Going south with official Taiwan map

In the past, when I found romanization errors in official government documents I often contacted the agencies in charge so they could make improvements. But as those who live in Taiwan may have noted, this practice has had limited success. And in the process I’ve built up a great deal of bile from encountering bureaucratic roadblocks to fixing mistakes. So is it any wonder that when I see things like this map, I often think, “Wǒ hǎo xiǎng tù.” Maybe now it’s time to start going with that feeling — metaphorically speaking. And what could be more appropriate, given that we are about to have a tùnián? (I know, I know: That pun’s probably not going to make any of the New Year cards.)

So today I’ll post in public about one such mess. I recently looked over a map of southern Taiwan issued by Taiwan’s official Tourism Bureau and was not surprised to find errors — a lot of errors. (This particular map was published in June 2010 and is, as far as I know, the most recent edition.)

Most of the errors are cases of remnants of Tongyong Pinyin (e.g., Cingshuei for what is written Qingshui in Hanyu Pinyin). Oddly, on this map Tongyong Pinyin is often seen in only part of a name (e.g., what is written 豐丘 in Chinese characters is given as Fengciou, which has Hanyu Pinyin’s Feng rather than Tongyong’s Fong but Tongyong’s ciou rather than Hanyu’s qiu).

What at first glance would appear to be another example of this mixing is Xizih, a bay next to Gaoxiong. There being no xi in Tongyong Pinyin and no zih in Hanyu Pinyin, one might guess this should be Xizi. But in fact this should be Sizi (written Sihzih in Tongyong). Or is also a typo in the Chinese characters (四子灣) and thus should be something else?

Other errors are even more mysterious, such as Tainan’s “Eternal For Cves” for 億載金城 (yì zǎi jīnchéng). I suspect they were going for “Eternal Fortress” but got lost somewhere along the way.

I estimate the map has about 100 errors. Of course, here I’m referring to just the map side itself and not the text on the reverse, which is filled with similar mistakes. Also, it’s just for southern Taiwan. The other two or three maps needed to cover most of the country likely each have just as many mistakes or more.

Turning back to the map at hand, here are some errors in just the area covering the southern tip of Taiwan (map sections C8 and C9).

On the map Should be
Haikau Desert Haikou Desert
Kenting National Forest Recreation Area Kending National Forest Recreation Area
Kenting National Park Kending National Park
Kenting National Park Administration Kending National Park Administration
Natural Center Nature Center
Ping-e Ping’e
(Shizih) (Shizi)
Shuangliou Shuangliu
Sihchongxi Sichongxi
Sihchong River Sichong River
Sihchongxi Hot Springs Sichongxi Hot Springs
Syuhai Xuhai
Syuhai Hot Springs Xuhai Hot Springs
Syuhai Prairie Xuhai Prairie

Keep in mind that more than half of the area in sections above is water and thus lacking in any place names that could be misspelled.

I should note that Kenting for what should be Kending appears to be what might be labeled an official error — another case of the government mistakenly believing that using old, misleading spellings from the days of bastardized Wade-Giles is necessary lest foreigners be confused. (The worst examples of this are the names of counties and many cities, such as Taichung rather than Taizhong, Pingtung rather than Pingdong, Hualien rather than Hualian, and Chiayi rather than Jiayi.) But if Kenting somehow ended up being official, then the map is still wrong, because the correct Hanyu Pinyin spelling “Kending” (which is also the correct spelling in Tongyong Pinyin) is also seen.

In short, this map is, regrettably, another example of the Taiwan government’s failure to maintain quality control in its use of romanization. It’s been said before but perhaps it needs to be said again: It’s a sad state of affairs when a country can’t manage even the simple task of correctly spelling the names of its own towns and special attractions on its own maps — not that anyone else has managed to get their maps of Taiwan correct either; and some that should be good remain awful. (Yeah, I’m talking about you, GooGle.)

Gaoxiong education chief backs city retaining Tongyong

The news on Taiwan’s romanization situation has been coming in fast over the past few days. Unfortunately I’ve been too busy to report much on this. But rest assured that I am trying to get some things done behind the scenes … for all the good that will do given Taiwan’s piss-poor record on this issue. Still, I’m trying to remain hopeful.

Last week the deputy chief of Gaoxiong’s (Kaohsiung’s) Bureau of Education said that he was in favor of the city adopting the international system for romanizing Mandarin, Hanyu Pinyin. But on Friday his boss, Cài Qīnghuá, slapped down that idea.

Cai said that almost no schools reported problems with Tongyong Pinyin. I have no idea what that has to do with anything. But that was part of his justification for backing Tongyong.

