The definition of Manchuria can be any one of several regions of various size. These are, from smallest to largest:
Three centuries and a half must now pass away before entering upon the next act of the Manchu drama. The Nü-chêns had been scotched, but not killed, by their Mongol conquerors, who, one hundred and thirty-four years later (1368), were themselves driven out of China, a pure native dynasty being re-established under the style of Ming, "Bright." During the ensuing two hundred years the Nü-chêns were scarcely heard of, the House of Ming being busily occupied in other directions. Their warlike spirit, however, found scope and nourishment in the expeditions organised against Japan and Tan-lo, or Quelpart, as named by the Dutch, a large island to the south of the Korean peninsula; while on the other hand the various tribes scattered over a portion of the territory known to Europeans as Manchuria, availed themselves of long immunity from attack by the Chinese to advance in civilization and prosperity. It may be noted here that "Manchuria" is unknown to the Chinese or to the Manchus themselves as a geographical expression. The present extensive home of the Manchus is usually spoken of as the Three Eastern Provinces, namely, (1) Shêngking, or Liao-tung, or Kuan-tung, (2) Kirin, and (3) Heilungchiang or Tsitsihar. – Herbert A. Giles, China and the Manchus, 1912
"Manchuria" is a translation of the Japanese word Manshū, which dates from the 19th century. The name Manju (Manzhou) was invented and given to the Jurchen people by Hong Taiji in 1635 as a new name for their ethnic group; however, the name "Manchuria" was never used by the Manchus or the Qing dynasty itself to refer to their homeland. According to the Japanese scholar Junko Miyawaki-Okada, the Japanese geographer Takahashi Kageyasu was the first to use the term "満州" (Manshū) as a place name in 1809 in the Nippon Henkai Ryakuzu, and it was from that work that Westerners adopted the name. According to Mark C. Elliott, Katsuragawa Hoshū's 1794 work, the "Hokusa bunryaku", was where "満州" (Manshū) first appeared as a place name was in two maps included in the work, "Ashia zenzu" and "Chikyū hankyū sōzu" which were also created by Katsuragawa. "満州" (Manshū) then began to appear as a place names in more maps created by Japanese like Kondi Jūzō, Takahashi Kageyasu, Baba Sadayoshi and Yamada Ren, and these maps were brought to Europe by the Dutch Philipp von Siebold. According to Nakami Tatsuo, Philip Franz von Siebold was the one who brought the usage of the term Manchuria to Europeans after borrowing it from the Japanese, who were the first to use it in a geographic manner in the eighteenth century although neither the Manchu nor Chinese languages had a term in their own language equivalent to "Manchuria" as a geographic place name. The Manchu and Chinese languages had no such word as "Manchuria" and the word has imperialist connotations. According to Bill Sewell, it was Europeans who first started using the name Manchuria to refer to the location and it is "not a genuine geographic term". The historian Gavan McCormack agreed with Robert H. G. Lee's statement that "The term Manchuria or Man-chou is a modern creation used mainly by westerners and Japanese", with McCormack writing that the term Manchuria is imperialistic in nature and has no "precise meaning" since the Japanese deliberately promoted the use of "Manchuria" as a geographic name to promote its separation from China at the time they were setting up their puppet state of Manchukuo. The Japanese had their own motive for deliberately spreading the usage of the term Manchuria. The historian Norman Smith wrote that "The term 'Manchuria' is controversial". Professor Mariko Asano Tamanoi said that she "should use the term in quotation marks" when referring to Manchuria. In his 2012 dissertation on the Jurchen people to obtain a Doctor of Philosophy degree in History from the University of Washington, Professor Chad D. Garcia noted that usage of the term "Manchuria" is out of favor in "current scholarly practice" and that he had ceased using the term, instead using "the northeast" or referring to specific geographical features.
In the 18th-century Europe, the region later known as "Manchuria" was most commonly referred to as " Tartary". However, the term Manchuria (Mantchourie, in French) started appearing by the end of the century; French missionaries used it as early as 1800. The French-based geographers Conrad Malte-Brun and Edme Mentelle promoted the use of the term Manchuria (Mantchourie, in French), along with "Mongolia", "Kalmykia", etc., as more precise terms than Tartary, in their world geography work published in 1804.
In current Chinese parlance, an inhabitant of "the Northeast", or Northeast China, is a "Northeasterner" (东北人; Dōngběi rén). "The Northeast" is a term that expresses the entire region, encompassing its history, culture, traditions, dialects, cuisines and so forth, as well as the "Three East Provinces" or "Three Northeast Provinces". In China, the term Manchuria (traditional Chinese: 滿洲; simplified Chinese: 满洲; pinyin: Mǎnzhōu) is rarely used today, and the term is often negatively associated with the Japanese imperial legacy in the puppet state of Manchukuo (traditional Chinese: 滿洲國; simplified Chinese: 满洲国; pinyin: Mǎnzhōuguó).