daqin in sancai tuhui

Daqin [da-chin] is the ancient Chinese name for the Roman Empire and, depending on context, the Near East, especially Syria. It literally means ‘Great Qin,’ Qin being the name of the founding dynasty of the Chinese Empire. Following the opening of the Silk Road in the 2nd century BCE, the Chinese thought of the Roman Empire as a civilized pendant to their own empire. The Romans occupied one extreme position on the trade route, with the Chinese located on the other. China never managed to reach the Roman Empire directly in antiquity, although general Ban Chao sent an envoy, Gan Ying, who left a detailed account of the Romans, but it is generally considered to have been based on second hand information:

‘Their kings are not permanent. They select and appoint the most worthy man. If there are unexpected calamities in the kingdom, such as frequent extraordinary winds or rains, he is unceremoniously rejected and replaced. The one who has been dismissed quietly accepts his demotion, and is not angry. The people of this country are all tall and honest. They resemble the people of the Middle Kingdom and that is why this kingdom is called Da Qin [literally, ‘Great China’]. This country produces plenty of gold [and] silver, [and of] rare and precious [things] they have luminous jade, ‘bright moon pearls,’ Haiji rhinoceroses, coral, yellow amber, opaque glass, whitish chalcedony, red cinnabar, green gemstones, gold-thread embroideries, woven gold-threaded net, delicate polychrome silks painted with gold, and asbestos cloth.’

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