He also said it would cost too much money to change, throwing out a reportedly conservative estimate of NT$900 million (US$28 million), which I think is likely a gross overestimate.

Here’s the story:

Gāoxióng shìzhèngfǔ dàodǐ zhī bù zhīchí Hànyǔ Pīnyīn? Gāoxióng Shì Jiàoyùjú zhǎng Cài Qīnghuá zuótiān biǎoshì, quán shì yī sì wǔ suǒ huíbào xuéxiào zhōng, zhǐyǒu sì suǒ tíjí Tōngyòng Pīnyīn shǐyòng de wèntí, juédàduōshù xuéxiào bìngwú yìjian, Gāoxióng shìzhèngfǔ jiù “zhǔguǎn dānwèi zài yèwù tuīdòng shàng, shì-fǒu yǒu xūyào xiézhù shìxiàng” wèntí shí, huífù “pīnyīn zhèngcè xū yǔ guójì jiēguǐ, jiànyì cǎiyòng guójì jiān duōshù shǐyòng de pīnyīn xìtǒng Hànyǔ Pīnyīn.” Shì Jiàoyùjú zhǔ mì de yìjian, tā méi zhùyìdào.

Cài Qīnghuá shuō, mùqián háishi zhǔzhāng yányòng Tōngyòng Pīnyīn, fǒuzé gēnggǎi Gāoxióng Shì guāngshì lùbiāo, dìbiāo, biāozhì děng, bǎoshǒu gūjì jiù xū huāfei yīdiǎn jiǔyì yuán.

source: Gāoxióng Shì Jiàoyùjú zhǎng zhǔzhāng: yányòng Tōngyòng Pīnyīn (高市教育局長 主張沿用通用拼音), Zìyóu Shíbào (Liberty Times), September 20, 2008

Gaoxiong street signs

Sinle StDuring an extremely brief trip a few weeks ago to Gāoxióng, Taiwan’s second-largest city, I was able to grab a few photos of signage there. Most of these were taken from a moving taxi; thus the poor quality and lack of much diversity. But these are the best I could do under the circumstances.

First, a few basic points:

  • they’re in Tongyong Pinyin (bleah — but at least they’re consistent)
  • they don’t use InTerCaPiTaLiZaTion (This lack is, of course, a good thing. If only Taipei hadn’t screwed this up!)
  • in most cases the text in romanization is large enough to read even at a distance (Very good — unlike all too many relatively recent signs elsewhere, such as Taipei County.)

In short, other than the choice of romanization most of these signs aren’t all that bad. They’re certainly much better (and more consistent) than the ones that Taipei County put up in Tongyong Pinyin a few years ago. (Although Taipei County’s current magistrate said more than two years ago that he was in favor of switching to Hanyu Pinyin, as far as I can see he has done absolutely nothing about this. Of course, some might say that he’s done absolutely nothing about anything; but I’ll leave discussion of that to the political blogs.)

Here’s another Gāoxióng sign with romanization that isn’t too small.
Dacheng St.

I’m not a fan of the practice of force-justifying the Chinese characters and romanization/English to the same width. This style can be seen in many of these signs. Sometimes this results in the romanized/English words being spaced too far apart; more often, though, the Chinese characters are left with lots of space between them — so much space that it would be easy to have spaces indicate word divisions for the texts in Hanzi (something Y.R. Chao recommended nearly a century ago), which might be an interesting thing to try on signs. I wonder if anyone has ever performed any experiments on this.

The full Mandarin name of the school indicated by the blue sign on the left is rather long:

Gāoxióng shìlì Gāoxióng nǚzǐ gāojí zhōngxué

Whoever made the sign wisely desided to cut that down to 高雄女中 (Gāoxióng nǚ zhōng). If only someone had realized that it would have been better to use something shorter than the full English name, too. “Kaohsiung Municipal Girls’ Senior High School” is a lot to fit on one small sign. “Kaohsiung Girls’ High School”, “Girls’ Municipal High School”, or something even shorter would have been much better.

Here are some more signs.

And finally an address plate on a building. This style could certainly be better.
Dayi St.

Taiwan president backs restoration of aborigine place name

In 1957, Maya, a small town in Taiwan’s Gaoxiong (Kaohsiung) County, was assigned a new name: Sanmin Township (S?nmín Xi?ng, ???), after Sun Yat-sen’s S?nmínzh?yì (???? / Three Principles of the People). Although the residents of Maya — then, as now, predominantly members of the Bunun tribe — were likely not in favor of this change, Taiwan was then under an authoritarian regime with an assimilationist policy, so there’s little to nothing they could have done.

