What did Chinese people used to call themselves?
I was reading how that during the Spring Autumn period, many of the kingdoms regarded the Qin kingdom as non or semi-Chinese. But surely the word they used for Chinese was neither 中国人 nor the 汉民族 as the unified empire had yet to be formed, and of course the 汉朝 had not existed yet. So what did the so-called real Chinese peoples call themselves? Furthermore, I'm curious as to when 中国人 became the common term? Was this before or after the fall of the 清朝? I don't want to be presumptuous, and I wouldn't expect it, but I suspect Changye knows the answer, 啊啊.
changyeJune 06, 2010, 06:36 AM
Thanks for your invitation.
In ancient China, people called themselves using the name of a dyansty they belonged to, such as “商人” (商朝/Shang dynasty), “秦人” (秦朝/Qin dynasty), “汉人” (汉朝, Han dynasty) and “唐人” (唐朝/Tang dynasy).
At the same time, the name “汉人” grandually bagan to be used in the sense of "Chinese people" after the era of Han dynasty, just like“汉字” and “汉语”, regardless of dynasty.
The word “中国” actually has a very long history, which already appeared in the Spring Autum period （春秋时代）, and it only indicated a certain region of China, but didn't indicate whole China, or China as a state.
The meaning of “中国” differs from age to age (and perhaps from region to region), that said, they all contains the same concept, i.e. "central region/important region", so the word was sometimes used in the sense of “中原” (central plain).
“中国” in the modern sense first appeared after the advent of 中华民国 (Republic of China 1912 ～ ), and the same is true for “中文” (Chinese). And, of course, current-use “中国” is the abbreviation of 中华人民共和国.
I'd like to know what the next 中国 will stand for.
A very, very interesting answer that went beyond what I even asked. Thanks.
After I read it, though, I got to thinking--the question isn't totally settled. During the Spring Autumn Period, there were many kingdoms that shared Chinese culture, so in order to identify which people embodies "Chinese-ness" would not be possible by just merely using the name of the the ruling family of a particular state + 人. I was talking to a student of mine, and she reminded me of a term: 炎黄子孙. Is it possible that this is the generic term that was used to identify a culture as "Chinese" even if they are not under the same ruler?
It just occurred to me that during the Spring and Autumn Period, the Chinese lands were in theory headed under the Zhou king (although for much of this period the kings of the Zhou didn't exercise much if any real power). So in this case perhaps, as an example, the people in the 楚, 巴 and 曹 kingdoms, and so on, called themselves and all other "Chinese people" 周人? Of course this wouldn't work during the Warring States Period as the 周 kingdom had dissolved and none of the other kingdoms recognized another as the hegemon.
> 炎黄子孙. Is it possible that this is the generic term that was used to identify a culture as "Chinese" even if they are not under the same ruler?
That's right. There is also another word that worked the same way as 炎黄子孙 (or 炎黄之后，黄帝子孙 etc), i.e. “华夏族”, which was already used in the Spring Autumn period, but please be noted that these words generally indicated people who lived in 中原 (central plain), around the mid/ownstream of the Yellow river （黄河）, which roughly covers today's 河南，河北，山西，山东，and 陕西. And I guess these "sophisticated" words were mainly used among leaders, officials, and intelligentsia, but not so commonly used among ordinary people.
The situation in 周朝 (Zhou dynasty) was a little complicated. The dynasty was a kind of alliance of a lot of kingdoms (such as 秦，宋，齐，鲁 etc), and they declared their loyalty (more or less) to Zhou dynasty, and 周 was also one of those kingdoms, which was most authentic and influential, of course. Probably it was something like British Commonwealth of today. So I think that people in the era of Zhou dynasty called themselves by the names of their kingdoms, just like the people in Canada call themselves "Canadian" today.