References to China in Sanskrit lit

Lielukhine D.N. lel at LEL.MSK.RU
Sat Nov 2 22:11:46 UTC 2002

But what about Kautilya Arthashastra (I AD):

02.11.114 ciinapaTTaaZca ciinabhuumijaa ?

China, in my mind, must be known in India 100-200 years before


PO> Madhav:

PO> I have had to deal with this in connection to the date of Manu. I
PO> append some comments of mine in my intro to Manu.

PO> The reference to the Chinese with the work c“na is problematic. The
PO> term is not used by Pata§jali or the DharmasÂtras. The word was
PO> probably derived from a central Asian language and is related to the
PO> Qin (Chin) dynasty (221-206 B.C.E.), which, although short lived, was
PO> the first to unify China. The term itself, however, may have been
PO> older, because the Qin was a state in Northwest China prior to that
PO> time with strong trade connection with Central Asia. The term
PO> ŽChina¤, like ŽIndia¤ itself, is not a term of self-identification by
PO> the Chinese. The term came back to China probably from India via
PO> Buddhist monks and texts.  When a people known as c“na came to be
PO> known in India is difficult to estimate. The terms absence in the
PO> earlier literature, however, makes it likely that it could not have
PO> been know before the 1st century B.C.E. It was during this time or a
PO> little earlier under the Han dynasty that Chinese trade with the west
PO> began to flourish.

PO> We do have, however, the mention of —aka in the compound —akayavana
PO> by Pata§jali (on Pýžini 2.4.10). So, the word yavana must have been
PO> in circulation by the middle of the 2nd century B.C.E. Interestingly,
PO> we have the progression from yavana in Pýžini, to yavana and —aka in
PO> Pata§jali, to yavana, —aka, and c“na in the MDh and the Mahýbhýrata.

PO> I doubt whether the term ciina could have come to India until the
PO> expansion of foreign trade under the Han dynasty. An upper limit of
PO> 1st cent BCE appears to me reasonable, unless there is strong
PO> evidence to the contrary.

PO> 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

Best regards,
 Lielukhine                            mailto:lel at

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