Re: [INDOLOGY] Origin of Mahācīna

Bill Mak bill.m.mak at
Fri Mar 11 16:01:07 UTC 2016

Dear colleagues,

I believe there are textual issues with the Arthaśāstra and Mahābhārata which make the dating of those passages with references to cīna, cīnabhūmija, cīnapaṭṭa, etc rather difficult. Many Sanskrit astral texts contain kūrmavibhāga type of descriptions, correlating directions with country names and thus give us some clues of the geographical knowledge of the authors. In early Indo-Greek works like Yavanajātaka and Vṛddhayavanajātaka, there is no reference to cīna. In Varāhamihira's Bṛhatsaṃhitā (6th century) we find cīna in the the long list of place names belonging to the direction NE:
14.29ab/ aiśānyāṃ merukanaṣṭarājyapaśupālakīrakāśmīrāḥ/
14.29cd/ abhisāradaradataṅgaṇakulūta*sairindhra[K.sairindha]vanarāṣṭrāḥ//
14.30ab/ brahmapuradārvaḍāmaravanarājyakirātacīnakauṇindāḥ/
14.30cd/ *bhallāḥ paṭola[K.bhallāpalola]jaṭāsura*kunaṭakhasa[K.kunaṭhakhaṣa]ghoṣakucikākhyāḥ//

Elsewhere, cīna appeared 8 more times in the text for various types of predictions. So for Varāhamihira, the idea of cīna was quite certain.

As for Dan's comment on the origin of China, or even cīna, I don't think it can be so easily answered. Qin秦 was indeed the first Chinese empire, but it was very short-lived and there is no source I am aware of that Chinese ever referred themselves as people from Qin; or conversely, I am not aware of the knowledge of the Qin Empire in non-Chinese sources. Chinese referring themselves as people from various dynasties did become common later on, and indeed in the Chinese Buddhist texts, the reference to the people of Qin秦, that is referring to Later Qin (384 - 471 CE), is found frequently. 

But there are earlier sources which should be mentioned here. In Shijia fangzhi 釋迦方志, a quote attributed Chengguanzi成光子 of Later Han, dated 205 CE, referred China as 振旦國 - country of Zhendan (from Cīnasthāna?). Later all, similar Chinese translations 震丹、真丹、真旦、振旦、神丹 are found frequently in early Buddhist texts throughout first half of the first millennium. This seems to add a Central Asian factor to "cīna", since cīnasthāna is not attested in Sanskrit sources. It is possible that the Sanskrit "cīna" was adopted from this earlier "cīnasthāna" or similar variants used in Central Asia. "Cīna" was translated into Chinese only later, appeared as 脂那 (zhina) in Narendrayaśas' Chinese translation dated late sixth century CE, followed by the more common 支那 (zhina).

Best regards,

Bill M. Mak, PhD
Associate Professor

Institute for Research in Humanities, Kyoto University
Yoshidahonmachi, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan 606-8501
〒606-8501 京都市左京区吉田本町

email: mak at

copies of my publications may be found at:

On 2016/03/11, at 16:20, Klaus Karttunen wrote:

> 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. 
> Best,
> Klaus
> 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
>> 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*
>> Singhmar Chair in Classical Indian Society and Polity
>> Department of History and Classics
>> University of Alberta, Canada
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