Names of China

In China, common names for China include "Zhonghua" (中华/中華) and "Zhongguo" (中国/中國) , while "Han" (/) and "Tang" () are common names given for the Chinese ethnicity. Other names include Huaxia, Shenzhou and Jiuzhou. The People's Republic of China and Republic of China are official names given for the two states currently claiming the traditional area of China. "Mainland China" is used to refer to areas under the jurisdiction by the People's Republic of China usually excluding Hong Kong and Macau.

In other parts of the world, many names of China exist, mainly transliterations of the dynasties "Qin" or "Jin" (e.g. China, Sino), and Han or Tang. There are also names for China based on a certain ethnic group other than Han, much like the Western rendering of all Arabs as "Saracens". 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 China proper, Taiwan, Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Tibet. Whether Zhongguo includes Taiwan is not universally agreed upon outside the PRC. By contrast, Han refers to the Han Chinese ethnic group, who are mostly concentrated in China proper, Manchuria, and only parts of the other three 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 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 synonymously with Han among southern Chinese, though some restrict the term further to refer to just Cantonese or some other south Chinese language group.

Zhongguo and Zhonghua

China is called Zhōngguó (also Romanized as Chung-kuo or Jhongguo) in Mandarin Chinese. The first character zhōng (中) means "central" or "middle," while guó (国/國) means "kingdom". The term can be literally translated into English as "Middle Kingdom" or "Central Kingdom."

The name "zhōngguó" first appeared in the Classic of History as the name for "the centre of civilization" or "Tianxia", depending on the interpretation. . The general concept of the term "zhōngguó" originates from the belief that the Zhou Dynasty is the "centre of civilization" or "centre of the world", much like the "Middle Earth" concept of Europeans, while the ethnic groups in the four cardinals are called Eastern Yi, Southern Man, Western Rong and Northern Di respectively. However, there are different uses of the name "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 Central China, to distinguish from states in outer regions. It is also used, in later dynasties, by states who see themselves as the "legitimate" successors of previous dynasties, as in the case of the Southern Song Dynasty. Finally, it is used to mean the sovereignty in the traditional area "zhōngyuán (中原)" or "zhōnghuá (中華)", which both have the same origins, such as in the case of the Republic of China ("Zhōnghuá Mínguó (中华民国/中華民國)") and the People's Republic of China ("Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó (中华人民共和国/中華人民共和國)").

The Chinese character "guó" (国/國) originally had a different meaning from the English "state" or the modern Chinese concept "guójiā" (国家/國家), though it is taken to mean "state" today. In its origin, it refers to the area where the Tiānzǐ lives, while the outer areas governed by the same sovereign is called "yě" (野). For example, a riot of nobles living in the capital of Western Zhou is called "the Riot of the guó people" . Gradually, the vassal states of the Tiānzǐ began to use the name "guó" as well. The Book of Han talked about an incident where the Gōng of one of the vassal states loved feeding cranes and gave them official posts in the government. "When the Northern Di attacked, the guó people were unwilling to fight, and the guó was destroyed." Thus, there was the need to classify the "guó" of the Tiānzǐ from that of the Gōng. Gradually, the name "zhōngguó" is used to refer to the "guó" of the Tiānzǐ. Mao Heng of the Han Dynasty gave an explanation: "Zhōngguó: the capital."

During the Spring and Autumn Period, it was used only to describe the states politically descended from the Western Zhou Dynasty, in the Yellow River (Huang He) valley, to the exclusion of states such as the Chu along the Yangtze River and the Qin to the west. However, by the time of the Han Dynasty, the states of Chu, Qin and others had linked themselves to the politics of "Zhōngguó" and were already considered integral parts of a newer "Zhōngguó". This usage of "Zhōngguó" has been translated into English as "the Central States."

By the Han Dynasty, three usages of "Zhōngguó" are common. The Book of Poetry explicitly gives this definition that "Zhōngguó" is the capital; the Records of the Grand Historian uses the concept that China is the centre of civilization: "Eight famous mountains are there in Tianxia. Three are in Man and Yi. Five are in Zhōnghuá." The Records of Three Kingdoms uses the concept of the central states in "Zhōnghuá", or the states in "Zhōnghuá" which is the centre, depending on the interpretation. It records the following monologue: "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 (中华/中華) and Huáxià (华夏/華夏), a name for "China" that comes from the Xia Dynasty.

