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Common Voice: Volume 1 Are We ‘Chinese?’

A Dialog from the H-Asia list, June 1999

Date: Sun, 27 Jun 1999 10:47:17 -0500
From: Thomas C. Bartlett <T.Bartlett@latrobe.edu.au>

Unfortunately, I can't find Frank Hsiao's message in my mail reader. But nomenclature is, of course, a matter of universal sensitivity. What's in a name?, indeed! Confucius said it very well, Get the names right! Names define connectedness and disconnectedness, especially important in ancestor worship. In reply to Uradyn E Bulag's interesting comments:

1) I think that, conceptually (if not orthographically) speaking, hyphenated ethnic references do exist in China, for example the one that UEB mentions: Zhonghua Minzu, which I propose to rewrite as Zhong-Hua Minzu for the present. That's definitely a hyphenated concept in Chinese, as is the affiliated term, Hua-Xia, which were originally two separate ancient ethnonyms. These hyphenated terms exist at the highest level of generality, like the reference to Yan-Huang in Yan-Huang zisun (descendants of Yandi and the Yellow Emperor, i.e., Chinese).

Why do I call them hyphenated concepts? Precisely because they don't exist in the natural experience of ordinary people, and are artifically invented by scholars and propagandists attempting to create a cult of national identity at the highest conceptual level. Most people are overwhelmingly concerned with immediately understood types of social affiliation like family, native place, specific ethnic group, profession, place of residence, etc. The level of identity named by the hyphenated terms is not naturally experienced by anyone whose mind has not been influenced through an abstract, intellectualized training process to make that identification. So I would be very interested to know, as UEB asks, in what manner and degree the members of specific ethnic groups identify with the Zhonghua minzu.

2) Why is it common in English to say Han Chinese (usually not hyphenated in spelling, in my observation), but not to say Mongol Chinese, or Tibetan Chinese, etc.? I think that is because the officially defined ethnic makeup of China has changed so drastically and so recently. As Europeans experienced the reality of the Qing dynasty in the 19th century, there was China Proper, and beyond that there were the regions pacified but not administered by the Manchu empire based in Beijing. Those regions included Mongolia, Xinjiang, and Tibet, and they were part of the Qing empire, but they were not regarded as part of China; not by the Han, not by the Manchus, not by the Mongols, Uighurs, Tibetans, nor by the Koreans, Russians, Japanese, or Europeans. Republican China provided preliminary conceptual initiatives to change all that, basically by identifying the map of modern China with the Qing empire at its height. After 1949, the Communists did not just recover those areas, they asserted an altogether unprecedented level of control and integration over them, by utilizing previously unavailable modern technologies. That is new only in the last 2 generations, since 1949.

I have on the table next to my computer at this moment the 1984 Zhonghua Shuju edition of Wei4 Yuan2's Sheng4 Wu3 Ji4; the author's preface is dated Daoguang 22 (1842). On page 93, he writes, The 17 provinces [inherited from the Ming] and the region of the eastern 3 provinces [Manchuria] are 'Zhongguo'. Westward of 'Zhongguo' is the region of the Hui, to the south is Tibet, to the east is Korea, and to the north is Russia. Their people are all indigenous residents of those regions, and their countries are all states with cities. As for those who do not have cities, have no palaces and buildings, do not practice agriculture, who live in tents under the sky and roam across the grasslands, only the Mongols, Dzungars, and residents of Qinghai are such. So (Chinese) historical sources refering to foreign peoples all define their boundaries by the location of their permanently established states or their nomadic territories.

In 1840 Wei Yuan classed Mongolia, Xinjiang, and Tibet in the same category with Russia and Korea, as foreign buffer states, outside Zhongguo. Why? Because the nature of the Qing dynasty's relations with Mongolia, Xinjiang, and Tibet was akin to Qing relations with Russia and Korea, and was fundamentally different from the nature of Qing rule over the 17 provinces and the eastern 3 provinces, which made up Zhongguo as defined at that time. Basically, there were treaties calling for ceremonial subordination, but the Qing exerted no direct control over their internal affairs. That classification of the status of Mongolia, Xinjiang, and Tibet is an embarrassment to those propagandists today who like to say that places like Tibet have always been part of China.

China has been through a great historiographical revolution in the last 50 years, and most people in the West have not integrated that into their consciousness of Chinese ethnic affairs; that consciousness has, by and large, been defined by the generally understood situation in the 19th century, i.e., the Chinese are simply the Han, full stop. Since the Chinese government is very sensitive to Westerners' habitual preconceptions about China, therefore one major goal of the Chinese tourist industry, apart from making money, is to nurture foreign visitors' awareness that China has many minorities, especially by taking tourists to places like Yunnan, where the minorities are both conspicuous, charming, and docile.

