According to the Zuo Zhuan, xia (夏)—which has the meaning of "grand"—was used to signify the ceremonial etiquette of China, while hua (華)—as it means "illustrious"—was used in reference to the beautiful clothing that the Chinese people wore (中國有禮儀之大，故稱夏；有服章之美，謂之華). The two characters hence describe a civilized society.
In the original sense, Huaxia refers to a confederation of tribes—living along the Yellow River—who were the ancestors of what later became the Han ethnic group in China. During the Warring States (475–221 BC), the self-awareness of the Huaxia identity developed and took hold in ancient China. Initially, Huaxia defined mainly a civilized society that was distinct and stood in contrast to what-was-perceived as the barbaric peoples around them.
Although still used in conjunction, the Chinese characters for Hua and Xia are more often used separately to represent things Chinese. The official Chinese names of both the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) uses the term Huaxia in combination with the term Zhongguo (中國/中国, literally "Middle Kingdom"), that is, as Zhonghua (中華/中华). The PRC's official Chinese name is Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo (中华人民共和国), while that of the ROC is Zhonghua Minguo (中華民國). Today, the term Zhongguo usually refers to the nation itself and Zhonghua to the civilization. Hua in particular has become almost synonymous with the Chinese civilization.
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