During KMT rule, when the change to Sanmin was made, a major point of government policy was stressing the Chineseness of Taiwan — even if, such as in this case, the links had to be manufactured. The Kuomintang (Guómínd?ng), after all, was and still officially is the Chinese Nationalist Party, as the Taipei Times likes to remind its readers.

Fortunately, Taiwan no longer has the same political situation as 50 years ago. Some activists are now trying to get the name of the town changed back to Maya. President Chen Shui-bian recently expressed his support for this, which is not surprising considering that the current administration prefers to stress Taiwan’s historical links with just about anyplace but China. In recent years Taiwan’s ties with Austronesia have been receiving increasing attention.

I’m still trying to find out if “Maya” represents the proper spelling or if it’s merely a romanization of a Mandarinized form of the Bunun name. In Chinese characters this place is written ??? (M?y? Xi?ng / Maya Township). The characters ?? are also used for the Maya people of southern Mexico and northern Central America.


further reading: Pinyin News on aborigine names

Gaoxiong receives funding to upgrade the city’s English

The government of Gaoxiong (Kaohsiung) has recently secured funding from the Executive Yuan to

  • waste on so-called translation agencies that wouldn’t know real English if it bit them on the ass,
  • print up some signs on which the English is so small as to be almost unusable,
  • put up even more signs in a romanization system few people know but many think is ridiculous at best,
  • um, create an “English-friendly environment” in advance of the World Games, which will be held in the city in 2009.

The stories didn’t mention how much money will be involved in this. The project will be headed by the recently promoted X? Lì-míng (??? / Xu Liming / Hsu Li-ming).

Let’s all hope the city does a much better job than is to be expected from past experience throughout Taiwan.


Gaoxiong (Kaohsiung) MRT

Looking through Hao’s photos (linked to in his comment on yesterday’s post) reminded me that the MRT system in Gaoxiong is at least partially open. Since Gaoxiong is in Tongyong land, and since the signage there mixes romanization and English, and since no tone marks are given, I thought I’d share with everyone these Hanyu Pinyin guides I just made.

Here are the stations of the Gaoxiong subway system as given in Hanyu Pinyin (with tone marks), Hanyu Pinyin and English, Chinese characters, and Tongyong Pinyin and English:

See also Hao’s photos of the KMRT.

I don’t know Gaoxiong well, having been there only once, so if I got the word parsing for any of the stations wrong, please let me know.

MOE approves Taiwanese romanization; Tongyongists protest

Years of valuable time has been lost in the squabbling over romanization systems for Taiwanese. And that squabbling will no doubt continue, as the links below make clear. But an important step was taken on Thursday. Finally, finally, Taiwan’s Ministry of Education has approved a romanization system for Taiwanese: Tái-luó-b?n P?ny?n (?????), to give its Mandarin name.

I’m already on the record as having called Tongyong Pinyin, in its various incarnations, a national embarrassment for Taiwan, so I won’t bother to disguise the fact that I got a real kick out of the fact that the Tongyong Pinyin scheme for the Taiwanese language was roundly rejected. I know that more than a few readers of Pinyin News will be cheering this news. For many, this has as much or more to do with the methods used to push through the much-despised Tongyong Pinyin system for Mandarin than any defects, real or imagined, in the Tongyong Pinyin system for Taiwanese.

Predictably, Yu Bo-quan (???, I’ve given up bothering to figure out which of the various spellings for his name he’s using now), the main person behind the Tongyong romanization systems, is unhappy. Reportedly, after it was clear things were not going his way he stormed out of the meeting. After he left the new system was approved unanimously.

Yu’s remarks make clear the political nature of his approach.

Tái-luó-b?n p?ny?n xìt?ng zuó chu?nggu?n chéngg?ng hòu, Yú Bó-quán qìfèn de shu?, Tái-luó xìt?ng de q?yuán shì Táiw?n M?nnány? y?nbi?o xìt?ng (TLPA), shì Guómínd?ng shídài de ch?nwù, ér 2002 T?ngyòng P?ny?n shì Mínjìnd?ng zhízhèng nèi t?ngguò de, zhìyí wèihé Jiàoyùbù wúf? hànwèi zhízhèngd?ng de M?nnány? p?ny?n xìt?ng zh?zh?ng, Jiàoyùbù duànrán t?ngguò Tái-luó-b?n, Táiw?ny? T?ngyòng Liánméng hòuxù ji?ng zh?nbèi kàngzh?ng. (???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????)

