Cathay is the Anglicized version of "Catai" and an alternative name for China in English. "Catai" was originally the name used for northern China during Marco Polo's time (he referred to southern China as Manji). "Catai" itself derives from the word Khitan (契丹 Qìdān), the Chinese name of a tribe ruling predominantly in northern China during Polo's visits. Travels in the Land of Kublai Khan by Marco Polo has a story called "The Road to Cathay". In the English language, the word Cathay was sometimes used for China, although increasingly only in a poetic sense, until the 19th century when it was completely replaced by "China". However the terms "China" and "Cathay" are about as old as each other in English. The term may still be used poetically or in certain proper nouns, such as Cathay Pacific Airways or Cathay Hotel. A person from Cathay (i.e., a Chinese) was also written in English as a Cathayan or a Cataian.

Etymological progression

Below is the etymological progression from Khitan to Cathay as the word travelled westward:

References in popular culture

  • Cathay is mentioned several times by John Blackthorne, the protagonist in James Clavell's novel Shōgun.
  • The flag carrier of Hong Kong was named Cathay Pacific because the founders envisioned that one day, the airline would cross the Pacific Ocean from China.
  • Ezra Pound published a collection of poems entitled Cathay: For the Most Part from the Chinese of Rihaku, from the notes of the late Ernest Fenollosa, and the Decipherings of the Professors Mori and Ariga, London: Elkin Mathews, 1915.
  • Edna St. Vincent Millay mentions Cathay in her poem "To The Not Impossible Him".
  • Cathay is the name of a short story by Steven Millhauser in his collection of short stories "in the penny arcade"
  • The Suede song "The Power" from the album Dog Man Star includes the line, "through endless Asia / through the fields of Cathay".
  • In Gore Vidal's novel Creation, which takes place between 510445 BC, Cathay is a pivotal setting.
  • Robert E. Howard named a China-like civilization Khitai in his Hyborian Age backdrop for Conan the Barbarian.
  • In the 2007 Animated Film Sword of the Stranger, the antagonists are a group of Chinese warriors referred to as the Cathay.
  • Brian Eno's song wonders, "How does she intend to live when she's in far Cathay?" from his album, Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy

In role playing games:

See also

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