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Template:Chinese Shina or Sina (支那 (シナ)?, Template:IPA-ja) are Romanized Japanese transliterations for the Chinese character compound "支那" which is viewed by most Chinese people as a highly offensive racist term[citation needed] for China. Originally a word used neutrally in both Chinese and Japanese, the word gained a derogatory tone due to its widespread usage in the context of the Second Sino-Japanese War.


The Sanskrit word Cin, for China, was brought back to China with Buddhist literature. It was transcribed into Chinese in various forms including 支那 (Zhīnà), 芝那 (Zhīnà), 脂那 (Zhīnà) and 至那 (Zhìnà). Thus, the term Shina was initially created in Chinese as a translation of "Cin." This term was in turn brought to Japan with the spread of Chinese Buddhism.

Below is a Chinese Tang Dynasty (618-907) poem titled Ti Fan Shu (literally "preface to a Sanskrit book") using the Chinese term Zhina (支那) to refer to China:



When Arai Hakuseki, a Japanese scholar, interrogated the Italian missionary Giovanni Battista Sidotti in 1708, he noticed that "Cina", the word Sidotti used to refer to China, was identical 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" (支那学).

At first, it was widely accepted that the term "Shina" or "Zhina" had no political connotations. In fact, even before the Republican era, the term "Shina" was one of the proposed names that was to be equivalent to the Western usage "China." Chinese revolutionaries, such as Sun Yat-sen, Sung Chiao-jen, and Liang Qichao, used the term extensively, and it was also used in literature as well as by ordinary Chinese. The First Sino-Japanese War caused the view that it had a negative nuance to gradually spread among the Chinese.

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. 暴虐なる支那兵 (cruel Chinese soldier[s])) or using derogatory terms like "chankoro" (チャンコロ, originating from a corruption of the Taiwanese Hokkien pronunciation of 清國奴 Chheng-kok-lô͘, used to refer to any "chinaman", with a meaning of "Qing dynasty's slave". In this context, this refers to the Manchu governance of the Han Chinese).

Despite interchangeability of Chinese characters, Japan officially used the term Shina Kyōwakoku (支那共和国) from 1913 to 1930 in Japanese documents, while Zhonghua Minguo (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 "Zhonghua Minguo". The Republic of China unofficially pressed Japan to adopt the latter but was rejected.

This rejection of the term "Chūka Minkoku" by Japan was thought to be an attempt to place itself on equal footing with Western powers, who used the term China. The name "Chūka Minkoku" was officially adopted by Japan in 1930 but "Shina" was still commonly used by the Japanese throughout the 1930s and 40s.


The Second Sino-Japanese War fixed the impression of the term "Shina" as offensive among Chinese people. Its effect when a Japanese person uses it to refer to a Chinese person is very similar to the American connotation of the word "negro", a word that has harmless etymologies but has gained derogative connotations due to historical context, where the phrase 支那人 (shinajin; Shina person) was used during the war to refer to Chinese. In 1946, the Republic of China demanded that Japan cease using "Shina". Meanwhile, Japanese war crimes committed against China in World War II, such as the Nanking Massacre and Unit 731, created a strong anti-Japanese sentiment in China, which continues to this day.

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 assume that the term was created (or chosen) by the Japanese for exclusive use as a racist term, since the character 支 (J: shi/C: 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 中華民国 refers to the Republic of China, 中華人民共和国 refers to the People's Republic of China and 中国 refers to China, the terms being used similarly in the Western world and unofficially in both the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China. Use of the term "Shina" in Japanese political contexts is limited to those who pointedly ignore Chinese demands, and often has an anti-Chinese bent, so as to gain support in Japanese nationalism.

It is considered socially unacceptable and subject to kotobagari, especially the kanji form (if Shina is used, it is now generally written in katakana). However, even then 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, 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.

A few compound words containing Shina have been altered; for example, the term for Sinology was changed from 支那学 (shinagaku; Shina-studies) to 中国学 (chūgokugaku; Chinese studies) or 漢学 (kangaku; Han-studies), and the name for the Second Sino-Japanese War has changed from terms such as 支那事變 (Shina Jihen; The China Incident) and 日支事變 (Nisshi Jihen; The Japan-Shina Incident) to 日中戦争 (Nitchū Sensō; 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 Yindu Zhina (印度支那; Japanese: 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).

See also

Further reading

  • Joshua A. Fogel, "The Sino-Japanese Controversy over Shina as a Toponym for China," in The Cultural Dimension of Sino-Japanese Relations: Essays on the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, ed. Joshua A. Fogel (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1995), 66-76.

ko:지나 ja:支那 sv:Shina zh:支那

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