Why does China have a “middle earth” in its name? – China, Middle-earth

You must have heard that China is Brazil’s biggest trading partner. The statement is still loaded with superlative statistics, punctuation on the importance of relationships for agribusiness, and a stubborn warning: “Understand what the Chinese think and what they want.”

This is obviously not an easy task. In a country of 1.4 billion people, unrestricted consensus is extremely rare. If the challenge is to study culture, the course will be even more complex: are we talking first about Peking Opera or the Taoist temples of Sichuan? And the language? Is it Standard Mandarin, Cantonese, Tibetan, Mongolian, or any of the dozens of dialects? History? 5,800 years ago with kingdoms that arise, divide, fight, disappear to make way for the Republic and communism.

There is a multitude of topics to absorb, so much that it would be impossible to discuss in a single article (or blog). The best thing, then, is not exactly to “understand”, but to observe. Take away the western lens and try to see China on its own terms. This does not mean to be submissive, but to analyze a people, its politics and its culture from its own point of view and, from there, draw conclusions – good or bad.

“ Terra do Meio ” at the center of the debate

Calling this space “China, Terra do Meio” carries this objective of putting the country in evidence and centrality. In Standard Mandarin, the name of China is expressed in two characters (中国, read Zhōngguó) which literally translated means exactly that: empire, land, middle nation. The choice comes from an ancient tradition – although not exclusive to the Chinese – of seeing the country as the center of the world.

As Calebe Guerra, master of classical Chinese literature at Wuhan University, explains, the original word was used to demarcate the capital of several different peoples, but united by the same language. In pictographic language, in which each character has its own meaning and is inspired by an image, guó (国) marks this heritage.

“The risks surrounding this character go back to the cities closed by a wall and indicated the representation of the territory. The first word, Zhōng (中), has a more controversial origin and incorporates the meaning of “ middle ” in the name of the territory that belonged to the emperor, placing his government and himself as the center of not only geographic and l ‘inside the walls, but also time,’ Guerra analyzes.

The name “China” itself, he explains, will not be adopted until much later as an adaptation of Sanskrit and in reference to the pronunciation of the name Qin (221 BC – 206 BC), a dynasty whose nickname became popular because he was responsible for unifying Chinese territory.

PhD student in international relations at the University of Brasilia (UnB) and researcher in Chinese cultural diplomacy, Paulo Menechelli Filho affirms that the name carries a notion of preciousness common to other countries hitherto isolated.

“There is no unique story in the world, and the story we see as real depends a lot on where we are at. For a China which for millennia has lived isolated from other peoples, Chinese culture was the most advanced and occupied this place of centrality, ”he says.

For the academic, this notion of exceptionality is replaced in contemporary China by a discourse which, at least officially, does not preach hegemony. Thus, says Menechelli Filho, the government is trying to reclaim the post “of a world power, and not the only one”.

“There is an effort to associate the original name of China with other narratives parallel to its literal translation. Ideas like that of a society of shared destiny and global harmony resonate in the language of national rulers, and narratives around the origin of the name are no longer centered on a concept of exclusivity, from one empire to the other. above others, but as a global community ”, finished.

Weekly updates

In an effort to provide the Brazilian public with analysis and updates on the latest happenings halfway around the world, the “China, Terra do Meio” blog is updated weekly. In addition to the texts here, subscribers can also subscribe to our newsletter, sent out every Friday.

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