No one really knows how China (the Middle Kingdom, Zhongguo) came to be so-called in the West, although there is no shortage of theories: perhaps it is from Qin, the first dynasty of Imperial China, or maybe from Cin, the Persian word for the region. But Ji-Huan He of the Modern Textile Institute in Shanghai argues for another derivation: beginning with si, the Chinese word for silk, we get 'Sino', then 'Cina' and finally 'China'.
That etymology is significant because, for He, it links China's national identity with its claim to be the cradle of sericulture, the production of silk. That of course is the traditional picture; after all, the Silk Road commences at the ancient Chinese capital of Xi'an. The science and technology of silk manufacture is still afforded dedicated research institutes in China, where surely more is known about this ancient craft than anywhere else in the world. So it is not surprising that a recent suggestion by Irene Good of the Peabody Museum at Harvard and her colleagues that silk production might have begun independently in the Harappan culture of the Indus Valley (now in east Pakistan) has been greeted with some dismay in China. Good and colleagues identified the Harappan silks in an archaeological project conducted in 1999–2000 through a US–Pakistan collaboration.
So we see that Ji-Huan He s not only an entomologist but also an etymologist.
He and his associates surely are among the world's foremost experts on natural fibers. They have explained the properties of polar bear hair, goose-down, and wool using such odd tools as El Naschie's E-infinity theory and differential equations of fractional order, but so far they have not applied their quirky methods to silk.