Chinese postal romanization

Postal romanization[1] was a system of transliterating Chinese place names developed by the Imperial Post Office in the early 1900s. The system was in common use until the 1980s, when it was largely replaced by Hanyu Pinyin.

For major cities and other places that already had widely accepted European names, traditional spellings were retained.[2] With regard to other place names, the post office revised policy several times. Spellings given could reflect the local pronunciation, Nanjing pronunciation, or Beijing pronunciation. Although pronunciation-based arguments were made for each option, using postal romanization to determine any form of Chinese pronunciation was limited by the fact that the system dropped all dashes, diacritics, and apostrophes, to facilitate telegraphic transmission.[3]

At a conference held in 1906 in Shanghai, the post office selected a system of romanization developed by Herbert Giles called "Nanking syllabary".[3] Although Beijing dialect had served as a national standard since the mid-19th century, the system adopted was based on Nanjing pronunciation. The system corresponded to various traditional romanizations that were adopted in the 18th century when Nanjing dialect was considered standard. French-appointed administrators ran the post office at this time, and they sought a less-anglicized alternative to Wade–Giles.

Chinese postal romanization
1947 Zhonghua Minguo Quantu
A map of China with romanizations published in 1947.
Traditional Chinese郵政式拼音
Simplified Chinese邮政式拼音
Literal meaningPostal-style romanization system


An imperial edict issued in 1896 renamed the Maritime Customs Post, reorganized this agency as a national postal service, and established the Imperial Post Office. In 1899, Robert Hart, as inspector general of posts, asked postmasters to submit romanizations for their districts.

Although Hart asked for transliterations "according to the local pronunciation", most postmasters were reluctant to play lexicographer and simply looked up the relevant characters in a dictionary. The spellings that they submitted generally followed a system created by Thomas Francis Wade, now called the Wade-Giles system. The system had been developed in 1867 and was based on the Beijing pronunciation. It became the standard method of romanizing Chinese after Herbert Giles published a dictionary, using the system, in 1892.[4]

The post office published a draft romanization map in 1903.[5]

Disappointed with the Wade-based map, Hart made another attempt to promote localism in 1905. He directed the postmasters to submit romanizations "not as directed by Wade, but according to accepted or usual local spellings." Local missionaries could be consulted, Hart suggested. However, Wade's system reflected pronunciation in most areas served by the post office, at least in Mandarin-speaking areas.[n 1]

A more serious disadvantage was that the French viewed Wade's system as anglophone. The top position in the post office was held by Postal Secretary Théophile Piry, who had been appointed in 1901 in part from the influence of the French government. Until 1911, the post office remained part of the Maritime Customs Service. As customs inspector general, Hart was Piry's boss, but French backing effectively gave Piry a postal fiefdom.[6]

1906 conference

Piry responded to Hart's moves by organising an Imperial Postal Joint-Session Conference in Shanghai in the spring of 1906. As it was a joint postal and telegraphic conference, it allowed Piry to go over Hart's head. The conference resolved that existing spellings would be retained for all names already transliterated. Accents, apostrophes, and hyphens would be dropped to facilitate telegraphic transmission. The requirement for addresses to be given in Chinese characters was also dropped. For new transliterations, local pronunciation would be followed in Guangdong as well as in parts of Guangxi and Fujian. In other areas, a system called Nanking syllabary would be used.

