China is one of the world's oldest civilizations and boasts a rich cultural and political history. Located in East Asia, China is the most populous country in the world, with more than 1.4 billion inhabitants. Additionally, China covers an area of approximately 3.7 million sq mi, making it the 3rd or 4th most extensive country in the world. China emerged in the fertile basin of the Yellow River, and since its founding, the country has been fractured, expanded, and re-unified several times, including the Chinese Civil War, which led to a division of territory between the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan, whose political status remains disputed.
Origin of the Name “Middle Kingdom”
Throughout its history, China has been known by several names. Currently, the country’s official name is the People’s Republic of China. “China” is the country’s English name, which has been used since the 16th century. However, the name did not emerge in China, but can be traced back to the Sanskrit word Cina, which is mentioned in ancient Indian literature, although the origin of the word remains unclear. Within China, the country is referred to as Zhongguo, which is derived from the words Zhong and guo, meaning "central" and "state", respectively. The word also translates into English as "Middle Kingdom." Therefore, China is also sometimes referred to as the Middle Kingdom.
Why is China Called the Middle Kingdom?
Throughout the past 5,000 years of China's history, the country has been referred to by various names, but the most prominent one is Zhongguo, which translates to "Middle Kingdom" or "Central Kingdom." Historically, the country was divided into several independent states until they were unified under the Qin dynasty. The term "Middle Kingdom" was used during this period to refer to states in the central part of the region. Additionally, the term reflected the culturally significant core of China, which was situated in the Yellow River valley. As China transformed into a more unified empire, the term was used to refer to the region where the emperor lived, and its population believed that the empire was located in the middle of the world.
Although the term "Middle Kingdom" was initially used to refer to the middle states, it was gradually adopted to refer to the entire unified empire. During the 19th and 20th centuries, use of the term shifted to refer to the country as a whole rather than individual states, in an attempt to show solidary among China's population. Following the Chinese Civil War, the country’s official name was changed to the People’s Republic of China. However, the term “Middle Kingdom” is still popularly used in China, particularly to highlight the country’s significance to the world.