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Shina (支那, pronounced [ɕiꜜna]) is an archaic Japanese term for China. The word was originally used by both the Chinese and Japanese, but came to be perceived as derogatory by the Chinese during the course of the Second Sino-Japanese War as well as Japanese news reports during the Shanghai incident and the Nanjing massacre. As a result, it fell into disuse following Japan's defeat in the Second World War and is now viewed as an offensive, derogatory label, with the standard Japanese name for China being replaced by the more neutral Chūgoku (中国).[1][2]

Origins and early usage

See also: Names of China § Names in Non-Chinese records, and Chinas

Shina originates from the Sanskrit word Cina (चीन IPA: [tɕiːnɐ]), meaning China, was transcribed into various forms including 支那 (Zhīnà), (Zhīnà), (Zhīnà) and (Zhìnà). Thus, the term Shina was initially created as a transliteration of Cina, and this term was in turn brought to Japan with the spread of Chinese Buddhism. Traditional etymology holds that the Sanskrit name, like Middle Persian Čīn and Latin Sina, derives from the Qin state or dynasty (, Old Chinese: *dzin) which ruled China in 221–206 BC, and so Shina is a return of Qin to Chinese in a different form.

The Sanskrit term for China eventually spread into China, where its usage was closely related to Buddhism. A Tang Dynasty (618–907) poem titled Ti Fan Shu (literally "preface to a Sanskrit book") by Emperor Xuanzong of Tang uses the Chinese term Zhīnà (支那) to refer to China:


Early modern usage

The Latin term for China was Sinae, plural of Sina. When Arai Hakuseki, a Japanese scholar, interrogated the Italian missionary Giovanni Battista Sidotti in 1708, he noticed that "Sinae", the Latin plural word Sidotti used to refer to China, was similar to Shina, the Japanese pronunciation of 支那. Then he began to use this word for China regardless of dynasty. Since the Meiji Era, Shina had been widely used as the translation of the Western term "China". For instance, "Sinology" was translated into "Shinagaku" (支那學).

At first, it was widely accepted that the term "Shina" or "Zhina" had no political connotations in China. Before the Chinese Republican era, the term "Shina" was one of the names proposed as a "generalized, basically neutral Western-influenced equivalent for 'China.'" Chinese revolutionaries, such as Sun Yat-sen, Song Jiaoren, and Liang Qichao, used the term extensively, and it was also used in literature as well as by ordinary Chinese. The term "transcended politics, as it were, by avoiding reference to a particular dynasty (the Qing) or having to call China the country of the Qing". With the overthrow of the Qing in 1911, however, most Chinese dropped Shina as foreign and demanded that Japan replace it with the Japanese reading of the Chinese characters used as the name of the new Republic of China Chūka Minkoku (中華民國), with the short form Chūgoku (中國).[3]

A 1900 Japan Post 5-sen stamp with "Shina"
A 1900 Japan Post 5-sen stamp with "Shina"
A Japanese illustration of 1914 depicting the nations as animals – with Russia as a bear smoking a pipe, "支那 China" as a pig consulting a barometer, India an elephant, Britain a carp, Germany a boar, etc.
A Japanese illustration of 1914 depicting the nations as animals – with Russia as a bear smoking a pipe, "支那 China" as a pig consulting a barometer, India an elephant, Britain a carp, Germany a boar, etc.
A 1937 Japanese map of "Shina"
A 1937 Japanese map of "Shina"
Asahi Shimbun reporting on the Shanghai incident of August 14, 1937, referring to the Republic of China as "Shina tyranny"
Asahi Shimbun reporting on the Shanghai incident of August 14, 1937, referring to the Republic of China as "Shina tyranny"
The 1939 New Minutiae Pocket Atlas of Shina, Mongolia, and Turkestan
The 1939 New Minutiae Pocket Atlas of Shina, Mongolia, and Turkestan

