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Romanization and
Language Planning in Taiwan

Wi-vun Taiffalo Chiung

4.    Romanization after 1945

Romanization after 1945 can be categorized into romanized Chinese and romanized Taiwanese in terms of the language the romanization is used for. The development of Chinese romanization can be traced back to the KMT’s language planning in China in the first half of the twentieth century. Generally speaking, Chinese romanization is not considered by the KMT as an independent writing system, but rather as a set of phonetic symbols for transcribing Han characters. As for the Taiwanese romanization, it is intentionally ignored (once forbidden) by the KMT regime, but it is the main concern of the promoters of the Taibun movement. For Taibun promoters, romanization is regarded as an independent orthography and thus is currently adopted as one of the proposals for writing Taiwanese.


 4.1.  Romanization for Mandarin Chinese

In the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, the language issues with which the Chinese government and the general public were concerned with were: 1) the unification of pronunciation (of Han characters) and the formation of a national language, and 2) the transition of written language from classical Han (wenyen文言) to colloquial writing (baihua白話).[1]

Mandarin was eventually chosen as the national language and the standard pronunciation for reading Han characters. At that time, neither domestically created phonetic symbols nor western roman scripts were considered independent orthographies, but auxiliary tools for learning the national language (Norman 1988:257-263; DeFrancis 1950:221-236). Jhuyin Zimu 注音字母or Phonetic Alphabet, a set of symbols derived from radicals of Han characters was devised and proposed by the Committee on Unification of Pronunciation (讀音統一會) in 1913 and later officially adopted by the Chinese government in 1918 as a tool for learning the correct pronunciation of the national language. It was revised slightly in 1928 and renamed Jhuyin Fuhao注音符號[2]or Phonetic Symbols (henceforth NPS1) in 1930. This scheme was used in China until 1958 when Hanyu Pinyin (henceforth HP) was promulgated. Jhuyin Fuhao was brought to Taiwan by the KMT in 1945 and it has been taught through Taiwan’s national education system and has been in continuous use since then.

The first romanized phonetic scheme proposed and recognized by the Chinese government was the Guoyu Luomazi國語羅馬字or National Language Romanization, which was approved in 1928 (Chen 1999:182). Although Guoyu Luomazi was approved by the government, in reality it was not promoted for practical use. It was even less widely used in comparison to another romanized scheme Latinxua sin wenz拉丁化新文字[3]  (Norman 1988:259). Guoyu Luomazi was later brought together with Jhuyin Fuhao to Taiwan by the KMT during the Chiang Kai-shek occupation of Taiwan. The Guoyu Luomazi scheme was later revised and renamed Guoyu jhuyin fuhao di er shih國語注音符號第二式[4]or National Phonetic Symbols, 2nd Scheme (henceforth NPS2) and promulgated by Taiwan’s Ministry of Education (MOE) in 1986.

Although both NPS1 and NPS2 were officially promulgated by the KMT regime in Taiwan, only NPS1 is taught in schools and is actually used as an auxiliary tool for learning to pronounce Mandarin. In contrast, NPS2 is excluded from school curriculum and is simply used to transliterate Chinese names into other languages (Chen 1999:189). As a matter of fact, not only NPS2 but also other traditional romanized schemes devised by foreigners, such as Wade-Giles and Postal schemes are used for Mandarin transliteration.[5] Moreover, the majority of Taiwanese people who are not educated in the romanized schemes, simply adapt the English K.K. phonetic symbols[6] to transliterate as they see fit (Yu 1999). Consequently, the transliteration in romanization is in a serious chaotic situation. For example, ‘’may be transliterated ‘tsao,’ ‘tsau,’ ‘ts’ao,’ ‘ts’au,’ ‘chao,’ ‘chau,’ ‘chhao,’ ‘chhau,’ ‘cao,’ ‘cau,’ and so on.

