Chinese language romanization in Taiwan

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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 the Republic of China. 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. After a long debate, Hanyu Pinyin, the official romanisation system used in the People's Republic of China, never become the national standard in Taiwan.[1][2]

The contention surrounding romanisations 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, romanisation 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.


See also: Pe̍h-ōe-jī

The following systems were official in the ROC:

  1. Gwoyeu Romatzyh (GR, 1928-1986)
  2. Mandarin Phonetic Symbols II (MPS II, 1986-2002)
  3. Tongyong Pinyin (2002-2008)[3][4]
  4. Hanyu Pinyin (since January 1, 2009)[1][2]

(All except the last were locally developed by officials of the ROC)

Alongside these aforementioned nominally official systems, Wade-Giles has been widely used for decades in many contexts, such as in passports.

When Tongyong was introduced, place names — except the top level divisions — were romanised in Tongyong. Street and building signs have been normally transcribed in one of the official systems and not Wade-Giles, except in Taipei, where Hanyu Pinyin was adapted in the early 2000s, before the rest of the country.


Romanisation is not normally taught in Taiwan's public schools at any level. Consequently, most Taiwanese do not know how to romanise their names or addresses. Teachers use only Zhuyin ("bopomofo") for teaching and annotating the pronunciation of Mandarin. There have been sporadic discussions about using a romanisation system during early education to teach children Mandarin pronunciation (like how students in Mainland China learn Mandarin using Hanyu Pinyin). However, like all other aspects of romanisation in Taiwan, this is a controversial issue. The plan in the early 2000s to adopt Pinyin was delayed due to disagreements over which form to use (Tongyong or Hanyu). The move is complicated by the massive effort needed to produce new instructional materials and retrain teachers.

Textbooks teaching other languages of Taiwan — namely, Hoklo, Hakka, and Formosan languages — now also often include pronunciation in romanisations (such as modified Tongyong) in addition to Zhuyin. Textbooks purely supplemented by romanisation, without Zhuyin annotations, are very rare at the elementary-school level, since some schoolchildren are still unfamiliar with the Latin alphabet.

Government publications for teaching overseas Taiwanese children[5] usually are completely bilingual, but only have Zhuyin in the main body of the texts and a comparison chart of Zhuyin and one or more romanisation systems. Those for teaching advanced learners (such as youths and adults) have infrequent phonetic annotations for new phrases or characters. These annotations, usually in the footnotes, are romanised, in addition to having Zhuyin.

Like most Mandarin instructional materials released in North America, phrasebooks and textbooks targeting Mandarin learners from overseas (mostly adult learners and workers) in Taiwan usually include only Hanyu Pinyin with tone marks (accompanied by traditional characters).

Place names[edit]

When the national government officially adopted Tongyong Pinyin in 2002, local governments were to make their own choices. Consequently, Taipei, adopted Hanyu Pinyin.[6] Taipei replaced its earlier signage, most of which had used a modified version of Wade-Giles influenced by the Postal department.[7] Elsewhere in Taiwan, signs tend to a mix of systems, with Tongyong being common, but still having many signs left over from the MPS II (or even the GR) era.

The current legal standard since 2009, Hanyu Pinyin, is used fairly consistently in train stations, high-speed rail stations and highways. Kaohsiung, Taiwan's second city, continues to use Tongyong in its streets.

The first- and second-level divisions of Taiwan (all counties and the biggest cities) are unaffected by the changing standards throughout the years, as their usage has become well-established. By tradition, all are in Wade-Giles, except Keelung, which is a long-standing way to refer to the city. (The spelling kee is not in any romanization systems.) The towns of Tamsui and Lukang have also officially chosen to maintain their historic names (in Hoklo and Wade-Giles, respectively) to maintain recognition among tourists from abroad.