Nanking syllabary was presented by Giles in his Dictionary.[n 2] Despite the name, the system was not tied to any city but was based on Southern Mandarin, an idealized form of the Jianghuai dialect spoken in the lower Yangtze region. Jianghuai is a divergent form of Mandarin and is widely spoken in both Jiangsu and Anhui provinces. In Giles' idealization, the speaker consistently makes various phonetic distinctions not made in Beijing dialect (or in the dialect of any other specific city). Giles created the system to encompass a range of dialects. It also corresponds roughly to traditional romanizations such as "Peking" and "Nanking," created by French missionaries in the 17th and 18th century, when the Nanjing dialect was a lingua franca. The selection of Nanking syllabary did not suggest that the post office was treating Nanjing pronunciation as standard. The principal advantage of the system was that it allowed "the romanization of non-English speaking people to be met as far as possible," as Piry put it.[3]

Atlases explaining postal romanization were issued in 1907, 1919, 1933, and 1936. The divided and nuanced result of the 1906 conference led critics to complain that postal romanization was idiosyncratic.[6] According to modern scholar Lane J. Harris:

What they have criticized is actually the very strength of postal romanization. That is, postal romanization accommodated local dialects and regional pronunciations by recognizing local identity and language as vital to a true representation of the varieties of Chinese orthoepy as evinced by the Post Office's repeated desire to transcribe according to "local pronunciation" or "provincial sound-equivalents".[7]

Later developments

Prompted by a 1919 Ministry of Education decision to teach the Beijing dialect in elementary schools, the post office briefly reverted to Wade's system in 1920 and 1921. It was the era of the May Fourth Movement, when language reform was the rage and the Beijing dialect was promoted as a national standard. The post office adopted a dictionary by William Edward Soothill as its standard reference.[8] While the Soothill-Wade system was adopted for newly created offices, all existing romanizations were retained.

China's internal politics did not override Anglo-French rivalry for long. In December 1921, Codirector Henri Picard-Destelan quietly ordered a return to Nanking syllabary "until such time as uniformity is possible." Although the Soothill-Wade period was brief, it was a time when 13,000 offices were created, a rapid and unprecedented expansion. At the time the policy was reversed, one third of all postal establishments used Soothill-Wade spelling.[9]

In 1943, the Japanese ousted A. M. Chapelain, the last French head of the Chinese post. The post office had been under French administration almost continuously since Piry's appointment as postal secretary in 1901.[n 3]

The Chinese Communists seized power in 1949 and announced the abolition of postal romanization in 1964. All the same, the system remained in common use until the 1980s. China Daily, an official English-language news source, adopted pinyin romanization in 1981, and the system was adopted by the International Organization for Standardization in 1982.[10]

Postal romanization remained official in Taiwan until 2002, when Tongyong Pinyin was adopted. In 2009, Hanyu Pinyin replaced Tongyong Pinyin as the official romanization (see Chinese language romanization in Taiwan). While street names in Taipei have been romanized via Hanyu Pinyin, municipalities throughout Taiwan, such as Kaohsiung and Taichung, presently use a number of romanizations, including Tongyong Pinyin and postal romanization.

Main features

  • No diacritics or accent marks.
  • The distinction between initial tsi and ki depends on historical palatalization in Southern Mandarin, not aspiration. Both sets of words eventually became palatalized in Standard Mandarin and Pinyin orthography redistributes them to qi and ji based on aspiration. Hence a modern Mandarin speaker may observe an apparently idiosyncratic distribution of tsi and ki for Pinyin qi and ji:
tsj: Tientsin (Tianjin), Tsinan (Jinan)
kj: Fukien (Fujian), Heilungkiang (Heilongjiang), Kiangsu (Jiangsu), Kinchow (Jinzhou), Nanking (Nanjing), and Peking (Beijing)
tsq: Tsingtao (Qingdao) and Tsinghai (Qinghai)
kq: Chungking (Chongqing)
  • Well-established traditional spellings are retained even if irregular:
Canton (Guangzhou), Chefoo (Zhifu), Foochow (Fuzhou), Soochow (Suzhou), Chinkiang (Zhenjiang), Chinwangtao (Qinhuangdao), and Woosung (Wusong).
  • Local languages may be used instead of Mandarin:
Cantonese: Kongmoon (Jiangmen), Sunwui (Xinhui)
Hokkien: Amoy (Xiamen), Changchew (Zhangzhou), Chinchew (Quanzhou), Quemoy (Kinmen), and Swatow (Shantou)
Manchu: Kirin (Jilin), Mukden (Shenyang)
  • si corresponds to pinyin xi:
Kwangsi (Guangxi), Sian (Xi'an), Sinkiang (Xinjiang), Shansi (Shanxi), and Sining (Xining).
  • Unless it is the primary vowel in the syllable, w is used instead of pinyin u:
Ankwo (Anguo), Kinchow (Jinzhou), and Kwangsi (Guangxi)
Chengteh (Chengde), Pehkiao (Beiqiao), and Wensuh (Wensu)
  • Unvoiced initial consonants p, t, k, ch, ts are used to represent Pinyin b, d, g, zh, z:
Hupeh (Hubei), Peking (Beijing), Shantung (Shandong), Kwangtung (Guangdong), and Tsingtao (Qingdao)