As a result of this chaos, much attention was paid to transliteration issues, with the government trying to unify the romanized schemes in the late 1990s. In April 1999, a national conference on transliteration schemes was held by the MOE, focusing on the review of the four existing romanized schemes, i.e. Wade-Giles, NPS2, HP, and Tongyong pinyin (TYP).[7] In July of the same year, the Executive Yuan (行政院similar to the cabinet in western countries) announced that HP would be adopted as the standardization for future transliteration. However, this announcement soon aroused opposition and protests against the HP system in August (Chiang 2000a). Consequently, the final decision on a transliteration scheme was intentionally left until after the presidential election in March 2000. However, the result of the 2000 presidential election fell short of the KMT’s expectation. The pro-Taiwanese Independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won the election and the KMT lost power for the first time since 1945 after ruling Taiwan for fifty-five years.

Since the 2000 presidential election, the Mandarin transliteration issue has remained unresolved and it has even brought more heated controversy and conflict between the new government and the pro-Chinese opposition parties, i.e. KMT, People First Party親民黨, and New Party新黨. On September 16 of that year, the Mandarin Promotion Council 國語推行委員會under the MOE of the new government approved the TYP for Mandarin transliteration. In October that too soon aroused criticism and protests from the opposition parties. Ma Ying-jiu, the KMT mayor of Taipei started a boycott against the new government on the pinyin issue. He criticized the TYP saying that it is not an international standard for Mandarin Chinese; it would create an obstacle for Taiwan to “與世界接軌[8]” achieve globalization. He further asserted that Hanyu Pinyin would have to be adopted to achieve this objective (Jhongyangse 2000; Jhongshih 2000; Mingrihbao 2000).

This ‘pinyin controversy,’ or dispute over mandarin transliteration schemes has been generally considered the biggest crisis to the new government aside from the ‘anti-nuclear power plant’ event.[9] In fact, the current pinyin controversy is probably the most widely broadcasted dispute over the issues of transliteration that has ever occurred in Taiwan. One may be curious as to why a linguistic issue could result in such an ire and political crisis. There are two contributing factors: 1) the different national identity possessed by different parties, 2) the ruling DPP is a minority party in the Legislative Yuan (立法院similar to congress).

The conflicts between TYP and HP fundamentally resulted from different perspectives of national identity rather than different linguistic designs. From the point of view of Chinese nationalism, it is important to avoid contributing to pro-Taiwanese Independence activities. During the old days while the pro-unification KMT was a ruling party, there was no doubt or problem to using the Guoyu Luomazi with regard to the nationalism issue. However, the pro-unification opinion has been decreasing since the late 1980s when the native political movement started flourishing (Chiung 1999:8-11). Moreover, the pro-Taiwanese Independence DPP became the ruling party after the 2000 presidential election. Under this strong pro-Taiwanese independence atmosphere, using a transliteration scheme different from China was considered an attempt of the new government to move toward Taiwanese independence.[10] Although Mayer Ma criticized the TYP scheme of not being an internationally recognized system, what he really implied was that TYP was distinct from the ‘Chinese PRC standard.’[11] What really concerned Ma was that TYP would lead to a further estrangement between Taiwan and China (Kang 2000; Te 2000).

Although the DPP won the 2000 presidential election, the new government could do little until the next election of legislative representatives in the end of 2001. The fact that the KMT still has the majority in the Legislative Yuan has inflated the pinyin controversy. To some extent, what mostly interested the KMT were fronts to boycott the new government rather than to arrive at a finding on a transliteration scheme. In this case, to unseat the new president was probably the first priority, and the adoption of the HP was simply the second. For example, those who accused the new government of not adopting the HP did not accuse the KMT of promulgating the NPS2.

In order to better understand the pinyin controversy, the history and differences between TYP and HP, are briefly described in the following.

