[INDOLOGY] Origin of Mah?c?na

Klaus Karttunen klaus.karttunen at helsinki.fi
Fri Mar 11 09:20:11 UTC 2016

Dear Collagues,
in Greek and Latin China was known as Serica, from the first century BCE on, but this signifies just the country of Seres or “silk-producers”. In Ptolemy’s Geography Serica is northern China, while southern, reached from sea, is the country of Sinai. Cosmas Indicopleustes in the early 6th century had Tzinista for China, perhaps from early Arabic or Persian.

Beside KAŚ and Mbh, Cīna and Mahācīna are met in late parts of the Pāli Canon, references in Malalasekera (at home, I cannot check it now).

Marco Polo did not introduce China, for him China was Cathay (a late name related to Russian Kitai). Portuguese China is first attested in 1516 and could be learnt in India or South-East Asia, althougn Persian chīnī as medieval name of porcelain may have influenced. The s-form is curiously found in the name of orange in many European languages (e.g. German Apfelsine), “the apple of China”.

Just to show that the names of China have been discussed quite a long time, I add an early reference:
Klaproth, J. 1827. “Sur les noms de la Chine”, JA 10, 53-61 (with notes by E. Jacquet, JA 2:10, 1832, 438-453 & 2:11, 1832, 188f. 

Klaus Karttunen
South Asian and Indoeuropean Studies
Asian and African Studies, Department of World Cultures
PL 59 (Unioninkatu 38 B)
00014 University of Helsinki, FINLAND
Tel +358-(0)2941 4482418
Fax +358-(0)2941 22094
Klaus.Karttunen at helsinki.fi

> On 11 Mar 2016, at 06:17, Dominik Wujastyk <wujastyk at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
> I'm an outsider in this discussion, so pardon any naive remarks.  I was under the impression, though, from something I read somewhere (that statement wouldn't get past Wikipedia) that Cīna in Tantrika texts, especially the Mahācīnācāratantra, referred to what we today call the Assam-Burma region.  Meghalaya, Manipur, Nagaland, Tripura, Northern Burma that sort of area.
> Best,
> Dominik
> --
> Professor Dominik Wujastyk* <http://ualberta.academia.edu/DominikWujastyk>
> Singhmar Chair in Classical Indian Society and Polity
> Department of History and Classics <http://historyandclassics.ualberta.ca/>
> University of Alberta, Canada
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