See also


  1. ^ This map shows where the various dialects of Chinese are spoken. Both Wade-Giles and pinyin are based on Northern Mandarin, which is shown in red. Although this is often called the "Beijing dialect," both systems leave out language features that are local to Beijing.
  2. ^ That refers to the first edition of Giles' dictionary, published in 1892. The second edition, published in 1912, drops the Nanking syllabary but gives romanizations for nine separate dialects, including that of Yangzhou, a city near Nanjing. Both cities use the Jianghuai dialect.
  3. ^ The only break in French control of the post office was 1928 to 1931, when Norwegian Erik Tollefsen was foreign head.



  1. ^ Postal Romanization. Taipei: Directorate General of Posts. 1961. OCLC 81619222.
  2. ^ Harris, Lane J. (2009). "A "Lasting Boon to All": A Note on the Postal Romanization of Place Names, 1896–1949". Twentieth-Century China. 34 (1): 96–109. doi:10.1353/tcc.0.0007.
  3. ^ a b c Harris (2009), p. 101.
  4. ^ Giles, Herbert (1892). A Chinese-English Dictionary.
  5. ^ China Postal Working Map (1903)
  6. ^ a b Harris (2009).
  7. ^ Harris (2009), p. 97.
  8. ^ William Edward Soothill (1908). The student's four thousand tzu and general pocket dictionary
  9. ^ Harris (2009), p. 105.
  10. ^ "ISO 7098:1982 – Documentation – Romanization of Chinese". Retrieved 2009-03-01.


  • China Postal Album: Showing the Postal Establishments and Postal Routes in Each Province. 1st ed. Shanghai: Directorate General of Posts, 1907.
  • China Postal Album: Showing the Postal Establishments and Postal Routes in Each Province. 2nd ed. Peking: Directorate General of Posts, 1919.
  • China Postal Atlas: Showing the Postal Establishments and Postal Routes in Each Province. 3rd ed. Nanking: Directorate General of Posts, 1933.
  • China Postal Atlas: Showing the Postal Establishments and Postal Routes in Each Province. 4th ed. Nanking: Directorate General of Posts, 1936.
  • Playfair, G. M. H. The Cities and Towns of China: A Geographical Dictionary. 2nd. ed. Shanghai: Kelly & Walsh Ltd., 1910.
  • "Yóuzhèng shì pīnyīn" (邮政式拼音) Zhōngguó dà bǎikē quánshū: Yuyán wénzì (中国大百科全书:语言文字). Beijing: Zhōngguó dà bǎikē quánshū chūbǎnshè (中国大百科全书出版社), 1998.
China Post

China Post, full name China Post Group Corporation is the state-owned enterprise operating the official postal service of China, which provides the service in mainland China, excluding its special administrative regions, Hong Kong and Macau, which have their own postal service independent to the mainland's. The Corporation officially shares its office with the sub-ministry-level government agency State Post Bureau which regulates the national postal industry theoretically including the Corporation.

