There’s an interesting debate about the origins of Zhongguo and Zhonguo ren here. Zhongguo has certainly cropped up in texts from early (Zhou) times:
[quote]There is a good explanation about the meaning and evolution of the word Zhong Guo in Ci2 Hai3 by Shanghai Dictionary Publisher, 1979.
The original usage of Zhong Guo was much earlier than I expected. Ci2 Hai3 listed the usages of Zhong Guo in the ancient historical documents and literatures: Shi1 Jing1, Li3 Ji4, Shi3 Ji, and Jin4 Shu1.
The original meaning of Zhong Guo is the center of a country and thus was used to mean the capital of a country. Since the ancester of Han Chinese, Hua2Xia4 people, had their capitals almost all in the middle range of the yellow river, and that Hua2Xia4 people was surrounded by the minority groups at that time, the area was called Zhong Guo (around the current Henai province). Later the area meant by Zhong Guo was expanded to all that ruled by Hua2Xia4 or Han people. Ci2 Hai3 doesn’t mention if Yuan and Qing were called Zhong Guo but I believe so.
It seems that the following observations can be made:
- Zhong Guo has been used as a geographical term for the area dominated by Hua2Xia4 or Han Chinese (not necessarily ruled) for at least about 3000 years.
- Zhong or “central” here is a local concept, it has nothing to do with being at the center of the world.
- After the founding of the ROC, Zhong Guo was used as its abbrev. and later PRC uses the same abbrev. And thus using Zhong Guo Ren as the name of the citizen od ROC and/or PRC is widely accepted.
- However, this does not exclude using Zhong Guo Ren by its ethnical meaning, the peoples living in the geographical Zhong Guo and their descendants.[/quote]
But pre-revolutionary use of Zhongguo doesn’t seem very common. Could it’s modern usage just be a convenient contraction of ROC/PRC?
[quote]Incidentally, the name of ROC (Zhong1 Hua2 Min2 Guo2) came from the following words of Dr. Sun Yat-sen:
“Qu1 Zhu2 Da2 Lu3, Hui1 Fu4 Zhong1 Hua2, Chuang4 Jian4 Min2 Guo2, Ping2 Jun1 Di4 Quan2”
(Expelling Manchurians and foreign invaders, restoring China, establishing
a republic, and initiating land reform.)[/quote]