References to China in Sanskrit lit

Patrick Olivelle jpo at UTS.CC.UTEXAS.EDU
Sun Nov 3 21:59:06 UTC 2002

I am not sure what you mean by "100-200 years before"  - before what?
Clearly the Artha cannot be dated, at least as  we have it, to a time
long before 1st cent BCE, which would be the upper limit -- I think
-- for "ciina" in India.


>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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