During the period of division after the fall of the Han Dynasty, the term Zhōngguó was subjected to denote political legitimacy apart from the previous usages. It was used in this manner from the tenth century onwards by the competing dynasties of Liao, Jin and Song. The term Zhōngguó came to be related to geographic, cultural and political identity and less to ethnic origin.

Zhōngguó quickly came to include areas farther south, as the cultural and political unit (not yet a "nation" in the modern sense) spread to include the Yangtze River and Pearl River systems. By the Tang Dynasty it sometimes included barbarian regimes such as the Xianbei and Xiongnu, which submitted to the Han people.

Finally, since the May Fourth Movement, educated students began to spread the concept of Zhōnghuá (中华/中華), which represented the people, including 56 minor 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 official names for both sovereigns. Overseas Chinese are referred to as huaqiao (华侨/華僑), literally "Chinese overseas", or huayi (华裔/華裔), literally "Chinese descendant" (i.e., Chinese children born overseas)."Zhōngguó" in different languages:

  • Japanese: Chūgoku (中国; ちゅうごく)
  • Korean: Jungguk, Chungguk (중국; 中國)
  • Indonesian: Tiongkok (from Tiong-kok, the Min-nan name for China)
  • Manchu: Dulimbai gurun
  • Mongol: Dumdadu ulus (Думдад улс)
  • Tibetan: Krung-go (ཀྲུང་གོ་)
  • Uighur: Junggo (جۇڭگو)
  • Vietnamese: Trung Quốc (中國)
  • Zhuang: Cunghgoz (older orthography: Cungƅgoƨ)"Zhōnghuá" in different languages:
  • Japanese: Chūka (中華; ちゅうか)
  • Korean: Junghwa, Chunghwa (중화; 中華)
  • Indonesian: Tionghua (from Tiong-hôa, the Min-nan counterpart)
  • Vietnamese: Trung Hoa (中華)


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 ruler divided people into four classes: Mongolians, "Color-eyeds", Hans, and "Southerns". Northern Chinese were called Han, which was considered to be the highest class of Chinese. 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. When the Republic was set up, 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 outside of China, an ideological practice used especially by advocates of independence for non-Han regions.


The name Tang (唐 pinyin: táng, Cantonese: 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 dominantly Cantonese; they are hence referred to generally as Tong-yan-gaai (唐人街 pinyin: tángrénjiē), or "Street of Tang People", while China is called Tong-saan (唐山), or "Tang Mountain". Cantonese people may also use Tang to refer exclusively to Cantonese themselves.


The name Huaxia (华夏/華夏 pinyin: huáxià) 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 the Huang He river valley, by analogy with Zhonghua, which means "middle prosper", before Han became popular.


Tianxia (天下 pinyin: Tiānxià) literally means "under heaven". This term is 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." 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 (大陆/大陸 pinyin: dàlù), literally "great land", means "continent" or "mainland." It is often used to refer to Mainland China in a political context; Dalu encompasses the area under the control of the People's Republic of China, including off-shore islands. However, the 2 PRC Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau are excluded.

Official names

People's Republic of China

The name New China has been frequently applied to China by the Communist Party of China as a positive political and social term contrasting China before 1949 (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 on Taiwan (once called "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, particularly when reporting politics. The official name of the People's Republic of China in various official languages and scripts.

Other languages:

  • Bengali: গণপ্রজাতন্ত্রী চীন Gônoprojantontri Chin (People's Republic of China) or গণচীন Gônochin (People's China)
  • Estonian: Hiina Rahvavabariik
  • Finnish: Kiinan kansantasavalta
  • French: République populaire de Chine
  • German: Volksrepublik China
  • Greek: Λαϊκή Δημοκρατία της Κίνας
  • Hungarian: Kínai Népköztársaság
  • Indonesian language: Republik Rakyat Tiongkok (also for commonly use Republik Rakyat Cina)
  • Japanese 中華人民共和国 Chūka Jinmin Kyōwakoku
  • Polish: Chińska Republika Ludowa (abbreviation: ChRL)
  • Russian: Китайская народная республика (abbreviation: КНР)
  • Spanish: República Popular de China
  • Vietnamese: Cộng Hòa Nhân Dân Trung Hoa

