|Chinese postal romanization|
|Literal meaning||Postal-style romanization system|
Postal romanization was a system of transliterating Chinese place names developed by postal authorities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. For many cities, the postal romanization was the most common English-language form of the city's name from the 1890s until the 1980s, when it was replaced by pinyin.
In 1892, Herbert Giles created a romanization system called Nanking syllabary. The Imperial Maritime Customs Post Office 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 Chinese Imperial Post. As a national agency, the Imperial Post was an authority on Chinese place names.
When the Wade-Giles 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 Shanghai. 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 Beijing dialect, 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.
|Traditional Chinese/ Simplified Chinese||D'Anville (1790)||Postal (1907)||Postal
Pronunciation key for postal: a as in father. ai as in aye. e as in men or yet. ê as in earth. eh is short and abrupt. ei as in height. ew as in souce. eul as in hull. i as in pin. ia as in yard. iao is i and ao together. ie as in the Italian word seista. ieh same sound as ie, but shorter. ih as in chick. in as in pin or chin. ing as in king or sing. io as in yawn. ioh is short and abrupt. iu as in pew. o as in long. oh is short or abrupt. ow as in how, but longer. u as in too. ch as in church. chw as in chew. f as in fat. h as in hang. hs as in shin. hw as in what. j as in French jamais. k as in king. l as in lamp.
The spelling "Amoy" is based on pronunciation in Hokkien, the local language. "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 Xuzhou (Suchow) in northern Jiangsu. The other postal romanizations are based on "Southern Mandarin," an idealized form of Nanjing dialect. Pinyin spellings are based on putonghua, an idealization of Beijing dialect taught in the Chinese education system.
After the Chinese Nationalist Party came to power in 1927, the capital was moved from Beijing ("northern capital") to Nanking ("southern capital"). Beijing 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 Imperial Maritime Customs Service, led by Irishman Robert Hart. By 1882, the Customs Post had offices in twelve Treaty Ports: Shanghai, Amoy, Chefoo, Chinkiang, Chungking, Foochow, Hankow, Ichang, Kewkiang, Nanking, Weihaiwei, and Wuhu. 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.
A Chinese-English Dictionary by Herbert Giles, published in 1892, popularized the Wade-Giles method of transliteration. This system had been created by Thomas Francis Wade 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.[a]
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.
To resolve the romanization issue, Piry organized an Imperial Postal Joint-Session Conference[b] 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 Southern Mandarin 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 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. 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".
At the Conference for the Unification of Reading Pronunciation[c] in 1913, the arguments in favor of Southern Mandarin were rejected and the idea of a national language (Guóy?) based on Beijing dialect was approved. A period of turmoil followed as President Yuan Shikai reversed course and attempted to restore the teaching of Classical Chinese. Yuan died in 1916 and the Ministry of Education published a pronunciation standard for Guoyu in 1918.[d] Prompted by a 1919 decision to teach the new standard in elementary schools nationwide, the post office reverted to Wade's system in 1920 and 1921. It was the era of the May Fourth Movement, when language reform was the rage. The post office adopted a dictionary by William Edward Soothill 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 Old National Pronunciation, as a mishmash of dialects, bookish, and hopelessly old fashioned. Despite being advertised as a Beijing-based system, many elements 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.[e]
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.[f]
In 1958, Communist China announced that it was adopting the pinyin 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.
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 Tainan, presently use a number of romanizations, including Tongyong Pinyin and postal romanization.