Issues of Romanization of Standard Chinese in Taiwan since 2000


After the Republic of China (Taiwan) Government adopted Tongyong Pinyin in 2002, romanization of Standard Chinese in Taiwan became chaos. Many places in Taiwan began to use Tongyong Pinyin, but the Taipei City Government adopted Hanyu Pinyin instead, which is the only international standard. In 2009, the Taiwan Government adopted Hanyu Pinyin as the national romanization of Standard Chinese and no longer supported Tongyong Pinyin, but the issues of romanization of Standard Chinese still exist in Taiwan until now. For example, in December 2010, “Xinbei” was changed to “New Taipei”, which is a combination of English and Wade-Giles.
Keywords: Hanyu Pinyin, romanization, New Taipei, Tongyong Pinyin

Description of historical romanization systems of Standard Chinese

Only Gwoyeu Romatzyh (GR, 1928-1986), Mandarin Phonetic Symbols II (MPS II, 1986-2002), Tongyong Pinyin (2002-2008) and Hanyu Pinyin (since 2009) were official in the Republic of China. Since 1958, Hanyu Pinyin (often referred as only “pinyin”) has become the official romanization of Standard Chinese in the People’s Republic of China. In 1982, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) adopted Hanyu Pinyin as the international standard. Hanyu Pinyin is also accepted by Singapore, the United States’ Library of Congress, the American Library Association, etc.. (Wikipedia: Pinyin)

However, Wade-Giles, an outdated romanization system completed in 1892, was the most widely-used system of transcription in the English-speaking world for most of the 20th century, used in several standard reference books and in all books about China published in western countries before 1979. Wade-Giles has been used for decades as the de facto standard in Taiwan, and it has been still co-existing with official romanization systems. People in Taiwan still use Wade- Giles widely, for they often write their Chinese names in Wade-Giles. Some of administrative regions of Taiwan are still spelt in Wade-Giles such as Taipei. (Wikipedia: Wade-Giles)

In addition, several unofficial romanization are still used widely. Chinese Postal Map Romanization is still adopted by some popular brands or universities— Tsingtao Brewery is the second largest brewery in China, and Soochow University is one of the most popular private universities in Taiwan. Currently, Hanyu Pinyin is the only one official romanization of Standard Chinese in the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of Singapore, the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the United Nations, but Hanyu Pinyin is still less popular than Wade-Giles in Taiwan.

The Road to Tongyong Pinyin in Taiwan

In March 2000, the Democratic Progressive Party won the presidency with the election of Chen Shui-bian, who supports Tongyong Pinyin which was just introduced in 1998. Discussion and adoption of Tongyong Pinyin, like many other initiatives in Taiwan, quickly acquired a partisan tone turning on issues of national identity, i.e. Chinese vs. Taiwanese identity. Each side accused the other of basing its preference on anti-China (supporting Tongyong Pinyin) or pro-China (supporting Hanyu Pinyin) sentiment rather than an objective discussion of community goals. (Wikipedia: Tongyong Pinyin)

In late 2000, the former Minister of Education Ovid Tzeng suggested the government adopt Hanyu Pinyin, but the proposal was rejected. In July 2002, Tongyong Pinyin was passed by ten votes from the Ministry of Education; however, only ten members actually voted, although there should have been twenty-seven members in the meeting. In August 2002, the Taiwan Government adopted Tongyong Pinyin, but local governments have the authority to override within their jurisdiction. Thus, although the official standard of romanization of Standard Chinese in Taiwan since 2002 has become Tongyong Pinyin, some local governments still did not use Tongyong Pinyin completely. Ma Ying-jeou, the former Taipei City Mayor, adopted Hanyu Pinyin as the official romanization of Standard Chinese in Taipei in 2002, but he still made some modification. For example, Taipei uses RenAi Road instead of Ren’ai Road, and the name of Taipei is still “Taipei” instead of “Taibei”. In 2003, Chia-I is renamed to Chiayi, not based on either Hanyu Pinyin or Tongyong Pinyin; however, Iland was renamed to Yilan, based on both Hanyu Pinyin and Tongyong Pinyin. (Jacobson, 2010)

