Rectification of Names: China or Zhongguo?


Oftentimes our use of language becomes so habitual that we do not question its innate meanings. The term “China” for most Chinese has little relations to the original Chinese name. For the most part, Chinese people refer to China as “Zhongguo” or the Middle Kingdom, and likewise the Chinese are called “Zhongguoren” (People of the Middle Kingdom). The point of contention arises from the western label of Zhongguo as “China”, a term almost universally used today. For some nationalistic Chinese, this term represent both foreign arrogance and ignorance, but for others it is just pointless argument over semantics.

From Sina:

Over half a century ago, the word “中国” (China) meant poverty and disorder, which prove to be a headache both within and without; Today, China is experiencing the peaceful rise towards a great power, and is the focus of world attention. Especially in the light of the economic crisis, all the world’s eyes are looking at China, even to the extent of hoping China would lend a hand to help them. The two word “中国” (China) frequently appears in all forms of media. But looking back, why is “中国” translated as “China” in English? After some deliberations, I’m still quite unsure about it. Looking up in the Oxford advanced learner’s dictionary of current English with Chinese translation and the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, the two dictionaries with the most authority internationally, I hope of finding an answer. Flipping through the pages, hope became disappointment. These two dictionaries only contain “china” with the little “c”, defined as porcelain or porcelain ware, but no big “C” “China”! These are the capitalized “Chinese”, meaning Chinese people and Chinese language.

Hereto, the problem arises. Clearly the major dictionaries does not contain “China” (notice the capital “C”), yet whenever events relating to China appears on Western sources, the word “China” appears. Could it be that the [dictionary] authors are writing nonsense or that the editors left out the word “China” on purpose? Exactly when and by who was the word “china” defined as porcelain, and when did “中国” defined as China?


Emperor Qin Shi Huang united China in 221BCE. Before this time, rival lords fought for power in a constant state of war, a very small area can be considered a state, and State of Qi, Chu, Yan, etc are all examples. Confucius’ travels in Shandong are called the “journey around the states”, a proof of this diversity of states. Evidently, due to the lack of a unified state, there was also no united name for the nation. Within the Book of Rites, contained the two words “中国”. After Emperor Qin Shi Huang unified China, why did he abandon the name “中国” and instead used “秦” (Qin) as the name of the state, this require further research.

After Emperor Qin Shi Huang united China, he resolutely got rid of the old and promoted the new, creating a powerful Qin state, his domain rival that of the Romans, his name is known far and wide. Even foreigners used the term “Qin”, “秦” sound like “chin”, and by Western customs the letter “a” was added creating china, the “c” is capitalized forming “China”, hidden within it the epitome of the Qin State.

From another perspective, China since the Shang and Zhou Dynasties (1766BC to 221BC) already possess glazed ceramic ware, both delicate and beautiful. Through land or sea routes these goods reached Europe, and were well received by the local people. Ceramic ware was therefore named “china”; the place that manufactures chinaware was in turn also called “China” by the people. These two explanation are purely the opinion of the author [of this article], and awaits conformation from scholars.


Apparently, the term “China” is what the foreigners call us. China in the past was also named based on the dynasties such as “Qing”, “Yuan” and “Ming”, etc. In reality, foreigners’ naming of parts of china came out of their custom or ignorance. For example, “台湾” (Taiwan) was called by the Portuguese “Formosa, “澳门” (Aomen) was in turn called “Macau”, “广州” (Guangzhou) was called “Canton”, “,厦门” (Xiamen) called “Amoy”, etc.

What foreigners call us shouldn’t be what we accept, let us all change. Chinese places should use the local names, this is a simple reason. We must also use Chinese customs to sinicize foreign place names, such as “旧金山” (literally Old Gold Mountain or San Francisco), “加州” (California), etc; using it among the Chinese people, not necessarily as official names.

Therefore, “中国” is “中国”, we have the right to do away with the foreign name of “China”, and change it to the pinyin form of “Zhongguo”, “中国人”or Chinese people now called “Zhongguoes”, while “中华” (greater China) now called “Zhonghua”, this way it will have the proper namesake, and we do not have to follow the foreign name of “China”. Overall, we have 1.3 billion people, some 700 to 800 million do not understand the name foreigners’ call us, and don’t you think this is a serious problem? From this day on, I advocate the abandonment of the English name for “中国”.

Comments from Sina:


Support LZChina Winjiayou


LZ is crazy, should take your medications.


Silly, what is the point???


Did LZ ate too much and have nothing to do?
It is been called [China] for thousands of years, what is the point of changing it? Does it fit?
What is the point?


A nation’s dignity does not depend on the changing or names. Changing the name cannot exchange for a nation’s status, and would not receive the respect of other nations, why copy the Koreans and mess with trivial things like changing names.
It is like a person, even if given the name President or Marshal, he can only lead a vain life, with no one looking up to him. But if this man accomplished great feats in his life, even if people name him “bastard”, this “bastard” will still be respected by people.


Why don’t you change America’s Chinese name into “ah3 mai4 rui4 ke1” or “you3 ai4 shi3 ai1”.
“中国” no matter how poor or rich will be called “中国”, the People’s Republic of china!


Firmly support LZ‘s suggestion. China’s meaning is porcelain, but originally it means Shina (derogatory term used by the Japanese), Shina in European minds meant inferiority, hence China are considered an inferior race.
Strongly support LZ‘s suggestions!!!


I think the name China is not bad, really, why change it; stop messing around with your own people! According to you should it be called Huaxia?


Then call “中国” “ZhangHua Empire”, is that good?!
All the other countries are called provinces, like England Province, America Province, India Province, Japanese Province…
In the world only we are a “nation”, everyone else “provinces”!
I think this way LZ would be very happy!
Should really call LZ emperor.

Comments on Tianya:


Isn’t it called Tianchao (Heavenly Kingdom)?


The first thing I thought about was Seoul [which changed its name from Hanseong].

Weird, how can one elevate himself to be along side of Korean Bangzi?


Why English people can call “中国” China, but Japanese can’t call “中国” Shina?


It should be called Shenzhou.


I don’t support changing it. At the very least there is one reason: Z is last in the alphabet, C is third, and this way our representatives at international conventions will be placed at the beginning.


The scholars are not changing the name, but loneliness.




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Written by Joe

Joe is a documentary producer and journalist based in Shanghai


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