Why China is called China?

Updated: Dec 29, 2019

It's all thanks to something that a lot of people from the common society today overlook, a commodity once known as the "white gold" of China, deemed and priced more valuable than gold itself at its peak.


It is no coincidence that the country's name, China and the chinese porcelain, china / fine china are known as they are today, or could it be?


The Middle Kingdom of the world, Zhong guo (中国) or also known as China.

The Chinese actually pronounce their country's name as Zhong guo (中国) in Mandarin. The second part of the name, guo (国) means country and the word guo is often used by the Chinese for other countries as well. For example, Mei guo (美国) - America, Tai guo (泰国) - Thailand, etc. The first part of the word, Zhong (中) means center. The word Zhong guo or the term "middle kingdom" came about during the ages of dynasties and long before that because the Chinese thought that they were in the center of the world, and thus called their people as Zhong guo ren (中国人) as well. So how did the name "Zhong guo" turn into a totally different pronounciation such as "China" by the Europeans, Westerners and other parts of the world?


So let's turn the time backwards to a point in history when the rest of the world started to get to know about China.


The World's Mecca of Porcelain

A fine china Ming Dynasty Chinese porcelain teacup sold at an auction in Hong Kong for $36million, making it the world's most expensive teacup.

Well, for one thing, China was, and is still well known around the world for the finest porcelain wares, also known as fine china.


The mecca of porcelain is located in a city now known as Jingdezhen (景德镇). It is known as the porcelain capital because they have been producing chinese ceramics for at least 1,000 years, and their porcelains were one of the country's most important assets and were of the finest quality in China. Jindezhen's porcelains were also the preferred choice, if not the only, by the emperors and royalties back then and is also still the most popular choice around the world until now.


Jingdezhen was known as Xinping and then renamed to Changnanzhen (Changnan Town) during the Tang Dynasty since it sits on the south bank of the Chang River. In the year 1004, it was only later renamed to the now known Jingdezhen (Jingde Town) during the Northern Song Dynasty period.


Let us bring our focus back to Jingdezhen when it was called Changnan, which is during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), where the first porcelain was made in its primitive form using kaolin (white china clay). This shocked the world because nobody was able to produce porcelain as white as jade, as bright as a mirror, as translucent when shined through with light, and rings like a bell when knocked upon. The methods of production remained a secret for a long period of time, and royalties around the world even thought it was made using other gems or fine luxurious materials. The true secret was only discovered around the year 1707 by Europeans, and before that, a hype and chase for fine china was sparked and that's where merchants, traders, and royalties around other parts of the world became hungry for it. Many theories claimed that Changnan was then somehow pronounced as China by the merchants and traders that visited China for the hunt of fine china and that's probably how China got its name.


Tempted to pick up an interest in collecting Chinese porcelain yet? This article might convince you on why Chinese porcelain is so sought after, even until today, and why it is so valuable and loved by people including the aristocrats and royalties from all over the world.


To learn how or where to even begin in starting a Chinese porcelain collection, read this article.

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