What Did the Chinese Call China in Ancient Times?

China has a rich and complex history that spans thousands of years. The country has gone through numerous changes, both politically and culturally, over the course of its long history. One question that often arises is what did the Chinese call China in ancient times?

What Did the Chinese Call China in Ancient Times?

The answer to this question is not as straightforward as one might expect. In fact, the name “China” itself is actually derived from the Sanskrit word “Cina,” which was used by Indian traders to refer to the Qin dynasty (221-206 BCE), one of the first unified Chinese states. However, prior to this period, China was referred to differently by different groups of people.

The Xia Dynasty (c. 2070-1600 BCE)

The earliest known dynasty in Chinese history is the Xia dynasty, which is said to have ruled from around 2070 BCE to 1600 BCE. During this time, China was referred to as “Da Xia,” which translates to “Great Xia.” However, it should be noted that there is some debate among historians as to whether or not the Xia dynasty actually existed.

The Shang Dynasty (c. 1600-1046 BCE)

Following the Xia dynasty was the Shang dynasty, which ruled from around 1600 BCE to 1046 BCE. During this time, China was referred to as “Yin,” which was also the name of one of its major cities. The Shang dynasty marked a significant period in Chinese history as it was during this time that many important cultural practices and traditions were established.

The Zhou Dynasty (c. 1046-256 BCE)

The Zhou dynasty succeeded the Shang dynasty and ruled from around 1046 BCE until 256 BCE. During this time, China was referred to as “Zhongguo,” which translates to “Middle Kingdom.” This name reflected the belief that China was the center of the world and that all other civilizations were located on its periphery.

The Qin Dynasty (221-206 BCE)

As mentioned earlier, the Qin dynasty was the first unified Chinese state and gave rise to the name “China.” During this time, China was referred to as “Qin,” which was the name of the ruling dynasty. The Qin dynasty marked a period of significant political and cultural change in China, including the construction of the Great Wall and standardization of weights and measures.

The Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE)

Following the collapse of the Qin dynasty, China was ruled by a series of warring states until it was eventually reunified under the Han dynasty. During this time, China continued to be referred to as “Zhongguo.” The Han dynasty is considered a golden age in Chinese history as it was marked by significant advances in technology, literature, and art.


In conclusion, what the Chinese called China in ancient times varied depending on the period in question. From “Da Xia” during the Xia dynasty to “Zhongguo” during the Zhou and Han dynasties, each period had its own unique name for China. It wasn’t until much later that India traders coined the term “Cina,” which eventually evolved into what we now know as “China.”