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What is the current theory and has there been a reliable answer?

The most celebrated theory that it derives from 秦 (Qin, as in the first dynasty, or the preceding state) I find a bit suspect. In contemporaneous times, it was pronounced something like [dzjin]. Are there examples of foreign transliterations that retained the voiced initial? Moreover, 汉 (Han) [xans] was certainly the more enduring dynasty of note from that period, and 楚 (Chu) [tshrjaʔ] the state before that. It is odd that the lineage would trace to 秦 and not to 汉 or 楚.

Of course, this isn't unprecedented. The Russosphere still knows China by the Khitans, whose state isn't even in the orthodox dynastic historiography , but that is one data point in favor of a northwestern state being in good position to transmit its name to Eurasia. Still, what is the evidence that we can trace back China to 秦?

From Wikipedia:

It is generally thought that Chīna, Sīna and Thīna are variants that ultimately derived from Qin, which was the westernmost state in China that eventually formed the Qin Dynasty.[46] There are however other opinions on its etymology (See section on China above). Henry Yule 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.[59]

There is Latin Sina and Ancient Greek Thina [th-], but it's not clear what these refer to.

The existence of the word Cīna in ancient Hindu texts was noted by the Sanskrit scholar Hermann Jacobi who pointed out its use in the Book 2 of Arthashastra with reference to silk and woven cloth produced by the country of Cīna.

There is Sanskrit Cīna (how is this pronounced?), which the continuation says may refer to some other geographic area like Tibet or Burma, from India's vantage point.

The English name for "China" itself is derived from Middle Persian (Chīnī چین). This modern word "China" was first used by Europeans starting with Portuguese explorers of the 16th century – it was first recorded in 1516 in the journal of the Portuguese explorer Duarte Barbosa.[47][48] The journal was translated and published in England in 1555.[49]

There is Middle Persian Chīnī. While it would make sense for Persian speakers to transmit the name of a western-most state, since they were the ones in direct contact, it is odd that Middle Persian has palatalized the initial and aspirated it. Does this correspond to something closer in Old Persian to which 秦 the state was contemporaneous?

Any other thoughts welcome.


This is badly worded, see comments for clarification. The main point is to highlight the peripheral nature of the Khitan 辽 (Liao) state in analogy to the 秦 state.

  • The Russosphere still knows China by the Khitans, whose state isn't even in the orthodox dynastic historiography does History of Liao not count? – droooze Jul 29 '18 at 10:21
  • @droooze Maybe "orthodox" is the wrong word, I meant "legitimate" dynastic succession. Liao never got the Heirloom Seal, so to speak. – Nimrod Jul 29 '18 at 10:28
  • Not to nitpick, but 傳國璽...至五代十國之後失去蹤影, so I don't believe that's a legitimate qualifier either :p – droooze Jul 29 '18 at 10:33
  • Obviously it originates from 拆哪? ; ) – user3306356 Jul 29 '18 at 11:25
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    Sanskrit चीन <cīna> has an unaspirated voiceless initial consonant. As Sanskrit does have voiced initial palatal consonants available, ज (unaspirated voiced) झ (aspirated voiced), we'd still have to try explain the loss of voicing from 秦 to चीन. – Michaelyus Jul 30 '18 at 8:43
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Update, I think I misunderstood, the question is about the word "China" in English while I was talking about the word "China" in Chinese.

This is a question which has no exact answer to. The most popular answer is, it comes from the pronunciation of "秦" in English, which is "chin". Other answers think it may come from how Indians call Chinese, which is "chini". There are many other answers and each has its own explanation. It you are interested, please check out 百度百科

I will answer this question to the best of my knowledge, in Chinese, 抛砖引玉,如有不到的地方,还请见谅。

Since this is a complicated subject and it would be hard to give explanation of 中华 in English, this answer will be in Chinese.

题注所言“秦”或“汉”皆是封地之名,如“汉”,就是由水流之声而得名的。而“中华”,则与前两者不同,“中”的意思是中央,也即中央之地,而“华”的意思是美好。是汉初河南因文化美好、社会昌平而得名的,后来成为整个中华王朝的名称。

而“汉”,则成为了中华民族的名称,“唐”,另一个繁盛的中华王朝,则成为了海外华人称呼自身聚居地的名词,即唐人街。

中国历史上,不少统一王朝的名称都来源于之前藩王的封地名称,如“汉”来自于刘邦的封地,“唐”来源于李渊的封地等。

中国历史上还有一些类似的王朝名称后来被引作它用的例子,如,相传,农历是夏朝时发明的,所以,农历曾经也叫夏历,还有,商朝人善做生意,所以做生意的人叫做商人等等。

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