There are many names for China. From the lofty title “Magnificent Xia” 華夏 (hua-xia) to the imperial sobriquet “Celestial Empire” 天朝 (tian-chao pronounced tien-chao). However, no name has endured the test of time and the approval by China’s neighbours as 中國 (zhong-guo), the “Middle Kingdom” or the “Central Nation”.
Mandarin: zhong guo
Cantonese: zong gwok
Hokkien: tiong gok (pronounced dyong gok)
Vietnamese: Trung quốc
Korean: jung guk
Japanese: chuu goku
Chinese history is said to be 5000 years (according to tradition). However, much of the first 1000 years is shrouded in quasi-mythological sage kings. The first Chinese dynasty, the Xia (c. 2100 – 1600 BCE), left no written records. Written Chinese developed during the Shang dynasty (c. 1600 – 1050 BCE), yet no record of 中國 exist during this period. The earliest record of 中國 comes from a ritual bronze vessel called the “he-zun” (何尊).
The bronze artifact was cast during the early days of the Western Zhou dynasty (c. 1050 – 771 BCE). This means the name for China today is roughly 3000 years old! Through the ages, as more and more kingdoms and ethnic groups come into contact with the Chinese, the name 中國 spread. Today, the Koreans, Japanese, and Vietnamese still refer to China as the “Central Nation”.