great Ming

Every few hundred years, give or take, China changed hands, and with the changing of the dynasties came each time a change in name. Under the Ming, China was the ‘Great Ming,’ under the Qing, China was the ‘Great Qing,’ and so on. Yet on unofficial documents, the name ‘Zhongguo’ lived on.

The full given name of China today is ‘Zhonghua Renmin Gong He Guo,’ or People’s Republic of China. The ‘Zhong’ and ‘Guo’ at the beginning and end are the same characters found on the He Zun vessel.

So where does the name ‘China’ come from then? That is a bit more difficult to answer.

Scholars disagree on the name’s exact origin. Some argue that it comes from a Roman bastardization of China’s unifying dynasty, the Qin (pronounced ‘cheen’). Others say that it is from the Persian word ‘cin‘ and was spread throughout Europe by world traveler Marco Polo.

Either way, it is clear that the name was already in use by the 16th century and was fully popularized by the mid-19th century.

Whether the country is referred to as ‘Zhongguo’, the ‘Great Qing’, or ‘China’. Its name has been a key part of its identity for thousands of years, grouping people together. Under one common term long before the concept of nation was born.
how did china get its name
how did china get its name


Well before the advent of recognizable civilization in the region, the land was occupied by hominids. Peking Man, a skull fossil discovered in 1927 CE near Beijing, lived in the area between 700,000 to 300,000 years ago. And Yuanmou Man, whose remains were found in Yuanmou in 1965 CE, inhabited the land 1.7 million years ago. Evidence uncovered with these finds shows that these early inhabitants knew how to fashion stone tools and use fire.

While it is commonly accepted that human beings originated in Africa and then migrated to other points around the globe. China’s paleoanthropologists “support the theory of ‘regional evolution’ of the origin of man” ( Which claims an independent basis for the birth of human beings. “The Shu Ape, a primate weighing only 100 to 150 grams and being similar to a mouse in size, lived [in China] in the Middle Eocene Epoch 4.5 to 4 million years ago. Its discovery posed a great challenge to the theory of African origin of the human race” ( This challenge is considered plausible due to genetic links between the Shu Ape fossil. And both advanced and lower primates, standing, then, as a ‘missing link’ in the evolutionary process.


However one interprets this data (the Chinese conclusions have been disputed by the international community). The solid evidence provided by other finds substantiates a very ancient lineage of hominids. And homo sapiens in China and a high level of sophistication in early culture. One example of this is Banpo Village, near Xi’an, discovered in 1953 CE. Banpo is a Neolithic village which was inhabited between 4500 and 3750 BCE and comprises 45 houses with floors sunk into the ground for greater stability. A trench encircling the village provided both protection from attack and drainage (while also helping to fence in domestic animals). While man-made caves dug underground were used to store food. The design of the village, and the artifacts discovered there (such as pottery and tools), argue for a very advanced culture at the time it was constructed.


It has generally been accepted that the Chinese ‘Cradle of Civilization’ is the Yellow River Valley. Which gave rise to villages sometime around 5000 BCE. While this has been disputed, and arguments have been made for the more widespread development of communities. There is no doubt that the Henan province, in the Yellow River Valley. Was the site of many early villages and farming communities.

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In 2001 CE, archaeologists uncovered two skeletons “buried in a collapsed house. Which was covered with a thick layer of silt deposits from the Yellow River. In the layer of deposits, archaeologists found more than 20 skeletons, an altar, a square, pottery, and stone and jade utensils” ( This site was only one of many prehistoric villages in the area.

Other Names for China

Throughout history, China has had many other names, and they include:

Shen Zhou – Shen Zhou means “divine land”. It originated during the Warring States period. At that time, it was believed that the world was divided into nine states. And that one of these states was Shen Zhou. Shen Zhou was itself divided into nine regions.

Hua – People living in the Yellow River Drainage areas liked to call their empire “Hua”. Hua means “prosperity”. They believed they lived in the fertile land of a developed civilization with lasting prosperity.

Zhong Hua – Before the Qin Dynasty, the people Hua Xia normally called their empire “China”. After the Qin Dynasty, the country developed with great ethnic diversity. This led to the use of another name “Zhong Hua Min Zu” (Chinese Nation).

In this instance, “Zhong” refers to China and “Hua” relates to the Hua Xia Nationality. Therefore, “Zhong Hua Min Zu” (Chinese Nation) is a general name for all the individual nations in China.

how did china get its name
how did china get its name

More names

Xia – “Xia” translates as “big” in ancient parlance. It was first used during the time of the Emperor Da Yu of the Xia Dynasty. As a name for China.

Hua Xia – In ancient times, the Hua Xia Nationality in the Yellow River Drainage area. And the ethnic minorities living in the south and the north were under the reign of the Shang Dynasty. The Hua Xia Nationality was the major ethnic group at that time, so “Hua Xia” became another name for China.

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Jiu Zhou (the nine prefectures) – China had nine prefectures in history. They were Shen Zhou, Ci Zhou, Rong Zhou, Zi Zhou, Yi Zhou, Tai Zhou, Ji Zhou, Bo Zhou, and Yang Zhou. Here “Jiu” and “Zhou” refer to nine and prefecture, respectively. Therefore, “Jiu Zhou” became the general name of China. But many other names like Jiu Yu, Jiu You, Jiu Tu, and Jiu Qu, etc. Can also be generated in the same way.

Hai Nei – Ancient people believed that China was circled by the sea. Thus they called China “Hai Nei” as “Hai” refers to the sea and “Nei” means the central part of something.

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