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国家 and 国 both mean "country" or "nation". However, what's the significance of the character 家 in the word? Does it really add the meaning of "home" or "family"? Is there a cultural or historical basis for this? Or did the words and/or characters mean different things in the past?

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国家 was first used to translate the western concept of nation state in late 19th and early 20th century. 国 had a different meaning in the past – user58955 Nov 28 '13 at 1:24
up vote 9 down vote accepted

Have a look at, which explains lots of traditional meanings of 国家.

The basic meaning is related to 古代諸侯的封地稱國,大夫的封地稱家. In the classical age of China, there were vassal states and the land of a vassal was called 国. There were also officials titled 大夫 who were given land as well, and a 大夫's land is called 家. Later 国家 was used to mean 国 in some situations (for rhythmic reasons, I suppose). The meaning also got extended to mean the court, or the emperor, or the capital. None of these was today's concept of 国家.

When Chinese and Japanese were finally exposed to the Western world in 19th century, they had to create new words or re-use old words to translate the concepts and notions which were not existed in their traditional culture. Eventually 国家 was picked to be the translation of the modern concept of a state.

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In other words, 家 originally meant something like fief, and not home or family. – congusbongus Nov 28 '13 at 3:33
@congusbongus The original meaning of 家 is home, but 家 in 国家 was fief not home. – user58955 Nov 28 '13 at 4:53
@congusbongus A Chinese Character, whether in classic Chinese or modern Chinese, generally has serveral meanings. The word "国家", reminds me of a sentence cited from Lunyu (the Analects),which I and many other Chinese learned from the textbook when we were students,“丘也闻有国有家者". Here 国 and 家 respectively refer to the vassal state and the fief. – Huang Nov 28 '13 at 11:14

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