References to China in Sanskrit lit

beitel beitel at GWU.EDU
Sat Nov 2 16:24:35 UTC 2002

For some reflections that preceded the previous debate on INDOLOGY, see also
my Rethinking the Mahabharata (2001), pp. 29-31.

Alf Hiltebeitel

>===== Original Message From Madhav Deshpande <mmdesh at UMICH.EDU> =====
>Thanks, Patrick.  This would be certainly useful to my colleague.
>                                        Madhav
>> ----------
>> From:         Patrick Olivelle
>> Reply To:     Indology
>> Sent:         Saturday, November 2, 2002 9:39 AM
>> To:   INDOLOGY at
>> Subject:           Re: References to China in Sanskrit lit
>> Madhav:
>> I have had to deal with this in connection to the date of Manu. I
>> append some comments of mine in my intro to Manu.
>> The reference to the Chinese with the work c> "> na is problematic. The
>> term is not used by Pata§jali or the DharmasÂtras. The word was
>> probably derived from a central Asian language and is related to the
>> Qin (Chin) dynasty (221-206 B.C.E.), which, although short lived, was
>> the first to unify China. The term itself, however, may have been
>> older, because the Qin was a state in Northwest China prior to that
>> time with strong trade connection with Central Asia. The term
>> ZÝChina?, like ZÝIndia? itself, is not a term of self-identification by
>> the Chinese. The term came back to China probably from India via
>> Buddhist monks and texts.  When a people known as"c> "> na came to be
>> known in India is difficult to estimate. The term?s absence in the
>> earlier literature, however, makes it likely that it could not have
>> been know before the 1st century B.C.E. It was during this time or a
>> little earlier under the Han dynasty that Chinese trade with the west
>> began to flourish.
>> We do have, however, the mention o- > -> aka in the compoun- > -> akayavana
>> by Pata§jali (on Py´zÝini 2.4.10). So, the word yavana must have been
>> in circulation by the middle of the 2nd century B.C.E. Interestingly,
>> we have the progression from yavana in Py´zÝini, to yavan- and > -> aka in
>> Pata§jali, to ya-ana, > -> aka,"and c> "> na in the MDh and the
>> I doubt whether the term ciina could have come to India until the
>> expansion of foreign trade under the Han dynasty. An upper limit of
>> 1st cent BCE appears to me reasonable, unless there is strong
>> evidence to the contrary.
>> Patrick
>> >A colleague of mine in Chinese studies was wondering how old
>> >references to China are in Sanskrit sources.  As far as I can tell,
>> >there are references to ciina in Manu, Mahabharata, Ramayana,
>> >Milindapanha etc.  My question is what would be a reasonable date
>> >for these references.  For example, if the Mahabharata covers a span
>> >from 400 B.C. to 400 A.D., where would we reasonably locate the
>> >references to ciina?  The same question about Manu and Milinda.
>> >Evidently there is a debate about the names of China in ancient
>> >times among historians of China, and the dates of the earliest
>> >references in Sanskrit may have a bearing on some arguments.  Any
>> >suggestions are welcome.
>> >
>> >
>> >Madhav Deshpande

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