All the hoopla surrounding last week’s anniversary of Hong Kong’s Handover got me thinking about the many Hong Kong vs. China dichotomies. Which led me to a broader old China vs. new China reverie.
Take Wade-Giles. It’s not a British taipan, but rather a system of Mandarin romanization popular from the 1800s until sometime during Mao era (1949-1976).
When I think of Wade-Giles, I think:
But during the inaugural year of the Great Leap Forward (1958), the People’s Republic approved a new romanization system: pinyin. And this is what I think of when I think of pinyin:
I have nothing against pinyin. In fact, without pinyin, I never would have learned to speak Mandarin very well. I’ve been able to read characters for 22 years (more than half my life!), yet I’ll never ever master them. But I’m a wizard at pinyin. Sure, it’s not much of an accomplishment, but it has made learning Chinese easier than previous generations had it.
When I started studying Mandarin in 1989, one of my textbooks used Wade-Giles. I hated it.
Wade-Giles uses apostrophes that make no sense. In pinyin, there’s a bang and a pang (nothing raunchy, mais oui). But in Wade-Giles, bang is pang and pang is p’ang. That stuff drove me crazy.
Pinyin seemed so structured with its user-friendly rules: q is pronounced as ch, x as sh, zh as j, and so forth. And no apostrophes.
But now I’ve done a 180 with Wade-Giles and love it. It seems romantic where pinyin seems contrived.
I’d much rather dream of this:
Have you learned pinyin, or Taiwan’s bopofomo (another thorn in my side), or Wade-Giles? Do you prefer one over the others, or is it all Chinese to you?