Postal romanization


Postal romanization was a system of transliterating developed by postal authorities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. For many cities, the corresponding postal romanization was the most common English-language form of the city's name from the 1890s until the 1980s, when postal romanization was replaced by . In 1892, created a romanization system called . The would cancel postage with a stamp that gave the city of origin in Latin letters, often romanized using Giles's system. In 1896, the Customs Post was combined with other postal services and renamed the . As a national agency, the Imperial Post was an authority on Chinese place names. When the system of romanization became widespread, some argued that the post office should adopt it. This idea was rejected at a conference held in 1906 in . Instead, the conference formally adopted Nanking syllabary. This decision allowed the post office to continue to use various romanizations that it had already selected. Wade-Giles romanization is based on the , a pronunciation standard since the 1850s. The use of Nanking syllabary did not suggest that the post office considered Nanjing pronunciation to be standard. Rather, it was an attempt to accommodate a variety of Mandarin pronunciations with a single romanization system.

Table of romanizations

Pronunciation key for postal: ''a'' as in father. ''ai'' as in ''aye''. ''e'' as in m''e''n or y''e''t. ê as in ''ea''rth. ''eh'' is short and abrupt. ''ei'' as in h''ei''ght. ''ew'' as in s''ou''ce. ''eul'' as in h''ul''l. ''i'' as in p''i''n. ''ia'' as in ''ya''rd. ''iao'' is ''i'' and ''ao'' together. ''ie'' as in the Italian word s''ei''sta. ''ieh'' same sound as ''ie'', but shorter. ''ih'' as in ch''i''ck. ''in'' as in p''in'' or ch''in''. ''ing'' as in k''ing'' or s''ing''. ''io'' as in ''yaw''n. ''ioh'' is short and abrupt. ''iu'' as in p''ew''. ''o'' as in l''o''ng. ''oh'' is short or abrupt. ''ow'' as in h''ow'', but longer. ''u'' as in t''oo''. ''ch'' as in church. ''chw'' as in chew. ''f'' as in ''f''at. ''h'' as in ''h''ang. ''hs'' as in ''sh''in. ''hw'' as in ''wh''at. ''j'' as in French ''j''amais. ''k'' as in ''k''ing. ''l'' as in ''l''amp. The spelling "Amoy" is based on pronunciation of in , the local language of . "Peking" is carried over from the d'Anville map. In Nanking syllabary, the city is ''Pehking''. The irregular "oo" in "Soochow" is to distinguish this city from (Suchow) in northern Jiangsu. The other postal romanizations are based on "Southern Mandarin," an idealized form of . spellings are based on ', an idealization of taught in the Chinese education system. After the came to power in 1927, the capital was moved from Peking ("northern capital") to Nanking ("southern capital"). Peking was renamed "Peiping" ("northern peace").


The Customs Post, China's first government-run post office, opened to the public and began issuing postage stamps in 1878. This office was part of the , led by Irishman . By 1882, the Customs Post had offices in twelve : , , , , , , , , , , , and . Local offices had postmarking equipment so mail was marked with a romanized form of the city's name. In addition, there were companies that provided local postal service in each of these cities. ' by Herbert Giles, published in 1892, popularized the Wade-Giles method of transliteration. This system had been created by in 1867. It is based on pronunciation in Beijing. Giles's dictionary also gives pronunciation in the dialects of various other cities, allowing the reader to create locally-based transliteration. From January 1893 to September 1896, local postal services issued postage stamps that featured the romanized name of the city they served using local pronunciation. An imperial edict issued in 1896 designated the Customs Post a national postal service and renamed it the Chinese Imperial Post. The local post offices in the Treaty Ports were incorporated into the new service. The Customs Post was smaller than other postal services in China, such as the British. As the Imperial Post, it grew rapidly and soon became the dominant player in the market. In 1899, 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 the Wade–Giles system, which was the standard method of transliteration at this time. The post office published a draft romanization map in 1903. Disappointed with the Wade-based map, Hart issued another directive in 1905. This one told 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 did reflect pronunciation in Mandarin-speaking areas. Théophile Piry, a long-time customs manager, was appointed postal secretary in 1901. Appointing a French national to the top position fulfilled an 1898 commitment by China to "take into account the recommendations of the French government" when selecting staff for the post office. Until 1911, the post office remained part of the Maritime Customs Service, which meant that Hart was Piry's boss.

1906 conference

To resolve the romanization issue, Piry organized an Imperial Postal Joint-Session Conference in Shanghai in the spring of 1906. This was a joint postal and telegraphic conference. The conference resolved that existing spellings would be retained for 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 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 is one of several transliteration systems presented by Giles to represent various local dialects. Nanjing had once been the capital and its dialect was, like that of Beijing, a pronunciation standard. But the decision to use Nanking syllabary was not intended to suggest that the post office recognized any specific dialect as standard. The dialect spoken in Nanjing makes more phonetic distinctions than other dialects. A romanization system geared to this dialect can be used to reflect pronunciation in a wider variety of dialects. Southern Mandarin is widely spoken in both and 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. For the French-led post office, an additional 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. That is to say, Piry considered the Wade-Giles system to be specific to English. Atlases explaining postal romanization were issued in 1907, 1919, 1933, and 1936. The ambiguous result of the 1906 conference led critics to complain that postal romanization was idiosyncratic. 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".

Later developments

At the in 1913, the idea of a national language with a standardized transregional phonology was approved. A period of turmoil followed as President reversed course and attempted to restore the teaching of . Yuan died in 1916 and the Ministry of Education published a pronunciation standard now known as for Guoyu in 1918. The post office reverted to Wade's system in 1920 and 1921. It was the era of the , when language reform was the rage. The post office adopted a dictionary by as a reference. The Soothill-Wade system was used for newly created offices. Existing post offices retained their romanizations. Critics described the Ministry's standard, now called , as a mishmash of dialects, bookish, and reminiscent of previous dynasties. While drawing phonetic features from Beijing dialect, many phonological features of Southern Mandarin had been retained. In December 1921, Henri Picard-Destelan, codirector of the Post Office, 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. The Ministry published a revised pronunciation standard based strictly on Northern Mandarin in 1932. 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. In 1958, Communist China announced that it was adopting the romanization system. Implementing the new system was a gradual process. The government did not get around to abolishing postal romanization until 1964. Even then, the post office did not adopt pinyin, but merely withdrew Latin characters from official use, such as in postal cancellation markings. Mapmakers of the time followed various approaches. Private atlas makers generally used postal romanization in the 1940s, but they later shifted to Wade-Giles. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency used a mix of postal romanization and Wade-Giles. The U.S. Army Map Service used Wade-Giles exclusively. The U.S. government and the American press adopted pinyin in 1979. The followed suit in 1982.. Retrieved 2009-03-01. Postal romanization remained official in Taiwan until 2002, when was adopted. In 2009, replaced Tongyong Pinyin as the official romanization (see ). While street names in have been romanized via Hanyu Pinyin, municipalities throughout Taiwan, such as and , presently use a number of romanizations, including Tongyong Pinyin and postal romanization.

See also

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* ''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" () ''Zhōngguó dà bǎikē quánshū: Yuyán wénzì'' (). Beijing: Zhōngguó dà bǎikē quánshū chūbǎnshè ({{zh, labels=no, s=中国大百科全书出版社), 1998. Romanization of Chinese