Did the ancient Chinese call India as Tianzhu? Why?





Exploring the Tapestry of History-A Journey Through Time

Yes, the ancient Chinese did refer to India as Tianzhu, which literally means "Heavenly Domain" or "Celestial Realm." The name likely came from the Chinese perception of India as a land of great spiritual significance, with a rich tradition of religious and philosophical thought that was seen as being closely tied to the heavens.


The earliest known reference to India as Tianzhu can be found in the 1st-century CE work known as the "Shiji" (Records of the Grand Historian), written by the Chinese historian Sima Qian. In this work, Sima Qian describes the various kingdoms and peoples of the world, including Tianzhu, which he identifies as a great empire located to the west of China.

Over time, the name Tianzhu became more closely associated with the Buddhist religion, which originated in India and spread to China and other parts of East Asia. In Chinese Buddhist texts, India is often referred to as "The Land of the Buddha" or "The Land of Dharma," but the name Tianzhu continued to be used as well.







Yes, the ancient Chinese called India as Tianzhu. Tianzhu was also referred to as Wutianzhu (五天竺, literal meaning is “Five Indias”), because there were five geographical regions in the Indian subcontinent known to the Chinese: Central, Eastern, Western, Northern, and Southern India .

The name Tianzhu comes from the Chinese transliteration of unattested Old Persian diminutive *Hinduka-, which is from attested h-i-du-u-š (Hindu), which is itself derived from the Proto-Indo-Iranian *síndʰuš, the etymon also of Sanskrit Sindhu, the native name of the Indus River. Persians travelling in northwest India (present-day Pakistani Sindh and Punjab) named the region after the river around the 6th century BC .






Jacky Zou

All the other answers did not touch on the most important reason, and that is that 天竺 sounded close to Hindu back during the Han era when the term was coined. Late Old Chinese pronounciations has significant differences compared to any form of modern Chinese varieties today. 天 was originally pronounced as /l̥ˤi[n]/ during the Spring and Autumn period, and it changed to /hen/ in Western and /tʰen/ in Eastern China during the Han period. 竺 was pronounced as /truk/ back then, where the “r” in IPA is an alveolar trill like how r is pronounced in Spanish/Russian (this trill type of sound is lost in all Chinese languages today, where in the North it merged with the intial to produce the retroflex initials like “zh” present in Mandarin today). So back then the word 天竺 in Western China sounds something like /hen truk/ which is way closer to Hindu than “tianzhu”. It’s the exact same thing with 佛陀, which sounded like /but da/ but has now chanegd to something that does not resemble buddha at all. Many people are not aware of the significant changes in phonology of the Chinese language throughout the millennia.





所以当时“天竺”这个词在中国西部的发音有点像/hen-truk/,比“tianzhu”的发音更接近印度语。这和“佛陀”一样, 古时候的发音更像/but da/,但现在已经完全不相干了。





Wenjie Piao

It's a transcription of Sanskrit word Sinhdu.

Han Dynasty called it 身毒, Shendu.

We used it referring to South Asia, not just India.

In Tang Dynasty Xuanzhuang suggested to change the name to 印度, based on the name Indus River.


汉朝称之为身毒, shendu。


唐朝的玄奘建议将身毒改名为印度, 以印度河来命名。




Jiang Cheng

India, in Chinese today is “印度/Yin Du”。

In history, the name of India changed several times.

In the begng, India firstly appeared in the China history record, it was called “身毒/Shendu”, in Han dynasty(202BC—8BC).

The diplomat of Han dynasty, Zhang Qian once visited central Asia (BC128). When he came back, he reported to the Chinese emperor that in center Asia he found the goods made from Sichuan province of China. The local people told him that these Chinese goods were purchased from Shendu/身毒。He got learned that Shendu country is about a few thousand miles southeast of center Asia. The custom is similar as center Asia. The climate is hot and humid. The people rode elephants to fight in wars. It is near Ocean. Zhang Qian also estimated Shendu country has the products of Sichuan, which means that it is not far from Sichuan province.

印度,在今天的汉语中是“印度/Yin Du”


最早出现在中国史书中时,印度被称为“身毒/shen du,当时是汉代(公元前202年—公元前8年)。




This is the first time that Chinese people knew and record India.

