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East Asia Library: Chinese Romanization Guide

Chinese Romanization Guide

The purpose of this page is to inform library users about the basics of Chinese romanization in the library system and facilitate searching the Yale library catalog (Orbis) as well as  databases such as Eureka and WorldCat. This page is adapted from the ALA-LC Romanization Table for Chinese, an 18-page document. For people who desire more in-depth knowledge of Chinese romanization, please refer to the ALA-LC Romanization Table and the Library of Congress pinyin Conversion Project.

A. Romanization

The pinyin system has replaced the Wade-Giles system as the standard in the U.S. libraries for creating Latin script readings for Chinese characters. This means, as a general rule, library users must search in pinyin to find Chinese-language materials, regardless of publishing locations. For people who are more familiar with Wade-Giles than pinyin, the Wade-Giles to Zhuyin to Pinyin Conversion Table may be helpful. But there are some exceptions to this general rule. The place names in Taiwan used as subject or as headings for government or geographical entities remain in Wade-Giles, although they are in pinyin when appearing in title, imprint, and other areas of the record. For example, 台中市 as a subject heading is "T'ai-chung shih", but "Taizhong shi" in the title of a Chinese-language book. In terms of personal names,  those Chinese names in Wade-Giles that have been well established are not converted to pinyin, such as 蒋经国 Chiang Ching-kuo and 李登辉 Lee Teng-hui.

B. Separating syllables

In general, separate the romanization of each Chinese character with a space, such as 李白  Li Bai and 明清小说   Ming Qing xiao shuo. See the following table for more examples.

Terms of address
林老师    Lin lao shi
Titles including royal titles
秦始皇    Qin shi huang    
慈禧太后   Cixi tai hou
Non-specific geographic names
西北    xi bei

C. Joining syllables

There are a number of occasions when two or more syllables are connected together without hyphens or spaces.
(1). Join together multi-character surnames and given names, such as 孙中山    Sun Zhongshan and 司马相如    Sima Xiangru. See the following table for more examples.

Forenames, given names, and courtesy names 无名氏    Wumingshi
孔子   Kongzi
云谷老人    Yungulaoren
Married women 蒋宋美玲    Jiang Song Meiling
Fictional characters (Treat their names as the names of real people)
贾宝玉    Jia Baoyu
Names of persons of religious vocation (Separate a term of address from a family name or forename) 惠能    Huineng
释吉藏   shi Jizang
玄奘法师   Xuanzang fa shi
Personal names as part of corporate names, conference names, or geographical names (Treat them the same as other personal names) 中山大学    Zhongshan da xue
周恩来学术讨论会   Zhou Enlai xue shu tao lun hui
张自忠路    Zhang Zizhong lu

(2). Join together the syllables of multi-character geographical names, such as 中国    Zhongguo, 湖北省    Hubei sheng, and 西藏自治区    Xizang zizhiqu. See the following table for more examples.

Names of countries
中华人民共和国     Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo
中华民国   Zhonghua Minguo
俄国   Eguo
Generic terms for geographical features or jurisdictions are separated from the names of the features or jurisdictions
海南岛      Hainan Dao
太平洋   Taiping Yang
吴县    Wu Xian
安徽省   Anhui Sheng
Historical or non-Chinese jurisdictions are romanized in the same way as contemporary Chinese jurisdictions: 锦州府    Jinzhou Fu
加州   Jia Zhou
Multi-syllable terms for constructions of geographical extent are connected
长江大桥      Chang Jiang Daqiao
三门峡水库    Sanmenxia Shuiku
京杭运河    Jing Hang Yunhe
Names of continents and regions
亚洲      Ya Zhou
东北    Dongbei (when referring to the particular area formerly known as Manchuria; but "dong bei" when referring to direction or position)

(3). Join together transliterations of two or more characters comprising the names of racial, linguistic, or ethnic groups. See the following examples:
基督徒 Jidu tu,
毛南族 Maonan zu,
美国人 Meiguo ren, and
客家话 Kejia hua.
If these names are part of geographical names, follow the rules for geographical names, such as 德宏傣族景颇族自治州     Dehong Daizu Jingpozu Zizhizhou.

(4). Add an apostrophe before a joined vowel to avoid ambiguity, such as 西安 Xi'an. But the apostrophe will make no difference in searching.

D. Dates

Separates the syllables of non-numerical dates, except for reign periods that are also the names of emperors. See the following examples:

光绪己丑     Guangxu ji chou
民国七十九年     Minguo qi shi jiu nian

E. Capitalization and Punctuation

Capitalization and punctuation will not affect searches, so they are skipped here.

F. Searching Tips

At Yale, the library staff have strived to ensure the accuracy and consistency of library records. But it is possible that some errors exist as a result of the conversion from Wade-Giles to pinyin. The library staff are making every effort to clean up the errors but it will take some time. In the meantime, we encourage users to try different ways while searching Orbis. These include:

(1) Search in both pinyin and Wade-Giles.
As mentioned above, pinyin is the standard in the library system now but some place names and personal names remain in Wade-Giles. Therefore, it is always a good idea to search in Wade-Giles when you think pinyin should be used, and vice versa. The
Wade-Giles to pinyin Conversion Tableshould be helpful in either situation.

(2) Search both separated forms and joined forms.
Under current rules, there are some situations when separating syllables is correct and other situations when joining syllables is correct. It is possible that a small number of records are not converted correctly; therefore, we suggest users search both separated and connected forms.

(3) Be aware of the problem with the character "的". Its Wade-Giles transcription is "ti" and it was converted to "di" automatically. But the standard form in pinyin is "de", so we have started to change from "di" to "de" in the system but it is far from finishing. As a result, you may need to search both "de" and "di" when you are looking for materials containing "的".