Perhaps China has a soft spot for us after all…

I’ve recently started learning to read and write in Chinese, and while learning some of the characters for some of the basic words I learned a while ago, I came across the characters for “Mĕiguó”, Mandarin for “America”.

As it happens, the two characters that make up the word are 美国. Chinese characters each have their own distinct meanings, but can alter their meanings depending on the characters they are combined with. 国 means “country” and is part of most words for countries in Chinese (e.g. 英国 (Yīngguó) is England, 法国 (Făguó) is France, 德国 (Déguó) is Germany, etc.).

What I later discovered when looking at the individual characters that made up the names, was that America in Chinese literally means “beautiful country”!

In turn, England “hero country”, France is “law country”, and Germany is “heart country” or “kindness country”.

I wonder how these were chosen? It seems like they went with Mandarin words that sounded reasonably similar to the actual names of the word (Amer- / mei, Eng- / Ying, Fra- / fa, Deu- / de), but purposefully chose words with positive connotations.

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