The literal English translation of the name "Zhong Guo" (China) is “middle kingdom” but through the course of history, the name has taken on many different meanings and has been the source of great conflict.
The name “Zhong Guo” was first used by the ancient Zhou dynasty, who believed themselves to be the center of civilization. Later, it came to be the name for the empire founded in the Yellow River Drainage areas and other empires set up by other ethnic groups in the Han Dynasty.
During the period of the Southern and Northern Dynasties, the name “Zhong Guo” became a propaganda weapon as the Southern Dynasty honoured itself by calling itself "Zhong Guo" and besmirched the Northern Dynasty by calling it "Wei Lu". Likewise, the Northern Dynasty also addressed itself as "Zhong Guo" whilst calling the Southern Dynasty as "Dao Yi".
This wrangling continued into later times when dynasties such as Liao, Northern Song Dynasty, Jin and the Southern Song Dynasty named themselves "Zhong Guo" whilst refusing to acknowledge the other empires as part of China. However, none of these dynasties, or any before them, actually changed their state name to "Zhong Guo", but retained their original names instead.
It was not until after the revolution of 1911 that "Zhong Guo" was officially used as the abbreviated name for The Republic of China and later, in 1949, for The People's Republic of China, which of course remains to this day the only "Zhong Guo" (China) in the world.
Other Names for China
Throughout history, China has had many other names, and they include:
•Shen Zhou – Shen Zhou means “divine land” and originated during the Warring States period. At this time it was believed that the world was divided into just nine states and that one of these states was Shen Zhou. Shen Zhou was itself divided into nine regions.
• Hua Xia - People living in Yellow River Drainage areas liked to call their empire "Hua" which meant ‘prosperity’. The reason being was that they believed they were living on fertile land in a developed civilization with lasting prosperity.
• Zhong Hua - Before the Qin Dynasty, the people Hua Xia normally called their empire "China". After the Qin Dynasty, the country developed with a great ethnic diversity, and this led to the use of another name "Zhong Hua Min Zu" (Chinese Nation). In this instance, "Zhong" refers to China and "Hua" relates to the Hua Xia Nationality. Therefore, "Zhong Hua Min Zu" (Chinese Nation) is a general name for all the individual nations in China.
• Xia –"Xia" translates as "big" in ancient parlance and was first used during the time of the Emperor Da Yu of the Xia Dynasty as a name for China.
• Hua Xia - In ancient times, the Hua Xia Nationality in the Yellow River Drainage area and the ethnic minorities living in the south and the north were under the reign of the Shang Dynasty. The Hua Xia Nationality was the major ethnic group at that time, so "Hua Xia" became another name for China.
• Jiu Zhou (the nine prefectures) - China had nine prefectures in history. They were Shen Zhou, Ci Zhou, Rong Zhou, Zi Zhou, Yi Zhou, Tai Zhou, Ji Zhou, Bo Zhou, and Yang Zhou. Here "Jiu" and "Zhou" refer to nine and prefecture, respectively. Therefore, "Jiu Zhou" became the general name of China but many other names like Jiu Yu, Jiu You, Jiu Tu, and Jiu Qu, etc. can also be generated in the same way.
• Hai Nei - Ancient people believed that China was circled by the sea and therefore called China "Hai Nei", since "Hai" refers to sea and "Nei" means the central part of something.