Etymology of the word "china"?

i was taught it was marco polo who first introduced the word “china” into western vocabularies. disregarding whether he went to china or not- a nice little book, does anyone here have insight into the spread of the term china-from “qin” dynasty to a catch-all term that embraces 1/5th ofthe human race?

I have always believed it was named after fine quality tableware.

…I could be mistaken…

I think it is the opposite. I think we call the fine table ware china because the styles mimic the chinese styles.
When I was a kid, I thought the name for porceline was china. And I always told people we had a china toilet… I was so cool. :loco:

Even today many Chinese, and Taiwanese and Japanese, women strive to have a ‘pocelaine-like’ complexion. A delicate whiteness - almost a translucent demeanor. This may have came about in comparison to the fragile ceramic works originating in the far east.

I do believe that the ‘Chinese’ as well as the Japanese and Korean were very advanced in their abilities in ceramic formulation. This allowed them to achieve a refinement not yet attained in the western world.
It would seem that these achievements were brouht ack to Europe by early explorers.
As table ware was mostly an upper-class dining accessory, perhaps this led to naming the area from whence these originated as China - and led to tableware being referred to as ‘china.’
I offer this only as speculation. I have devoted no time to researching this trail. Maybe someone else will do that.

Google says:

[quote]CHINA – “…The Chinese call their country ‘Zhongguo,’ which means Middle Country. This name may have come into being because the ancient Chinese thought of their country as both the geographical center of the world and the only cultured civilization. The name ‘China’ was given to the country by foreigners. It may have come from ‘Qin’ (pronounced ‘chihn’), the name of an early Chinese dynasty (series of rulers from the same family)…” From the World Book Encyclopedia, 1991.

Under “china…china-dishes” another source says “…China (1653); borrowed from Persian ‘chini’…” and under another word, Chinese, “…from the name of the country ‘China’ (1555, of unknown origin, but found in Sanskrit ‘Cina-s’ the Chinese, possibly in allusion to ‘Chin’ Shihnangdi, who ruled from 246 to 207 B.C.) + ese; formed in English probably by influence of French ‘chinois’ Chinese.” From “Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology” by Robert K. Barnhart (HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 1995).[/quote]


There is another explanation too. In German/Yiddish, there is a phrase …“hawking your China”…which means something like “to be angry, like a bull in a China shop…” (see correction, below

The Yiddish expression is ‘Hockt mir nisht kein chainik’ – which sounds like “hawk my chaina” when said fast and meaning, literally, ‘don’t bang my teakettle’.

But I think Qin Dynasty wins out, mischpelled to Qin, Chin, China.

From Daasgrrl’s resource:

I think that eliminates that from all consideration. If they’d even been able to get within cooee of the right spelling I might listen to their ideas on the etymology of the name.

Some predecessor form of the Silk Road would’ve been in use during the Qin Dynasty, wouldn’t it? And given that the Qin empire was essentially the first united China, it would make sense that the name would stick from that. And given how long ago that was, that gives ample time for the name to spread and evolve into the different, but similar forms used in most European languages.

Plus I thought Marco Polo’s name for China was Cathay.

[quote=“SuchAFob”]I think it is the opposite. I think we call the fine table ware China because the styles mimic the Chinese styles.
When I was a kid, I thought the name for porceline was China. And I always told people we had a China toilet… I was so cool. :loco:[/quote]

You’re not the fob you want to be taken for:

I grew up in an asian neighborhood and have an asian name. Not much of a fob, really.

If the Qin dynasty was 200+ years BC, and Marco Polo was, er, 13th century and calling the country Cathay then there’s 1400 years of continuity before he changed it, and somehow it got changed back. Doesn’t make sense to me.

Where did I read about the silk road dating back to at least Roman times? Maybe it was “Formosan Odyssey” that mentioned people in Fujian(?) who considered themselves to be Roman citizens?

I guess the Persian and Sanskrit cultures could have adopted some variation of ‘chin’ for the people and place which survived but when did it get adopted into English?

I have a copy of Lord Anson’s “Voyages”, describing the first arrival of the Royal Navy in these waters and they refer to ‘Formosa’ and ‘China’ - 1760AD. Can anyone go further back or explain the why of it all? It has puzzled me before now.

James Clavell’s “Shogun”, set in 1600(?), and not an academic work, refers to “Cathay” I believe. I’m pretty sure that people were still looking for Prester John and such like at that time.

The woman sitting next to me says that if she was to subscribe to the OED online service she could find out the first recorded use of the word in the English language.

“cathay” was a tribe/race/nation that was once independent that over the march of time was absorbed into the greater han identity. ditto the xiong nu and pretty much the manchus who conquered china to become sopped up into her.

