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The spelling of “United States of America” ​​has changed several times throughout Chinese history. In Mandarin Chinese, the full name of “United States of America” ​​is “Mei Li Jian He Zhong Guo”; “Mei Li Jian” (“美利坚”) is a transliteration of the syllables “Ame-ri-ca”, while “He Zhong Guo” (合众国) is a Chinese translation of the phrase “United States.” However, the common term used to refer to the United States is its abbreviated form: “美” (”Mei”) + “国” (”Guo”). Literally speaking, “美” (“Mei”) means “beautiful,” and “国” (“Guo”) means “country” or “State.” Therefore, 美国 (“Mei Guo”) can be casually understood as “beautiful country” or “beautiful state”. It is worth noting that the characters that make up the full word “America” ​​mean “Mei Li Jian” (“美利坚”), literally “beautiful” (美), “win” (利), and “resistance” (坚).

The United States as a “country to be eaten orally”

According to official Chinese documents, during the reign of Emperor Qianlong (1735-1796), the Chinese transliteration of “Ame-ri-ca” was pronounced “Mi Li Jian” in Mandarin.

In fact, shortly after its inception, the United States began to negotiate worldwide. The Americans first came to Guangzhou in 1784, the only city in China where international trade was allowed at the time. Since the United States was a new country, Guangzhou English interpreters adapted the English pronunciation of the name “United States of America” ​​to their well-known Cantonese and translated “” (“Mi Li Jian”).

Note that the “咪” character was used to refer to the United States. This character, which includes the characters “radical mouth” [1] “口” (“mouth”) and 米 (“Mi”, meaning “rice”), and is in line with the usual method of writing to transliterate with contempt. for foreign country names of the time, the “口” (“mouth”) character is usually added to indicate that this is transliteration. At the same time, it means “eating the other with the mouth.” The Qing dynasty considered itself the Central Kingdom (in Chinese, it is called “中国” (“Zhong Guo”), meaning “Central Country” and refers to the idea that China is at the center of the civilized world) and did not. They have a good opinion of Western countries, which were considered barbaric. This is why, during the Qing Dynasty, the character “咪” to define America indicated that it was a country to “eat with your mouth”.

The United States as a “rice country”

Later, as the Qing dynasty was unsuccessful in the wars against the Western powers, it began to develop more respect for the West. At the same time, trade with the United States began to increase in Guangzhou. Therefore, during the reign of Emperor Daoguang of the Qing Dynasty (1820-1850), the name of the United States changed to a more standardized “” Mi Li Jian “” 米利 坚 “(” Mi Li Jian “). . By comparing “” “米利 坚” and “米利 坚”, it can be seen that “口” (“mouth”) was removed from the three “characters” of these three characters, giving the word a more accurate look and meaning. Therefore, the United States went from being a “mouth-watering country” (“咪”) to a “rice” (“米”) country (once only the “咪” character was left with “no radical mouths”). “” 口 “simply means” rice / 米 “).

The United States as a “Beautiful Country.”

In the second half of the twentieth century, the Qing dynasty adopted a new translation to refer to America. “亚美 理 驾” (pronounced in Mandarin: “Ya Mei Li Jia” and “Ame-ri-ca” are a transliteration) and the words “合众国” (pronounced in Mandarin: “He Zhong Guo”). , “and” United States “are the translation of the phrase” 美 “(” Mei, “beautiful,” 亚美 理 驾 / Ya Mei Li Jia “) the words” 米 “(” Mi, ” rice) replaced the character “America”. It was also around this time that the words “美” (“Mei”) and 国 (“Guo”) “or” 合众国 “(” He Zhong Guo “, translation) began to be abbreviated. . “United States”).

It is noteworthy that it was Elijah Coleman Bridgman, the first American Protestant Christian missionary appointed to China, who translated the word “United States of America” ​​into “M 理 驾 合众国” (“Ya Mei Li Jia He Zhong Guo”). . The United States also seems to have insisted that the Chinese government use the 1844 Chinese Wanghi Treaty (also known in the Chinese version of the “Treaty of Peace, Friendship, and Trade between the United States and the Chinese Empire.”).理 驾 “translation to refer to America, specifically because of the word” 美 “(” Mei, “beautiful).

After the military disasters of the Opium War, the Qing dynasty decided it was time to launch a campaign of military, diplomatic, fiscal, and educational reform. This was the beginning of the Western movement (1861-95), when the Qing powers thought of strengthening Western technology by introducing it.

It was during this time that the name of the United States of America changed from “M 理 驾 合众国” (“Ya Mei Li Jia He Zhong Guo”) to “美利坚 合众国” (“Mei Li Jian He Zhong Guo”). According to existing documents, in 1860, the famous minister of the Qing dynasty, Zeng Guofan, wrote a letter to Emperor Xianfeng to end the Taiping Uprising (1850–64) with the help of foreigners. In the document, Zeng Guofan first used the name “美利坚” (“Mei Li Jian”).

Since then, “美利坚 合众国” (“Mei Li Jian He Zhong Guo”), “美利坚” (“Mei Li Jian”) and “美国” (“Mei Guo”), full and short Chinese names in the United States. America has gradually been shaped and confirmed. For example, in the Chinese version of the “International Opium Convention”, also known as the “Opium Convention of 1912” (signed by the Qing government during the reign of Emperor Xuantong, the last emperor of the Qing dynasty, before his abdication), the United States “美利坚 合众国” He Zhong Guo “).

Interestingly, the translation of the name United States of America by Japan was influenced by China. For example, in the Edo period, it was a translation of “United States of America” ​​used in the Kanagawa Treaty in Japan (ahoskatzea Han Zi’s Japanese pronunciation, meaning Chinese character), signed in 1854 by Japan and the United States. “米利 坚” (“Mi Li Jian;” “米,” “Mi,” means rice) + 合众国 (“He Zhong Guo”). This is why, in Japanese, the United States is also known as Beikoku (米 国; 米利 坚 + 合众国 kanji characters), which means “rice country”. In addition, Chinese also influenced the United States to translate the term into Korean. Korean, 미국 (“pronounced migu”), literally means “beautiful country.”

In recent years, however, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) media and Chinese nationalists have begun to refer to the United States as “美 (Mei) 国 (Guo” but “美丽 国” (“Mei Li”). Guo “) or” 漂亮 国 “(” Piao Liang Guo “).” Mei Li Guo “and” Piao Liang Guo “both mean” beautiful country “, but with a sarcastic connotation. Since the United States described the United States in his third speech as “seeking a light of freedom” in his third State of the Union address, [2] some Chinese ironically call the United States “灯塔 国” (“Deng Ta Guo”). ” Beacon Country “means that the United States does not believe in self-description.

At the same time, as competition and military tensions between Beijing and Washington grow, so do many nationalists known as “五毛 党” (Wu Mao Dang, 50 Cent Party, which is a rallying or pro-CCP government). The CCP government allegedly receives 50 cents for each pro-government message they post on the Internet), as well as some official CCP public opinion activists who began using the antonym for “美 (Mei) + 国 (Guo)” (“beautiful country”). “丑 国” (”Chou Guo”), meaning “Ugly People”, to refer to and exclude the United States of America.

* Anna Mahjar Barducci is a MEMBER Senior Research Fellow.

[1] Digmandarin.com/chinese-characters-containing-the-radical-kou.html

[2] En.wikisource.org/wiki/George_Herbert_Walker_Bush%27s_Third_State_of_the_Union_Address, January 29, 1991.

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