After Tongyong Pinyin was adopted as the official romanization of Standard Chinese in Taiwan, the road signs in most of cities and counties began to be changed to Tongyong Pinyin slowly and incompletely. Road signs were mixed with Wade-Giles, MPS II, Tongyong Pinyin and even mistakes in many places. For example, the common character zhong in Hanyu Pinyin is often written to chung, zhueng, jung and jhong on road signs in Taiwan, and those different characters can even appear simultaneously. (Pinyin news, 2006) Tongyong Pinyin was more popular in southern Taiwan. The Kaohsiung Mass Rapid Transit System (KMRT), which has been operated since 2008, adopted Tongyong Pinyin to most of stations. Although Tongyong Pinyin is no longer official in Taiwan, the KMRT still uses Tongyong Pinyin, so do many road signs in southern Taiwan where more people consider Hanyu Pinyin as a “romanization system of communist bandits”. For example, the KMRT still uses Kaisyuan instead of Kaixuan, and the Kaohsiung City Government still uses Fongshan instead of Fengshan, the most populous district in Kaohsiung.

In Taipei, because of the decision from former Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (now the President of the Republic of China), all road signs and the Taipei Metro stations began to use Hanyu Pinyin instead of Tongyong Pinyin in 2002. However, Taipei County (now New Taipei) used Tongyong Pinyin, so road signs on the boundary had to include both Hanyu Pinyin and Tongyong Pinyin. People used to see both Banqiao and Banciao appearing simultaneously on Huazhong Bridge, which connects Wanhua District, Taipei and Banqiao District, New Taipei. Stations of the Taipei Metro in New Taipei also used both Hanyu Pinyin and Tongyong Pinyin simultaneously until 2009. For example, before 2009, Qizhang Station which locates in Xindian District, New Taipei showed its name like this:

七張 Qizhang (Cijhang)

They might have caused people confusing. (賴, 2005)

Another issue that confused people was that freeways and provincial expressways used Tongyong Pinyin, but road signs in Taipei use Hanyu Pinyin. Before 2009, drivers saw Chongcing N. Rd. on National Highway No.1 (Zhongshan Freeway); after driving into that road, all road signs on that road actually showed Chongqing N. Rd.. They were the same, but they were also different— That was and is still an issue of romanization of Standard Chinese in Taiwan.

Moving to Hanyu Pinyin, Old Issues Existing But With New Issues

In March 2008, the Kuomintang (KMT) won the presidency with the election of Ma Ying- jeou, who supports Hanyu Pinyin which has been official in Taipei since his term as a Mayor of Taipei. By the announcement from the Taiwan Government in September 2008, Hanyu Pinyin became the only official romanization of Standard Chinese since 2009, and Tongyong Pinyin is no longer official and supported. (Shih, 2008)

After 2009, lots of road signs have switched to Hanyu Pinyin in many cities and counties, including Yilan and southern Taiwan. Even in Tainan, which the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) controls, many road signs have also switched to Hanyu Pinyin. The Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA) also switched to Hanyu Pinyin, but Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR) still uses Tongyong Pinyin to its station in Banqiao District, New Taipei as “Banciao Station”. This actually makes passengers confusing, for Banqiao and Banciao both appear in the same station but different corners.

For the reason of “international exchange”, twelve cities and counties still use the old romanization system— Changhua (Zhanghua), Chiayi (Jiayi), Hsinchu (Xinzhu), Hualien (Hualian), Kaohsiung (Gaoxiong), Keelung (Jilong), Kinmen (Jinmen), Lienchiang (Lianjiang), Pingtung (Pingdong), Taichung (Taizhong), Taipei (Taibei) and Taitung (Taidong). In fact, Zhubei’s “Zhu” is actually the same to Hsinchu’s “chu”, and they are also neighbourhoods. By that reason, people may not understand Zhubei and Hsinchu’s relationship directly, so this also makes people confusing.

In June 2009, the Taiwan Government accepted that Taipei County was about to upgrade to a special-municipality in 25 December 2010. In early 2010, Taipei County Government announced that the official romanization of the new special-municipality would be “Xinbei”. After media in Taiwan reported this, many people in Taipei County rejected that plan, for it contained an “evil letter”— X. More people tended to choose “New Taipei”, because it is so “new”. Although “New Taipei” is not standard to the current law at all, Eric Chu Li-luan and Tsai Ing-wen, who were candidates from both the KMT and the DPP, announced that they would strongly support “New Taipei” as the new name of Taipei County. (Pinyin news, 2010) By winning 52.61 percentage of votes, Eric Chu Li-luan won the municipal mayoral election in December 2010. On 31 December 2010, the Taiwan Government confirmed “New Taipei” as an special case, so Xinbei became New Taipei at the same time. All road signs containing “Xinbei” in New Taipei were changed to “New Taipei” in early 2011, yet Xinbei Bridge changed to New Taipei Bridge later than them.

