8. Transcription of Chinese names and words

8. Transcription of Chinese names and words


European academics (first of all the Jesuit missionaries who travelled to China) showed a keen interest in Chinese language, culture and history from the 16th century. Those who learned Chinese and then returned to the old continent tried to make the words of the Chinese language readable for the people here, and so they transcribed them. However, the various European languages and scripts are not exactly suitable to accurately reproduce the original Chinese words and expressions. In addition, for many centuries there was no linguistic/spelling principle that laid down the rules for the exact transcription. As a result, for a long time, almost everyone transcribed Chinese names and words in any way they liked.

Over time, of course, national languages (English, French, German, Russian, etc.) developed their own set of rules, which the authors publishing in these languages tried to apply. However, due to the specific characteristics of the language, there were significant differences between European translations of the same Chinese expression, which often led to misunderstandings. For example, shuang (English transcription) = chouang (French transcription); hsiung (English transcription) = hiong (French transcription); chui (English transcription) = tchouei (French transcription).

To remedy this, in 1958 the Committee for the Reform of Chinese established the so-called pinyin transcription, which aimed to standardize the rules for transcribing Chinese at an international level with a writing system using letters of the Latin alphabet. In recent decades, the use of pinyin has become dominant in many language areas (the Anglo-Saxon world included).

For those interested, the table below lists the pinyin equivalents of the Chinese words and names in the exhibition:


Chinese                                               Pinyin


長安                                                     Chang’an

赵康民                                                 Zhao Kangmin

氣                                                         Qi

秦朝                                                     Qin chao

始皇                                                 Qin Shi Huang


楚國                                                     Chuguo

二里頭文化                                         Erlitou wenhua

風水                                                     Feng shui

伏羲                                                     Fuxi

汉朝                                                     Hanchao (朝 – dynasty)

河南                                                     Henan

香港                                                     Xiang gang

河北                                                     Hebei

夏                                                         Xia

西安                                                     Xi’an

新朝                                                     Xin chao

匈奴                                                     Xiongnu

黄河                                                     Huang He

皇帝                                                     Huangdi

杨志发                                                 Yang Zhifa

嬴政                                                     Ying Zheng


云南                                                     Yunnan

甘伯宗                                                 Gan Bozong

甘肃                                                     Gansu

孔子                                                     Kong zi

昆明                                                     Kunming        

郭詡                                                     Guo Xu

蘭州                                                     Lanzhou

老子                                                     Laozi

禮記                                                     Liji

临潼区                                                 Lintongqu (区 – district)

骊山                                                     Lishan

漢光武帝                                             Han guang wudi

劉邦                                                     Liu Bang

劉勝                                                     Liu Sheng

洛阳市                                                 Luoyangshi (市 – city)

馬麟                                                     Ma Lin

毛泽东                                                 Mao Zedong

商朝                                                     Shang

陕西                                                     Shaanxi

神農                                                     Shennong

石家莊                                                 Shijiazhuang

司馬遷                                                 Sima Qian

臺北市                                                 Taibeishi

大禹                                                     Da Yu

中華民國                                             Taiwan

道教                                                     Daojiao (Taoism)

王                                                         Wang

王莽                                                     Wang Mang

文徵明                                                 Wen Zhengming


武丁                                                     Wu Ding