In Western in Dynasty(265AD—317AD), the name of India in history record was changed to "贤督/ian Du."

In North and South Dynasties(420AD~589AD), the name of India in history record was changed to "天竺/Tian Zhu", and this name was widely spreaded and accepted.

Until the begng of Tang Dynasty, the famous Xuanzang Monk (602-664AD) visited Tian Zhun. After 16 years, Xuanzang came back China and wrote the book "Great Tang Records on the Western Regions". In this book, he translated the name of India to "印度/Yin Du".

From then on, the name of India has been “印度/Yin Du", until today.


西晋(公元265年—公元317年),史书中把印度改名为“贤督/ian Du。“

南北朝时期(公元420~589年),史书中把印度改名为“天竺/Tian Zhu”,这个名字被广为传播。

到了唐初,著名的玄奘和尚(公元602年至公元664年)拜访了Tian Zhu。16年后,玄奘回到中国,写下了《大唐西域记》。在这本书中,他把印度的名字翻译成“印度/Yin Du”。

从那时起,印度的名字就一直是“印度/Yin Du”,直到今天。




Sean Landy


天竺/TianZhu is a modern pronounciation.

But in Tang dynasty, that word 天竺 pronounced as Thindo.

Which is directly sound of “Hindu”.

or in South China, Hindu also be pronounced as 身毒/Hindu









Boon Kuan Chung

There was no country called “India" in ancient times. The name “India” came into exstence after British colonization. In other words, the name “India" was created or given by the colonial master with no good intentions.

Tianzhu was referred to by the Chinese during the Tang Dynasty as the area or land (as opposed to a country name) around the Indus river which is today's Pakistan. During Han Dynasty, it was called 身毒 Shen Du, which was the direct translation for Sindhu. Sindhu was a Sanskrit term for river. Persians conquered the land around 700 bc and mispronounced “Sindhu” as “Indus". They further referred to the land and people there as “Indus". When Alexander conquered the land, he continued to refer to it as Indus.


唐朝人用天竺指代印度河(即今天的巴基斯坦)周围的地区或土地(并非国名)。在汉代,印度被称为身毒 Shen Du,是Sindhu的直译。



During Tang Dynasty, many Chinese including the royal families were Buddhists. They disliked the name “身毒 Shen Du” and changed it to 天竺 Tianzhu. Nevertheless, they were not referring to today's “India" but the Buddhist land at that time around the Indus river.

There was no India or Hindu in ancient times. There was Brahmanism based on the Vedas. It's sad that it has been downgraded by the colonial master as “Hinduism” to mean “religion of the people of India area which is one of the colonies of the British". Indus river became part of Pakistan upon the country's independence from the British. It is more accurate to say that Tianzhu means Pakistan instead of India.






Dhruv Rastogi

Yes, the ancient Chinese did call India as Tianzhu, which means "Heavenly Pillar." The name is believed to have originated from the historical and cultural contacts between the two civilizations and reflects the early Chinese perception of India as a distant and exotic land with a rich cultural heritage. The name was also used by early Chinese Buddhist missionaries who traveled to India to learn about Buddhist teachings and bring them back to China. The term Tianzhu was also used in early Chinese texts to refer to the Buddhist teachings themselves and the Buddhist community in India. The name reflects the Chinese admiration for the advanced spiritual and cultural achievements of India, and it continues to be used in China to this day to refer to the country and its rich cultural heritage.







Krishna Kant Yadav


The ancient Chinese did refer to India as Tianzhu, and interestingly, the term was also used by Koreans and Japanese, albeit with different pronunciations.

In Japan, it was pronounced as Tenjiku and appeared in the famous work, Journey to the West.

Meanwhile, in Korea, it was pronounced as Cheonchuk, and a Korean monk named Hyecho wrote about the "Land of the Buddha" in his work, Wang ocheonchukguk jeon, after visiting India in the 8th century AD.

The origin of the term Tianzhu can be traced back to the word Sindhu.

If you say Tianzhu and Sindhu out loud, you'll notice some similarities.







Some people say Chinese were referring to India as some kind of heavenly place, because that's what the word translates to.

But that's only partially true.

They did refer to India as a 'Heavenly centre’.

Yes. But because of Buddha and their interest in Buddhist texts and not for any other reasons.





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