Chinese language romanization in Taiwan

There are a large number of romanization systems used in Taiwan (officially the Republic of China). The first Chinese language romanization system in Taiwan, Pe̍h-ōe-jī, was developed first by Presbyterian missionaries and promoted by the indigenous Presbyterian Churches since the 19th century. Pe̍h-ōe-jī is also the first written system of Taiwanese Hokkien; a similar system for Hakka was also developed at that time. During the period of Japanese rule, the promotion of roman writing systems was suppressed under the Dōka and Kōminka policy. After World War II, Taiwan was handed over from Japan to China in 1945. The romanization of Mandarin Chinese was also introduced to Taiwan as official or semi-official standard.

Today, many commonly encountered Taiwanese proper names (places and people) are written in Wade–Giles (a historic semi-official system), Chinese postal romanization (the system most used by Western academics until the internationalization of Hanyu Pinyin in the 1980s), or Gwoyeu Romatzyh (a system that records tones without tone marks). After a long debate, Hanyu Pinyin, the official romanization system used in the People's Republic of China, was planned to be the nationwide standard in Taiwan for 2009. While the national government and many provinces and cities adopted Hanyu Pinyin, several cities continue to use Tongyong pinyin. Examples being, Kaohsiung, Taiwan's second most populous city, and Taichung.

The contention surrounding romanizations has never been purely academic or in response to the needs of the foreign community in Taiwan, but rather clouded by partisan politics. As a result, romanization of Mandarin in Taiwan in the 20th century was generally inconsistent and quite difficult for everyone—be they tourists, foreign-born residents or native-born Taiwanese—to interpret. Since most Taiwanese were taught only Zhuyin/Bopomofo to write phonetic inscriptions of Chinese words, rather than a romanization system, there is little incentive to standardize romanization.

Exonym and endonym

An exonym or xenonym is an external name for a geographical place, a group of people, an individual person, or a language or dialect. It is a common name used only outside the place, group, or linguistic community in question. An endonym or autonym is an internal name for a geographical place, a group of people, or a language or dialect. It is a common name used only inside the place, group, or linguistic community in question; it is their name for themselves, their homeland, or their language.

For instance, Germany is the English language exonym, Allemagne is the French language exonym, and Deutschland is the endonym for the same country in Europe.

Marcel Aurousseau, an Australian geographer, first used the term exonym in his work The Rendering of Geographical Names (1957). The term endonym was devised subsequently as an antonym for the term exonym.

Fuzhou dialect

The Fuzhou dialect, (simplified Chinese: 福州话; traditional Chinese: 福州話; pinyin: Fúzhōuhuà; FR: Hók-ciŭ-uâ ) also Fuzhounese, Foochow or Hok-chiu, is the prestige variety of the Eastern Min branch of Min Chinese spoken mainly in the Mindong region of eastern Fujian province. Like many other varieties of Chinese, the Fuzhou dialect is dominated by monosyllabic morphemes which carry lexical tones, and has a mainly analytic syntax. While the Eastern Min branch that it belongs to is closer to Southern Min than to other Sinitic branches such as Mandarin or Hakka, they are still not mutually intelligible.

Centered in Fuzhou City, the Fuzhou dialect covers eleven cities and counties: Fuzhou City Proper, Pingnan, Gutian, Luoyuan, Minqing, Lianjiang (including Matsu), Minhou, Changle, Yongtai, Fuqing and Pingtan. It is also the second local language in many northern and middle Fujian cities and counties such as Nanping, Shaowu, Shunchang, Sanming and Youxi.Fuzhou dialect is also widely spoken in some regions abroad, especially in Southeastern Asian countries like Malaysia and Indonesia. The city of Sibu in Malaysia is called "New Fuzhou" due to the influx of immigrants there in the late 19th century and early 1900s. Similarly, a significant number of Fuzhounese have emigrated to Singapore, Taiwan, United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand in the decades since China's economic reform.