3) As regards keeping English analytic terms and categories separate from the indigenous ones, we certainly don't need to fear that won't happen; it's inevitable. The two languages will certainly never correspond exactly, perhaps not even approximately. The problem is just the opposite, at least for us on the anglophone side: that we not mistake the image of Chinese reality created in our minds by our own terms and concepts for the reality experienced by people on the sinophone/sinographic side. There is an altogether strong enough drift in western discussions about China to remain self-indulgently mired in our own rhetoric without coming directly to grips with the indigenous realities conveyed through the Chinese language.

Thomas Bartlett
La Trobe University
Melbourne, Australia

Date: Mon, 28 Jun 1999 10:50:20 -0700
From: jsbnp@cc.tnca.edu.tw

With reference to the post from Frank Hsiao on June 23:

China is the northen European wway of pronouncing that the Romans spelled Cina (pronounced Chee-na) - the Roman way of pronouncing Qin (during China's Qin dynasty 3rd c bce).

The Japanese in the pst centuries called the Chinese Kara, and (To-o [long o] for Tang), in the 19th c when they went Western they followed the Europoid China, pronouncing it Shee-na (which two Chinese graphs read back in Mandarin sound Zhi-na).

So using a sinicized reading of the Japanese transcription of a European rendition of the Roman way of calling the Qin people - seems pointless.

Surely the Chinese have a name for themsleves?

In fact they do. In Taiwan they like to say Hua2-Xia4. or Hua-ren, for the peole of the Florid Kingdom, and Xi for the earliest dynasty proven...

Joan Stanley-Baker, jsbnp@mail.tnca.edu.tw

Date: Mon, 28 Jun 1999 18:39:44 -0500
From: Nicholas Tustin <nikosjt@pantheon.yale.edu>

Dear Colleagues,

I am slightly puzzled by the post [above], in that the Romans usually refer in Classical texts to the Chinese as the Seres (i.e the people of silk cf. seri-culture), and even if they did call China Cina, it would have been pronounced more as Keena (i.e. Qin), simply because in Latin the initial C was invariably pronounced hard = K. Please can somebody give a reference for the use of Cina as a form?

Best wishes,

Nick Tustin

Date: Tue, 29 Jun 1999 18:39:24 -0500
From: GCook69833@aol.com

Please correct me if I am wrong. I am an India hand, but I did my undergraduate work in Classics, & I have translated several books from Latin in different periods of its development. The hard c(k) is of the Classical period. I don't know when Latin speakers became aware of China, but, if it was in the late antiquity, a less harsh c is plausible.

Geoffrey Cook

Date: Tue, 29 Jun 1999 21:16:09 -0500
From: Nicholas Tustin <nikosjt@pantheon.yale.edu>

Dear All,

I must confess that I don't remember denying that SIN- was a valid Latinate root, although it depends how late a given author is, as to to whether you consider it Classical, Vulgar etc. Latin, nor, incidentally am I unfamiliar with the later authors, since my professional field is, in fact, Classical Philology. My point was simply that the Romans did not use a word like Cina, and could not have pronounced it as Ch-ina, since the initial C in isolation is always pronounced hard as K. Hence the German derivation of Kaiser from Caesar etc. There is no doubt whatever that the Romans had some awareness of the fact of a silk-producing people off in the eastern end of the world beyond the Parthians and their successors the Sassanid Persians. They experienced a rather severe inbalance of payments due to imports of Chinese silk, and this led to periodic attempts to impose austerity measures, since the outflow of Roman silver was sufficiently high as to cause problems. It is, however, very douvtful whether they had any real concept of China beyond that. One might remember that during the Han dynasty one intrepid Chinese expedition got to the shores of the Caspian sea - and then turned back, having been told by the natives that what lay beyond was a land infested by every type of unpleasant entity. Doubtless the Rome of the Emperor Nerva would have been surprised to learn of its new identity!

Best wishes to all,

Nick Tustin

Dear Geoffrey,

I do agree that pronounciation may have shifted between Classical and Later Latin, but I would have thought that a softening to an s would be more likely than ch. In practice, words that start Ch in Latin seem almost invariably to be loanwords from Greek, or, rarely, from Germanic roots, and it should be from them that we derive anything like the sound of Ch in China. However, whatever the possibilities,I have not yet found anyone who uses Cina as a word, and if there is a genuine reference out there, I would very much like to know!