Nevertheless, the term continued to be more-or-less neutral. A Buddhist school called Zhīnà Nèixuéyuàn (支那內學院) was established as late as in 1922 in Nanjing. In the meantime, "Shina" was used as commonly in Japanese as "China" in English. Derogatory nuances were expressed by adding extra adjectives, e.g. Japanese: 暴虐なる支那兵, romanizedbōgyaku-naru Shina-hei, lit.'cruel Shina soldiers' or using derogatory terms like chankoro (チャンコロ), originating from a corruption of the Taiwanese Hokkien pronunciation of Chinese: 清國奴; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Chhing-kok-lô͘; lit. 'Qing dynasty's slave', used to refer to any "chinaman".

Despite interchangeability of Chinese characters, Japan officially used the term Shina Kyōwakoku (支那共和國) from 1913 to 1930 in Japanese documents, while Zhōnghuá Mínguó (中華民國) was used in Chinese ones. Shina Kyōwakoku was the literal translation of the English "Republic of China" while Chūka Minkoku was the Japanese pronunciation of the official Chinese characters of Zhōnghuá Mínguó. The Republic of China unofficially pressed Japan to adopt the latter but was rejected.

Japan rejected the terms "Chūka Minkoku" and its short form Chūgoku (中國) for four different reasons: (1) the term referring to China as "the Middle Kingdom" (a literal translation of "Zhōngguó"/"Chūgoku") or "the center of the world" was deemed arrogant; (2) Western countries used "China"; (3) Shina was the common name in Japan for centuries; (4) Japan already has a Chūgoku region, in the west of its main island Honshu. The name "Chūka Minkoku" was officially adopted by Japan in 1930 but "Shina" was still commonly used by the Japanese throughout the 1930s and 1940s.[1]

Post-war derogatory connotations

The Second Sino-Japanese War fixed the impression of the term "Shina" as offensive among Chinese people. In 1946, the Republic of China demanded that Japan cease using "Shina".

A ramen store in Japan selling "Shina soba"
A ramen store in Japan selling "Shina soba"

In China, the term Shina has become linked with the Japanese invasion and Japanese war crimes, and has been considered a derogatory and deeply offensive ethnic slur ever since. Although many[Like whom?] assume that the term was created (or chosen) by the Japanese for exclusive use as a racist term, since the character (Japanese: shi; Chinese: zhī) means "branch" which could be interpreted to suggest that the Chinese are subservient to the Japanese, the characters were originally chosen simply for their sound values, not their meanings.

In modern Japan, the term Chūka Minkoku (中華民国) refers to the Republic of China, while Chūka Jinmin Kyōwakoku (中華人民共和国) refers to the People's Republic of China; the terms use the same Chinese characters (with Japanese shinjitai simplifications) used officially in both the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China.

Writing Shina in Japanese is considered socially unacceptable and subject to kotobagari, especially the kanji form (if Shina is used, it is now generally written in katakana). Even so, it is still sometimes seen in written forms such as shina soba (支那そば), an alternative name for ramen, which originates from China. Many Japanese are not fully aware of Chinese feelings towards the term[citation needed], and generally find Shina merely old-fashioned and associated with the early and mid-20th century, rather than derogatory and racist. This difference in conception can lead to misunderstandings. The term is retained as a slur when used toward Ryukyuans by mainland Japanese people.[4]

A few compound words containing Shina have been altered; for example, the term for Sinology was changed from Shinagaku (支那学) ("Shina-studies") to Chūgokugaku (中国学) ("Chinese studies"), and the name for the Second Sino-Japanese War has changed from terms such as Shina jihen (支那事變) ("The China Incident") and Nisshi jihen (日支事變) ("The Japan-Shina Incident") to Nitchū sensō (日中戦争) ("Japan-China War").