History of the administrative divisions of China before 1912

The history of the administrative divisions of the Imperial China is quite complex. Across history, what is called 'China' has taken many shapes, and many political organizations. For various reasons, both the borders and names of political divisions have changed—sometimes to follow topography, sometimes to weaken former states by dividing them, and sometimes to realize a philosophical or historical ideal. For recent times, the number of recorded tiny changes is quite large; by contrast, the lack of clear, trustworthy data for ancient times forces historians and geographers to draw approximate borders for respective divisions. But thanks to imperial records and geographic descriptions, political divisions may often be redrawn with some precision. Natural changes, such as changes in a river's course (known for the Huang He, but also occurring for others), or loss of data, still make this issue difficult for ancient times.

IATA airport code

An IATA airport code, also known as an IATA location identifier, IATA station code or simply a location identifier, is a three-letter code designating many airports around the world, defined by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). The characters prominently displayed on baggage tags attached at airport check-in desks are an example of a way these codes are used.

The assignment of these codes is governed by IATA Resolution 763, and it is administered by IATA headquarters in Montreal. The codes are published semiannually in the IATA Airline Coding Directory.IATA also provides codes for railway stations and for airport handling entities. A list of airports sorted by IATA code is available. A list of railway station codes, shared in agreements between airlines and rail lines such as Amtrak, SNCF French Railways, and Deutsche Bahn, is available. Many railway administrations have their own list of codes for their stations, such as the list of Amtrak station codes.

Pearl S. Buck

Pearl Sydenstricker Buck (June 26, 1892 – March 6, 1973; also known by her Chinese name Sai Zhenzhu; Chinese: 賽珍珠) was an American writer and novelist. As the daughter of missionaries, Buck spent most of her life before 1934 in Zhenjiang, China. Her novel The Good Earth was the best-selling fiction book in the United States in 1931 and 1932 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932. In 1938, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature "for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces". She was the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

After returning to the United States in 1935, she continued writing prolifically, became a prominent advocate of the rights of women and minority groups, and wrote widely on Chinese and Asian cultures, becoming particularly well known for her efforts on behalf of Asian and mixed-race adoption.

Postage stamps and postal history of China

The history of the postage stamps and postal history of China is complicated by the gradual decay of Imperial China and the years of civil war and Japanese occupation in the 1930s and 1940s.


Shaanxi (pinyin: Shǎnxī; Mandarin pronunciation: [ʂàn.ɕí] (listen); formerly romanized as Shensi), is a province of the People's Republic of China. Officially part of the Northwest China region, it lies in central China, bordering the provinces of Shanxi (NE, E), Henan (E), Hubei (SE), Chongqing (S), Sichuan (SW), Gansu (W), Ningxia (NW), and Inner Mongolia (N). It covers an area of over 205,000 km2 (79,151 sq mi) with about 37 million people. Xi'an – which includes the sites of the former Chinese capitals Fenghao and Chang'an – is the provincial capital. Xianyang, which served as the Qin dynasty capital, is located nearby. The other prefecture-level cities into which the province is divided are Ankang, Baoji, Hanzhong, Shangluo, Tongchuan, Weinan, Yan'an and Yulin.

Shaanxi comprises the Wei Valley and much of the surrounding fertile Loess Plateau, stretching from the Qin Mountains and Shannan in the south to the Ordos Desert in the north. Along with areas of adjacent Shanxi and Henan provinces, it formed the cradle of Chinese civilization, with its Guanzhong region sheltering the capitals of the Zhou, Han, Jin, Sui, and Tang dynasties in addition to the Qin. It does not include the full territory of the Yellow River's Ordos Loop, with the Great Wall of China separating it from the grasslands and deserts of Inner Mongolia.

Standard Mandarin
Hanyu PinyinYóuzhèngshì Pīnyīn
Wade–GilesYu-cheng-shih P'in-yin
Yue: Cantonese
Yale RomanizationYàuhjing sīk Pingyām

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