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China in world languages

The difference between China in world language is not dramatic, as the names can be derived back to a few sources, according when and how it was reached, whether by:
  • the northern land-route traversing the longitude of Asia
    • "The land of the Seres", to the middle ages as "The Empire of Cathay".
  • the southern sea-route
    • the name has nearly always been some form of the name *[tSina], such as China, Chin, Sin, and Sinoe.

Table of contents

Native 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 belong to a former dependency (tributary) or Chinese-influenced country have especially similar pronunciation with those of Chinese.


From Khitan

  • English: Cathay
  • Kazan Tatar: Kytai
  • Medieval Latin: Cataya, Kitai
  • Mongolian: Hyatad (Хятад)
  • Russian: Kitai (Китай)
  • Uygur: Hyty

There is no evidence that either in the 13th or 14th century officially, Cathayans, i.e, Chinese, travelled to Europe, but it is possible that some did, in unofficial capacity, at least in the 13th century. For, during the campaigns of Hulagu[?] (son of Genghis Khan) in Persia (125665), 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 that character which reached western Europe.


Middle Kingdom (中國) in Mandarin

  • Bahasa Indonesia: Tiongkok (from the Min-nan name for China)
  • Chinese: Zhongguo (中國)
  • Japanese: Chuugoku (中国)
  • Korean: Jungguk (중국; 中國)
  • Vietnamese: Trung-quốc


Middle Prosperity (中華) in Mandarin, originally referred to the culturally rich Henan.

  • Bahasa Indonesia: Tiong-Hoa
  • Overseas Chinese: Hua (華 or 华)
  • Vietnamese: Trung-Hoa


"Tabgach" or "Tuoba", a dominant tribe of the Xianpi

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


Western names

Those used in European languages have indirect names came from the sea-route that bear little resemblance to what is used in China.


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

Marco Polo described China specifically as Chin. Barbosa (1516) and Garcia de Orta[?] (1563) mentioned China.

  • Dutch: China
  • English: China
  • Esperanto: Ĉinujo or Ĉinio or Ĥinujo
  • French: Chine
  • German: China
  • Hebrew: Sin (סִין)
  • Hindi: Cheen
  • Indonesian: Cina
  • Italian: Cina
  • Japanese: Shina (支那)
    During the Sino-Japanese Wars, China was called "Shina" (支那), a derogatory term in Japanese for China. In Chinese, 支那 (Zhi'na) is only used to refer to other territories invaded by Japan such as "Indochina" (印度支那).
  • Norwegian: Kina
  • Portuguese: China
  • Spanish: China
  • Swedish: Kina
  • Turkish: Çin

The mention of the Chinas in ancient Sanskrit literature, both in the Laws of Manu and in the Mahabhãrata, 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, 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
  • Latin/Greek: Sinæ
  • Japanese: Sin, Sina

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 Perifrlus 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 the Sinæ 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 Sinæ 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 Sinæ.


An earlier usage than Sin, possibly related.

  • Greek: Seres, Serikos


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