“Cathay” is a bastardization of Khitan, the name of a race from around Manchuria who went on to establish the Liao Dynasty before having some forced westward and assimilated into society in Turkestan, with ancestors remaining in China and eventually assimilated into the Mongol population. The name is also the source, apparently, of the Russian name for China.

[Persian chini, ultimately from Chinese (Mandarin) Q

I always use “Cathay” to refer to China whenever I am sitting in an overstuffed leather chair, sipping brandy and smoking cigars, discussing with the other members in the club the best brands of sun helmets and jodphurs.

I like the guy who started up HCG. In the Ying-ge Porcelain museum, you get the whole story on a guy out to make high-quality toilets for the world. Lest you think he was bringing down the artform, the museum’s materials make it clear that he was a huge patron of ceramic arts.

However, for those who like their crappers and eat from them too, there are numerous articles about Taiwanese restaurants serving up dinners in quaint squat-style ceramic toilet bowls. The classier type of guys at these joints often point to the bits of corn and say: “See you later!”

Not the styles, but rather the substance. Only the Chinese knew how to make porcelain (as opposed to lower fired wares from less pure clays, to wit, earthenware and stoneware). It was developed around the Sui-Tang period, was further refined in the Song to Yuan, and reached the height of refinement by the very early Ming. It wasn’t until the 18th century that Europeans learned how to make similar wares (which were actually not of the same quality, being soft-paste porcelain); the art had already spread to Korea and Japan many hundreds of years earlier; the art developed around the 11th-12th centuries for Korea, and in Japan in the 15th-17th centuries.

This late European development may surprise you, but it’s because there’s no way to figure out its secret ingredients, kaolin and petuntse, after it’s fired. Some of the 18th-cent. European imitations were made with fine clay plus finely ground glass powder, and they were not entirely successful in duplicating the properties of real china, as this mix was lower fired, and not as fully vitrified. Around the same time, English potters learned how to use kaolin and petuntse, but needed to add bone ash (burnt animal bones) to supply the calcium missing from their ingredients; this product is called bone china. It is harder than soft-paste porcelain, and not as hard and vitreous as real china, but has a warm quality some prefer (as with my mom’s Wedgewood).

The name clearly comes from the country of origin, and I follow the AHE etymology above for China coming from the Qin (Ch’in) Dyn.

Ask any Chinese about the origin of the word Zhong Guo (China), you will find it to be an ancient one indeed. During the Xia Dynasty (c. 4,000 B.C.), the members of the Hua Xia clan settled along the Huang He (Yellow River), the cradle of Chinese civilization. They called it the “Centerland”. That explains why we call China “Zhong Guo”, but where does the word China itself come from? Very few people know that the word China is actually taken from a Hindu word, “Zi Na”, meaning “thoughtful and creative”. It is from this ancient word that today’s pronunciation, China, is derived.

i came across this a few years ago and thought it was pretty cool. not sure about the accuracy.

Source please.

Note that these days the word “Cathay” is considered poetic. From Hart Crane:

[quote]One Song, one Bridge of Fire! Is it Cathay,
Now pity steeps the grass and rainbows ring
The serpent with the eagle in the leaves …?
Whispers antiphonal in azure swing.[/quote]

This is similar in usage to calling England “Albion.” From William Blake:

[quote]Enslav’d, the Daughters of Albion weep; a trembling lamentation
Upon their mountains; in their valleys, sighs toward America.[/quote]

When poets say “Cathay” instead of “China” they generally mean an old, mystical place. Like Albion for England.

Because 30% of James Clavell’s brain is, in fact, ham, it’s likely he misappropriated this usage if he refers to China as Cathay in his book. Because books were rare in Marco Polo’s time, and because many (if not most) of the preserved works lying around were poetry, it may have seemed more proper to him to write the word “Cathay” even if he said something else.

I always assumed the word “China” came about because of the Chin dynasty, but I don’t know how the term fossilized as it is in other languages. A similar story with the city “Bangkok,” which really just means “Plum district” – being the part of the modern day city where, for a very brief period of time, the king had his palace. (The actual name for Bangkok is the world’s longest place name, which most Thais can rattle out if you ask them to due to a song mnemonic they learn in gradeschool, but which in everyday use gets shortened to Krung Thep, “City of Angels.” A link to the full name: … llname.php)

That would explain all the restaurants using Krung Thep in their name. It makes sense now.

did the Hua Xia really call it "Centerland? Did they speak English? What dialect of Chinese did they speak?

Zhongguo translates to "entral nation. Was “zhong guo” found in the oracle bones? What is its earliest recorded usage?