China, the name in English for the
country, was derived from Portuguese in the 16th century, and became popular in
the mid 19th century. It is believed to be a borrowing from Middle Persian, and
some have traced it further back to Sanskrit. It is also generally thought that
the ultimate source of the name China is the Chinese word "Qin" the
name of the dynasty that unified China but also existed as a state
for many centuries prior. There are, however, other alternative suggestions for
the origin of the word.
During periods when the Chinese nation was unified under one ruling house, the name of the dynasty was also the name of the nation, thus “the Great Tang”, “the Great Qing” and so on. The same principle applied when China was divided, with individual states, great or otherwise, bearing their own names. However, several names have been used to represent the idea of an integral geographic and cultural nation, the most famous one being Zhongguo (“the Middle Kingdom”).
The earliest record of the name was a bronze inscription dating back to the 11th century BC, which referred to the area around present-day central China.
Over the centuries, Zhongguo was at times used in diplomatic dispatches to foreign vassal states but the dynastic name was still the official one. The first time Zhongguo was used as the Chinese nation’s official name was in the Sino-Russian Treaty of Nerchinsk of 1689.
In 1912, Zhongguo was designated the short-form Chinese name for the Republic of China, and the People’s Republic inherited the name in 1949.
The official name of the modern state is the "People's Republic of China" (Chinese: 中华人民共和国; pinyin: Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó). The shorter form is "China" Zhōngguó (中国), from zhōng ("central") and guó ("state"), a term which developed under the Western Zhou dynasty in reference to its royal demesne.