Why Is China Called The Middle Kingdom?

by / Saturday, 08 November 2014 / Published in About China
Kunyu Wanguo Quantu Map Colour Version
Kunyu Wanguo Quantu Map Colour Version
Click to view full size version of the map...

The Kunyu Wanguo Quantu Map translated as "A Map of the Myriad Countries of the World" is the earliest known Chinese world map in the European map making style.

Produced in 1602 by Matteo Ricci, it shows China positioned at the center of the world.

Image Database of the Kano Collection, Tohoku University Library.

Why Is China Called The Middle Kingdom?

A quick look at how China got the name 'Middle Kingdom'.

China is one of the oldest cultures in the entire world with a rich history that dates back for thousands of years.

Throughout the last 5000 years, China has been known by many different names but the most traditional name that China has used to refer to itself is Zhonggou which means Middle Kingdom (or sometimes translated as Central Kingdom).

Ethnocentrism, the belief that one’s own country is the “center” of the world in a cultural or historical standpoint is not extremely uncommon, citizens of the United States, for example, refer to themselves as “Americans” even though there are over 30 other countries in North and South America.

There is particular significance behind China calling themselves the center (or middle) of the world. The term has evolved to mean different things over the years, from a geographical and political perspective, but why is China called the Middle Kingdom exactly?

The Multiple States of China

Thousands of years ago, China was divided into multiple independent states before it was unified by an emperor. During this period, the term Middle Kingdom or Central State was used to refer to the actual middle areas of these states. The term reflected the culturally significant regions of China that was located along the valley of the Yellow River.

In later years after China became more of a unified Empire, Middle Kingdom referred to the region in which the emperor lived which ultimately meant that the Middle Kingdom was actually a dynamic, shifting region depending on the period of history you look at and which emperor was ruling.

A Modern Change

As time passed, the term Middle Kingdom referred to the entire country as a whole instead of a small area within China itself.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the term Middle Kingdom shifted to mean the country as a whole instead of describing individual states in an attempt to give solidarity to the Chinese people.

By referring to their country as the Middle Kingdom, the people of China imply their significance in the world and use the term as a form of pride to be a collective group and single nation.

So ultimately the answer to the question why is China called the Middle Kingdom is an answer that shifts throughout history, from referring to a small collective region to eventually encompassing the nation and its people as a whole.

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