Do you know why China is called China? When I came to China I realized that when people travel to China or they’ve already lived in China for a longer time, the first thing they all learn is that China in Chinese is called “Zhongguo” which can be translated as Middle Kingdom. But if you ask the people why in English and a lot of other foreign languages it is called “China”, “Chine”, “Cina”, “Kina” etc. most of the people, even if they already live for a longer time in China, don’t know the answer. So let’s have a deeper look into Chinese History and get an insight of Chinese culture.

Do you know Qin Shi Huang? If yes: very good! You know something about Chinese history and have probably been in Xian. If not: Don’t worry, a lot of non-Chinese don’t know the name. So it’s good reading this blog now!

Qin Shi Huang was the King of Qin who lived during the third century BC. At that time China was divided into seven states (Qin was one of the seven states). He was the one who united all six nations and therefore became the first emperor of the unified China and founded the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) with the capital city in today’s Xi’an.

Qin Shi Huang wasn’t a very popular emperor but he brought a lot of things to the country. The country got divided into provinces and a unified measure system as well as a standardized law were introduced. Additionally the emperor standardized the Chinese characters, set up a strong central government and created one sort of money.

In order to avoid anarchy and riots of the just ended warring states period, the emperor gave the order to collect all the weapons from the states to melt them down. Moreover he abolished the practice of Feudalism. He placed a new system that the taxes of the farmers went directly to the state instead of the landlords.

Qin Shi Huang was known for his strict laws, high taxation and cruel punishment. At that time all the great works from the so called 100 schools of thoughts were burned which included for example Confucius with all his disciples. The only school of thought that was allowed was the legalism that says the only way of social order is to impose discipline from above.

Two of the projects built at that time you know for sure. The first was the Great Wall which was started to be built but most of the Great Wall was finished at a later time in Ming Dynasty. The other project was the giant tomb of Qin Shi Huang with the Terracotta Army whose purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife.

Now let’s come back to the question why China is called China. The word can be divided into two parts: “Chi” and “Na”. If you speak a little bit Chinese you know that the word “Qin” is pronounced “Chin”. So you see this part is from the first name of the unified China. The word “Na” comes from the Persian word “Nation”. In the early day of China, Persia sold and traded Chinese spices, silk etc. to the rest of the world. When people asked them where the goods came from they answered “from the Nation of Qin” which in their language was“Chin-Na”. The modern word “China” was first recorded in 1516 in the journal of the Portuguese explorer Duarte Barbosa. And in English the word was first recorded in a translation published in 1555.

So if you travel to China and somebody asks you this question you will now be able to give the answer.

Jack Li

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