The new type of Taiwan’s national ID card (shēnfènzhèng/身分證) will be coming out soon. For the first time, this card will allow the use of romanization — albeit in very limited ways. The use of romanization is being allowed because members of Taiwan’s indigenous tribes had complained, with good reason, that the old ID cards did not permit them to use their real names but only sinicized versions of their names.
The languages of Taiwan’s tribes are not related to Mandarin, Taiwanese, or any of the other so-called Sino-Tibetan languages. Moreover, the 400-and-some syllables of Mandarin are not adequate to accurately represent the languages of any of these tribes, which means Chinese characters can’t handle those names properly.
I spoke earlier today with an official at Taiwan’s Ministry of the Interior, who helped clarify some of the points of the new policy:
- the space allotted to romanized names is limited to twenty or fewer letters. Supposedly this will be sufficient; but I doubt it.
- 0nly aborigines will be allowed to use romanization on their ID cards; everyone else will be limited to Chinese characters
- all ID cards, including those with romanization, must include Chinese characters; thus, Taiwan’s aborigines aren’t allowed to shed the sinicized versions of their names
The above policy applies to “foreigners” as well. In other words, if I become an ROC citizen — as I probably would if the government dropped its insistence that I first abandon my U.S. citizenship — I would not be permitted to have “Mark Swofford” on my identification card. I would have to be identified as “史偉凡” and only as “史偉凡.” I would not be allowed to include a romanized version: Shi Wei-fan (and certainly not Shǐ Wěifán either).
And even if I could have my real name on the ID card, I’d have to omit my middle name, because with that included my name wouldn’t fit within twenty spaces.