Romanisation errors on local street signs are common throughout Taiwan because of the shortage of a workforce trained in romanisation and the lack of political will for correct implementation. Many common errors are derived from the accent of Taiwanese Mandarin, such as interchanging the -ng and -n sounds. For example, guan and guang are often confused with one another on signs and plaques. Random typos (such as replacing e with t) are also ubiquitous. The area with the fewest errors on official signage is Taipei.[citation needed]

Because of the World Games 2009, Kaohsiung sponsored a "Say It Right" effort that fixed most of the romanization mistakes in the city.[citation needed] Since romanised signage is not a priority in areas with few foreign tourists, most errors occur in remote areas with limited resources (if there were any romanised signs to begin with).[citation needed]

Personal names[edit]

Most people in Taiwan have their names romanised using a variation of Wade-Giles. This simplified version employs no diacritics (tone marks, apostrophes and umlauts) and, in semi- and unofficial contexts, usually incorrectly capitalized. The first letter in the second character of the given names should be, according to governmental and academic conventions, in the lower case, but in reality usually not. For example, Lü Hsiu-lien is sometimes written incorrectly as Lu Hsiu-Lien, contrary to the set rules of Wade-Giles. The use of Wade-Giles is generally not out of personal preference but because this system has been used by most government offices' reference materials in Taiwan to date.

There are a few Taiwanese personalities (such as politicians) whose names are in obscure or idiosyncratic schemes. For instance, using any major romanisation, former president Lee Teng-hui's surname would have been Li. Vice-President Vincent Siew's surname is a rare form of Xiao, from Hokkien (also Sio or Siau). And Ma Ying-jeou's name is in the defunct French academic transcription. The single closest romanization to Chen Shui-bian's name would be Hanyu Pinyin, except that Hanyu Pinyin never uses hyphens in given names.


Public and private enterprises are not bound to any set of standards in their English names. The variations in this areas are therefore even greater and unpredictable. Some chose to transliterate their names, but others opted to translate the meaning. The first word of Chunghwa Telecom, Chinese Television and China Airlines are actually identical in Mandarin, i.e., Zhonghua (中華), meaning "of China".

Many business owners use an ad hoc approach, so long as the end result is pronounceable and visually pleasant. The Hualon Group and Yulon Motor have opted for readability and have lost a couple of letters. (The second syllable would be long or lung in all major romanisations).

As many conglomerates in Taiwan are owned by the Hoklo, it is not uncommon to find companies that romanised their names in Hokkien. The Shin Kong Group, for example, is faithful to its Hokkien pronunciation (Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Sin-kong) but not Mandarin.

Like those on street signs, romanisation on store signs and commercial products' labels are not yet systematized.

Other contexts[edit]

Postal addresses are romanized officially in both Hanyu and Tongyong Pinyin.[8] Prior to 2000, addresses were usually written in Wade-Giles or MPS II. Given the correct 5-digit zip code, the postal workers are usually able to deliver mail in any romanisation as well.

Most universities in Taiwan have names in Wade-Giles, such as Cheng Kung, Chung Hsing, Feng Chia and Chiao Tung. A few with pre-Taiwanese existence were romanised using the Postal Guide, i.e., Tsing Hua, Soochow, and Chengchi (actually simplified, since it would be -chih in Postal). Few universities have names in other local languages, such as Tamkang and Takming (both in Hoklo).

Since elementary, middle, and senior high schools are under the jurisdiction of the local government, they follow whatever romanisation the particular county or city uses at the time. For instance, during the first decade of the 21st century, the school signs outside of Taipei were usually in Tongyong Pinyin.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Hanyu Pinyin to be standard system in 2009". Taipei Times. 2008-09-18. 
  2. ^ a b "Gov't to improve English-friendly environment". The China Post. 2008-09-18. 
  3. ^ "Tongyong Pinyin the new system for romanisation". Taipei Times. 2002-07-11. 
  4. ^ "Taiwan Authority Concerned Passes Tongyong Pinyin Scheme". People's Daily Online. 2002-07-12. 
  5. ^ Global Chinese Language and Culture Center, Overseas Compatriot Affairs Commission, Republic of China. Accessed 2008-09-21
  6. ^ "Ma remains Tongyong Pinyin holdout". Taipei Times. 2002-08-03. 
  7. ^ Mark Swofford, Taipei's nicknumbering system for street names. Accessed 2008-09-21
  8. ^ Postal Services - Zip Codes, Chunghwa Post. Accessed 2008-09-21

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