That doesn’t sound all that far from calling those on the committee dupes of the KMT, which isn’t likely to win him any friends with those in power. But it may well be that by this point he has so alienated others he thinks he has nothing to lose.

Apparently Tongyong for Taiwanese will retain something of a foothold in southern Taiwan. (See source no. 8 below.)

Later, I’ll try to put up more about just what system was approved and under what circumstances it will (and will not) be used — unless the ever-knowledgeable a-giâu beats me to it.

Because there’s a lot of confusion about Tongyong, a few notes are in order:

  • Tongyong is not one romanization system for all the languages of Taiwan but rather a group of related systems, some of which could be said to work better (or worse) than others.
  • When Tongyong (for Mandarin) was officially approved in Taiwan in 2002, the Tongyong system for Hakka also received approval but not the Tongyong Pinyin system for Taiwanese.
  • As the vote should make clear, plenty of strong supporters of romanization (and other scripts) for Taiwanese have never much cared for Tongyong.


  1. Tái-luó-b?n p?ny?n míngnián shànglù; Jiàoyùbù duànrán dìng’àn; T?ngyòng liánméng ji?ng kàngzh?ng (????????? ??????? ???????), Pínggu? Rìbào (Apple Daily), September 29, 2006
  2. Guóxi?o l?osh?: xi?ngt? y?yán zuìh?o zìrán xuéxí (???????????????), Liánhé X?nwén W?ng, September 29, 2006
  3. Zuóyè zuìx?n: M?nnány? xi?ngt? jiàoxué quèdìng c?i Táiw?n M?nnány? Luóm?zì p?ny?n (?????????????????????????), CNA, September 29, 2006
  4. Táiy? T?ngyòng liánméng kàngyì Jiàoyùbù c?i M?nnány? Luóm? p?ny?n (???????????????????), CNA, September 29, 2006
  5. M?nnány? xi?ngt? jiàoxué quèdìng c?i Táiw?n M?nnány? Luóm?zì p?ny?n (????????????????????), CNA, September 29, 2006
  6. M?nnány? p?ny?nf? quèlì: Luóm? p?ny?n shèng ch? (???????????????), Zh?nggu?ng X?nwén W?ng, September 29, 2006
  7. P?ib?n dìng’àn! Jiàoyùbù t?ngguò M?nnány? jiàoxué; c?iyòng Tái-luó p?ny?n (??????????????????????), D?ngs?n X?nwénbào, September 29, 2006
  8. Nánbù sì xiàn-shì d?zhì; Tái-luó p?ny?n j?n chu?nggu?n (??????? ???????), Zh?ngshí Diànz? Bào, September 29, 2006

official advocates Aborigines reclaim original names

The head of the Gaoxiong County Government’s Indigenous Peoples Bureau announced on Monday that henceforth he would like to be known by his original name, Alang Manglavan, rather than the Sinitic name Du Shi-luan (???), and that he had completed the forms for official recognition of this.

As of the end of last year, Gaoxiong County had some 15,700 members of indigenous tribes. Only about 5 percent of these, however, had applied for an official change of name, Manglavan reported. He encouraged others to apply for the change.

Here’s one story:

G?oxióng Xiànzhèngf? Yuánzhùmín Júzh?ng Dù Shí-luán, y?j?ng* sh?nq?ng zhèngmíng wéi “Alang Manglavan” (??????), j?nti?n g?lì xiàn nèi yuánzhùmín k? y?f? huífù chuánt?ng xìngmíng, y? xi?nxiàn yuánzhùmín chuánt?ng yuánmào.

Dù Shí-luán bi?oshì, wèi xi?ngyìng tu?dòng huífù yuánzhùmín chuánt?ng míngzi cuòsh?, t? j? wánchéng zhèngmíng, shì c?ixíng chuánt?ng míngzi Hànzì zhùjì hé bìngliè Luóm? p?ny?n.

“Alang” shì míngzi, “Manglavan” shì xìng, shì “duànyá” de yìsi, Dù Shí-luán ji?shì shu?, y?nwèi z?xi?n zhù zài duànyá pángbi?n, su?y? y?c? wéi xìng. X?wàng dàji? y?hòu yào jiào t? “?làng”, bùzài xìng “Dù” le.

Dù Shí-luán g?lì yuánzhùmín b?wò j?huì, du? g?lì ji?rén, péngyou qiánw?ng hùzhèng shìwùsu? bànl? huífù chuánt?ng xìngmíng zhù jì.

* The original version in characters has a mistake: ? instead of ?[?]. A Wubi-based typo?