Republic of China

Since its founding in 1912, the Republic of China has sometimes been referred to as 'Republican China', in contrast to the empire it replaced, or as 'Nationalist China', after the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party, or the Kuomintang. It has also been referred to as the 'Chinese Republic'. Since the separation from mainland China since 1949 due to the Chinese Civil War, the territory of the Republic of China has largely been confined to the island of Taiwan (acquired in 1945 at the end of WWII) and a few other small islands. Thus, the country is often commonly referred to as simply 'Taiwan', although this may not be perceived as politically neutral. Amid the hostile rhetoric of the Cold War, the government sometimes referred to itself as 'Free China', in contrast to the communist-controlled mainland.

The official name of the Republic of China in various languages

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

First appeared Before C.E.


From Sanskrit Cin (चीन IPA: /c͡çiːnə/), this name possibly derives from the name of the Qin Empire (3rd century BC) or Jìn Dynasty (265-420).

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. Most likely, the name came from the Kingdom of Qin, which had existed on the western part of China for several centuries before it conquered the rest of China to established the Qin Dynasty.

However, it is also said that the coupling of that name with the Daradas, still surviving as the people of Dardistan, on the Indus River, may suggest the possibility that those names 'Cin' and 'China' were a kindred race of mountaineers, whose name as Shinas remains applied to a branch of the Dard people.

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

Seres (Σηρες)

Seres (Σηρες) 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, "si" (Traditional Chinese: 絲; Simplified Chinese: 丝; pinyin: sī). It is itself at the origin of the Latin for silk, "serica". See the main article Seres for more details.


An earlier usage than Sin, possibly related.

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."


A name possibly of origin separate from "Chin"

  • Hebrew: Sin (סִין)
  • Arabic: Ṣin صين
  • English (prefix of adjectives): Sino- (i.e. Sino-American), Sinitic (the Chinese language family).
  • Latin: Sinæ

This name is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible in Genesis 10:17, where it is said that the Sinites are descendants of Canaan, the son of Ham. This is taken by some to indicate the Chinese, although it more likely refers to a Canaanite tribe.

It's 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. 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.

Some denied that Ptolemy's Sinæ really represented the Chinese. But if we compare the statement of Marcianus of Heraclea (a 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 Indicopleustes, who says, in speaking of Tzinista, a name understood as referring to China, that "beyond this there is neither habitation nor navigation", it seems probable that the same region is meant by both. Ptolemy's misrendering of the Indian Sea as a closed basin—i.e., placing the Chinese coast along its eastern boundary—should not necessarily be seen as a counterargument, as also he described what is unmistakably India with similarly erroneous geography. Most scholars still believe Sinæ is China.


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 ancients called "the metropolis of the Sinae," the identity of which is unknown to modern scholars. Although the name Sinae appears to be derived from the same etymological source as the Latin prefixes Sino- and Sin-, which are traditionally used to refer to China and the Chinese, there is some controversy as to the ultimate origin of these terms, as their use in historical texts of classical antiquity in the West appears to antedate the emergence of the Qin Dynasty and its empire, the name of which has often been cited as the source of Latin Sino- and Sin-.

First appeared After C.E


English and many other languages use various forms of the name "China" and the prefix "Sino-" or "Sin-". Although the concept of "China" has roots in ancient Roman terms such as Sinae or Sina, the modern term 'China' most likely evolved after the 17th century, when the "Qing" Dynasty was established. The Qin Dynasty unified the written language in China and gave the supreme ruler of China the title of "Emperor" instead of "King," thus the subsequent Silk Road traders might have identified themselves by that name.

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

In economic contexts, "Greater China" (大中华地区/大中華地區, dà Zhōnghhuá 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.


"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(svenska), Kinesiska means Chinese(汉语), the language used in Kina.


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.

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" (*takbat), a dominant tribe of the Xianbei. 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]). 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, literally meaning "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 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 from North Chinese. As Marco Polo used it, the word "Manzi" reached the Western world as "Mangi". While the Chinese themselves see Mangi as derogatory sense, and never used as self-appellation.


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