Many people accept New Taipei by its “new” meaning, and they hope New Taipei City (NTC) can be as excellent as New York City (NYC). As a “New” Taipei, people believe that it will be better than Taipei, the capital of the Republic of China. In fact, those citizens and Mayor Chu are all daydreaming, for New Taipei is a de facto slum of Taipei. Only new on the name, New Taipei is still poorer than Taipei, with more older apartments and more criminals. New York is quite new to York, New Delhi is quite new to Delhi, but New Taipei is quite old to Taipei.

New Taipei causes more issues. Primarily, people may not understand if it is New Taipei or “new Taipei”. “New Taipei City Government”? The building in Banqiao or Xinyi? “New Taipei Mayor”? Eric Chu Li-luan or Hau Lung-pin? Recently, a poster for the newly opened Shilin Night Market in the Taipei Metro showed “New Taipei Shilin Night Market”. Is that the new one of Taipei Shilin Night Market, or is Shilin Night Market moved to New Taipei? New Taipei Bridge has become a famous bridge for photographing, but there is already a bridge named Taipei Bridge. Back to their Chinese names, they are totally different, but people may believe that New Taipei Bridge is the successor to Taipei Bridge.

New Taipei has become the first special case of non-standard romanization of Standard Chinese accepted by the Taiwan Government. Thus, more and more “special cases” occurred. In June 2011, Danshui was renamed to Tamsui, because George Leslie Mackay has already named the town (now a district) Tamsui in the nineteenth century. Tamsui is a traditional name in Taiwanese Hokkien, and it is also Tamsui in Hakka. That became the second special case, for Tamsui is the only romanization which is not of Standard Chinese. Currently, as of January 2012, most of signs of the district has been changed Tamsui from Danshui, including the route map of the Taipei Metro, although the broadcasting in the Taipei Metro still says “Danshui”. (Pinyin news, 2011)

The renaming from Danshui to Tamsui might be meaningful, but the renaming from Lugang to Lukang is actually meaningless. Some officials mentioned that “Lukang” is the oddest name of the urban township in Changhua County, so Lugang must be renamed to Lukang. In fact, “Lukang” is not traditional, nor is it standard to the laws; it is just a romanization under Wade-Giles. Unfortunately, the Taiwan Government accepted Lukang as the third special case.

Issues from Taiwanese Society and Government

Because of the lack of education on romanization, most of people in Taiwan actually are not aware of romanization at all, and they sometimes consider romanization as a part of English. They know how to own a common English name such as Mary or John, but most of them do not know how to romanize their Chinese name standardly. Some people may know, yet those twenty-first- century people still do not use Hanyu Pinyin to romanize their Chinese name. For example, they tend to spell their family name as Chiu, Hsu, Chang, Tesng, etc. instead of Qiu, Xu, Zhang, Zeng, etc.. Most of students in Taiwan still adopt Wade-Giles or self-made spelling as their romanization. In fact, most of students in the English Department of universities do not understand Hanyu Pinyin at all, either.

The government’s attitude decides the amount of issues of romanization. The Republic of Korea (South Korea) also faced the similar issues in 2000, as the older McCune-Reischauer system was replaced by the Revised Romanization of Korean. Different from Taiwan, South Korea dared to change all names of their administrative regions. For example, Pusan and Inchon has been renamed to Busan and Incheon, and they are the second and third largest cities in South Korea. Thus, the Revised Romanization of Korean can be spread widely and successfully. Back to Taiwan, the government does not want to change all names, and they chose an illogical name (New Taipei) to the most populous city in Taiwan.

If the Taiwan Government wants to solve all issues of romanization of Standard Chinese in Taiwan, it will have to do some solutions. First, students should be educated with Hanyu Pinyin within at least a month. Also, the three special cases should be declined, and the name of all existing twelve cities and counties not under Hanyu Pinyin should be completely renamed. By those solutions, the society and government in Taiwan may finally make much lesser jokes on romanization and become more friendly to foreigners.


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