Anyway, philologically yours,

Nick Tustin

Date: Wed, 30 Jun 1999 17:49:02 -0500
From: kaim@server.poli-sci.saitama-u.ac.jp (kaim)


1. Joan Stanley-Baker's explanation of the origin of the English word China is incorrect.

2. JS-B's suggestion that using the English word 'China', in English rather than an Chinese word is pointless, itself seems insufficiently thought out.


Joan Stanley-Baker wrote:

> China is the northen European wway of pronouncing that the
> Romans spelled Cina (pronounced Chee-na) - the Roman way of
> pronouncing Qin (during China's Qin dynasty 3rd c bce).

My apologies, but I must take issue with this.

Firstly, in Latin (as pronounced by the Romans, rather than later peoples) the letter 'c' was pronounced as a hard sound like our 'k', as in the English word 'kin'.

Secondly, I have no recollection (from my Latin days, however, these are some time ago and I am prepared to be corrected by someone who remains involved and _knowledgeable_) of a Latin word 'Cina', however pronounced.

Thirdly, I may be odd, but I generally include Germany in northern Europe. The word in that language (sp: 'China') is pronounced 'shina', again with a long 'i'). JS-B's 'northern European way of pronouncing' appears rather influenced by current English pronunciation.

For those with a classical interest, of course the Romans did used to say: falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus.

JS-B, and anyone else interested in this topic, may be better off directing their attention a little further east. I do not have the sources to hand, but I would not be surprised if 'China' came to English through Persian where, I seem to recall, the equivalent word was 'chini' (with both vowels long [but I don't have macrons] i.e., /cheenee/). On a slightly different tack, I recall from my own days studying Arabic, in Arabic China is 'as-Sin' or, if you get rid of the definite article, 'sin' (pron., /seen/). From this came the English word element ''Sin-', as in 'Sinitic', etc.

Then again, the OED (which has probably researched this a bit more closely than either JS-B or I have) tells me,

Not a native Chinese name, but found in Skr. as China about the Christian era, and in various modified forms employed by other Asiatic peoples. In Marco Polo Chin, in Barbosa (1516) and Garcia de Orta (1563) China. So in Eng. in Eden 1555. (The origin of the name is still a matter of debate. See Babylonian & Or; Recd. I. Nos. 3 and 11.)

> The Japanese in the past centuries called the Chinese Kara,
> and (To-o [long o] for Tang), in the 19th c when they went
> Western they followed the Europoid China, pronouncing it
> Shee-na (which two Chinese graphs read back in Mandarin
> sound Zhi-na).

And yet, the character in Japanese used to write 'Qin' is pronounced /shin/. JS-B provides no evidence that this pronunciation originates in the C19, when she says the Japanese went Western (sic). Are there any palaeographers who can confirm the Japanese pronunciation of the relevant character before JS-B's 19th c when... [the Japanese] went Western?

> So using a sinicized reading of the Japanese transcription of
> a European rendition of the Roman way of calling the Qin people
> - seems pointless.
> Surely the Chinese have a name for themsleves?

Of course, _in Chinese_. But then, if we are going to privilege the names various peoples give themselves and their countries in their own languages when we are using English, what about Germany (Deutschland), Austria (Osterreich), Finland (Suomi), Greece (Hellas), Albania (Shqipnija), and so on, and on, and on...? (I use European examples simply to try and minimise gratuitous accusations of racism.)

The whole idea that we should use the name (which one?) that the Chinese (which people?) are said to use in the Chinese language (which language, or if you prefer, which dialect?) in English, apart from the problematic issues alluded to in my three parentheses, does seem more than a little precious.

R. Kaim
National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies

Date: Wed, 30 Jun 1999 17:49:02 -0500
From: jlwitzleben@cuhk.edu.hk (Larry Witzleben)

> However, whatever the possibilities, I have not yet found
> anyone who uses Cina as a word, and if there is a genuine
> reference out there, I would very much like to know!
> Anyway, philologically yours,
> Nick Tustin

Well, I suppose you are looking for historical usages, but to Indonesian speakers, the country is indeed Cina.

Regards, Larry Witzleben

Larry Witzleben
Music Department
Chinese University of Hong Kong

phone (852) 2609-6717 (office), 2603-7333 (home)
fax 2603-7333

my home page is at: http://www.cuhk.edu.hk/mus/lw.personal.html

Date: Wed, 30 Jun 1999 17:49:02 -0500
From: Melvin Thatcher <mpt@burgoyne.com>

'Cina' is used for China in bahasa Indonesia.

Mel Thatcher