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“The Central Kingdom” and “the realm under heaven” coming to mean the same: The process of the formation of territory in ancient China

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image of Frontiers of History in China

“The Central Kingdom” is pregnant of political implications as well as of geographical and cultural significance. It was believed that whoever controlled Zhongguo (the Central Kingdom or China) would be the legitimate ruler over Tianxia (the realm under heaven or all under heaven). It was the contention for “the Central Kingdom” among the varieties of dynasties, notably those established by the Han-Chinese and the various ethnic groups in the northern borderland, that lead to the alternation of disintegration and unification of the territory. It was not until the Qing Dynasty that the unified “Central Kingdom” composed of a variety of ethnic groups turned into the ideal “realm under heaven” with “the Central Kingdom” at its core, which naturally put an end to the formation of territory in ancient China.


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