On the other hand, the term Shina/Zhina has survived in a few non-political compound words in both Chinese and Japanese. For example, the South and East China Seas are called Minami Shina Kai (南シナ海) and Higashi Shina Kai (東シナ海) respectively in Japanese (prior to World War II, the names were written as 南支那海 and 東支那海), and one of the Chinese names for Indochina is yìndù zhīnà (印度支那; Indoshina). Shinachiku (支那竹 or simply シナチク), a ramen topping made from dried bamboo, also derives from the term "Shina", but in recent years the word menma (メンマ) has replaced this as a more politically correct name. Some terms that translate to words containing the "Sino-" prefix in English retain Shina within them, albeit written in katakana, for example シナ・チベット語族 (Sino-Tibetan languages) and シナントロプス・ペキネンシス (Sinanthropus pekinensis, also known as Peking Man).

Sinologist, historian professor Joshua A. Fogel mentioned that "Surveying the present scene indicates much less sensitivity on the part of Chinese to the term Shina and growing ignorance of it in Japan". He also criticized Ishihara Shintarō, a right-wing nationalist politician who went out of his way to use the expression “Shinajin” (支那人) and called him a "troublemaker".[1]

He also indicated that: "Many terms have been offered as names for countries and ethnic groups that have simply not withstood the pressures of time and circumstance and have, accordingly, changed. Before the mid-1960s, virtually every well-meaning American, black or white and regardless of political affinity, referred to blacks as 'Negroes' with no intention of offense or slight. It was simply the respectful name in use; and it was superior to the openly reviled and offensive term “colored,” still in legal use by people in the South (to say nothing of the highly offensive term in colloquial use by this group)... By the late 1960s, few if any liberals were still using 'Negro' but had shifted to 'black,' because that was declared the ethnonym of choice by the group so named."[1]

Japanese Canadian historian Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi mentioned that there are two classes of postwar Japanese have continued to use derogatory terms like Shina: poorly educated and/or elderly persons who grew up with the term go on using these from force of habit.[2]

Far-right Japanese ultranationalist groups such as the Uyoku dantai has appealed to the etymology in trying to ascribe respectability to the continued use of Shina, since the term Shina has non-pejorative etymological origins. Wakabayashi said: "The term Jap also has non-pejorative etymological origins, since it derives from Zippangu (ジパング) in Marco Polo's Travels... If the Chinese today say they are hurt by the terms Shina or Shinajin, then common courtesy enjoins the Japanese to stop using these terms, whatever the etymology or historical usage might be."[2]

In Hong Kong, "Jee-na", the Cantonese pronunciation of the term "Shina", is used in a derogatory sense against mainland Chinese under the backdrop of ongoing local tensions between Hong Kong nationalists and mainland China, for example, Hong Kong localist politicians Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Leung used terms such as "people's re-fucking of Chee-na" during their controversial swearing-in as members of the Hong Kong legislature.[5] The Hong Kong Government's legal representative Benjamin Yu said that the term is "widely used by Hong Kong independence advocates"[6][failed verification] and cited the Wikipedia source in Court.[7][better source needed]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Joshua A. Fogel, “New Thoughts on an Old Controversy: Shina as a Toponym for China”, Sino-Platonic Papers, 229 (August 2012)]
  2. ^ a b c Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi, "The Nanking Atrocity, 1937-38: Complicating the Picture" (2007), Berghahn Books, p395-398
  3. ^ Douglas R. Reynolds. China, 1898–1912: The Xinzheng Revolution and Japan.(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press 1993 ISBN 0674116607), pp. 215–16 n. 20.
  4. ^ "Police officer dispatched from Osaka insults protesters in Okinawa". Japan Times. 2016-10-19. Retrieved 2019-11-25.
  5. ^ Ng, Joyce. "Hong Kong Legco president makes U-turn on oath-taking by localists". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 5 January 2017.
  6. ^ "Gov't argues in court that Youngspiration duo 'declined' to take their oaths as lawmakers - Hong Kong Free Press HKFP". 3 November 2016.
  7. ^ "港宣誓事件司法覆核開庭 港府律師:未要求釋法". Apple Daily. 3 November 2016. Retrieved 11 October 2020.

Further reading