What Is the Origin of China's Name?


Quick Answer

The precise origin of the English name, China (in reference to the East Asian "People's Republic" known domestically as "Zhongguo," or the Middle Kingdom), is uncertain. However, there is some suggestion that it derives from the Qin Dynasty of the third century BCE, which in Sanskrit was something like "Cina-s," and in Latin was "Sina."

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Full Answer

The word was brought into Europe by the explorer Marco Polo and entered the English language in the 1550s. Its introduction is credited to the translator, Richard Eden, whose earlier contributions to the English language had included "alligator" and "canoe."

After its introduction, the word was used in the travel literature of Richard Hakluyt (1550-1616) and Thomas Herbert (1606-1682), neither of whom had actually been to the country they were writing about.

The latter of these two travel writers, the diplomat Thomas Herbert, was the first to record in English how skilled the Chinese were at manufacturing and trade. He made specific reference to their ceramics. The term "china," when used to refer to such imported Chinese ceramics or porcelain, comes directly from the English name for the country. It was first recorded in the 1570s as a general abbreviation for other terms like "Chinaware" or "China dishes."

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