TYP (Tongyong Pinyin通用拼音), literally means general or common transliteration scheme. TYP was proposed and devised by a research fellow at Academia Sinica, Yu Buo-cyuan and his associates in the late 1990s. The fundamental purpose of this new design was to find the maximum transferability between the Hanyu Pinyin scheme and Taiwanese vernacular scheme. In other words, Yu tried to devise a transliteration scheme, which could be used for both Mandarin and Taiwanese languages without lethal conflicts in learning. There were two proposals for TYP, i.e. TYP1 (甲式) and TYP2 (乙式) (Cheng 2000; Yu 2000). In the scheme of TYP1, the letter ‘p’ represents [p] in IPA; however, in TYP2, the letter ‘p’ represents [ph], and ‘b’ represents [p]. TYP2 was the scheme involved in the pinyin controversy. Generally speaking, TYP2 is considered to be the revised version of Hanyu Pinyin, with minor change such as the initial symbols ‘q,’ ‘x,’ and ‘zh’ (see Table 2 ). It was estimated that there were around 15% differences between transliterations using TYP2 and HP (Chiang 2000a).

HP (Hanyu Pinyin漢語拼音), literally means transliteration scheme for Han language (to be exactly, only for Mandarin). HP was designed during the mid-1950s in China and officially promulgated in 1958 by the government of the People’s Republic of China. HP is currently considered the only legal transliteration scheme in China for the transcription of modern standard Chinese (Wenzi 1983). It was also adopted by the International Standardization Organization in 1982 as the standard form for transcribing Chinese words (Chen 1999:187). Although the original design of HP was on the ground of autonomous orthography, it has been continuously claimed by the Chinese government that HP is intended for learners as an aid in learning standard Chinese (Wenzi 1983:6-21; Norman 1988:263; Chen 1999:188-189; Hannas 1997:24-25). In fact, not only HP, but also other phonemic writing schemes, such as Guoyu Luomazi and Jhuyin Fuhao have always been prevented from serving as independent writing systems. From the point of view of Chinese nationalism, Han characters embody the function of linguistic uniformity. In contrast, alphabetic writing would result in linguistic polycentrism and further be harmful to national unity (Norman 1988:263; DeFrancis 1950:221-236). Apparently, national and political unity is considered to have priority over literacy by the Chinese government.


Table 2. Mandarin consonants represented by IPA, HP, TYP, and Jhuyin Fuhao.


[1] For details, see Png 1965; Gao 1992; Chen 1999; Tsao 1999; Norman 1988; DeFrancis 1950; Jhou 1978.

[2] The purpose of using Jhuyin Fuhao ‘sound-annotating symbols’ is to “dispel any faint hope that they were to be used as bona fide writing systems” (Chen 1999:189). This scheme was later called Guoyu jhuyin fuhao di yi shih or National Phonetic Symbols, 1st Scheme in Taiwan (henceforth NPS1).

[3] Latinxua sin wenz was first published in 1929 and employed among the 10,000 Chinese living in the USSR. It was considered an autonomous writing system and later introduced to China. This scheme was very popular especially in the Northwestern part of China where were under the control of the Chinese Communist Party at that time (Chen 1999:184-186).

[4] Guoyu Luomazi was renamed National Phonetic Symbols 2nd Scheme, to distinguish it from the 1st scheme of Jhuyin Fuhao.

[5] Even for the government, different departments and different counties may use different romanized schemes.

[6] In Taiwan, the K.K. phonetic symbols are taught in schools serving as instructions of pronunciations in learning English.

[7] For more discussion on these schemes, see Cheng 2000; Tsao 1999.

[8] Literally means to get connection to the world.

[9] The 4th nuclear power plant in Taiwan was approved and under construction in the 1990s during the period of KMT government. After the DPP became the ruling party, the new government stopped its construction. Consequently, it aroused protests and boycott from the opposition parties, which proposed to unseat the new president Chen Shui-bian.

[10] For example, in a press conference on November 29, 2000 the Guotaiban (Office for Taiwan Affairs) of the PRC claimed that someone was trying to promote Taiwanese independence in the areas of culture and education through using a different transliteration scheme from Hanyu pinyin.

[11] For example, if Ma really was concerned about the international standardization and globalization, he should also abandon the Jhuyin Fuhao, which is used in Taiwan only.