home of romanization pioneer Lu Zhuangzhang found

The birthplace of Lu Zhuangzhang (盧戇章/卢戆章) (1854-1928), a pioneering writing reformer, has recently been identified in Xiamen, China.

Locals said they knew the house was Lu Zhuangzhang’s ancestral home but didn’t know he was famous for his romanization work.

Lu was “the first Chinese to propose a system of spelling for Sinitic languages,” Victor H. Mair notes in his essay Sound and Meaning in the History of Characters: Views of China’s Earliest Script Reformers, which contains additional information about Lu.

Lu was from Fujian and, as a boy, he grew up in Amoy (Xiamen) where romanized writing of the local language was used widely after it was introduced by Christian missionaries. (A romanized Chinese translation of the Bible had already been made in 1852.) At age 21, Lu moved to Singapore where he studied English. After he returned to Amoy four years later, he assisted an English missionary in compiling a Chinese-English dictionary.

Lu’s Yimu liaoran chujie (First Steps in Being Able to Understand at a Glance), published in Amoy in 1892, was the first book written by a Chinese which presented a potentially workable system of spelling for a Sinitic language. His script was based on the Roman alphabet with some modifications. Among other improvements over the sinographs was linking up syllables into words and separating them with spaces. Lu’s system was designed specifically for the Amoy topolect, but he claimed that his system of spelling could also be adapted for the other languages of China. Although he believed that all of the local languages should be written out with phonetic scripts, Lu advocated that the speech of Nanjing be adopted as the standard for the whole nation, as it was when Matteo Ricci had come to China three centuries earlier. Altogether, Lu worked for 40 years to bring an efficient system of spelling to China. He is now viewed by Chinese language workers as the father of script reform.

Local authorities hope to protect the home as a cultural monument.

Tóng’ān fāxiàn Lú Zhuàngzhāng gùjū

Wǒguó “yǔwén xiàndàihuà” de xiānqū, xiàndài Hànyǔ pīnyīn de fāmíng zhě Lú Zhuàngzhāng, qí gùjū jìnrì zài Xiàmén Tóng’ān bèi fāxiàn, wénwù bǎohù zhuānjiā hūyù bǎohù gāi gùjū.

Lú Zhuàngzhāng de gùjū zài Xiàmén Tóng’ān gǔ zhuāng cūn, shì yī zhuàng yǒu bǎi-yú nián lìshǐ de Mǐnnán hóngzhuān gǔ mínjū, Lú Zhuàngzhāng jiù chūshēng zài zhèlǐ.

Cūnmín gàosu jìzhě, tāmen zhīdao zhè shì Lú Zhuàngzhāng jiā de “gǔ cuò”, dànshì bùzhīdào tā shì “yǔwén xiàndàihuà de xiānqū”, yějiù méi rén qù kèyì bǎohù zhè “gǔ cuò”, yīnwèi yīzhí dōu yǒurén jūzhù, hái méi wánquán bèi huǐhuài.

Huòxī Lú Zhuàngzhāng gùjū yīrán bǎocún zài Tóng’ān, Xiàmén Shì wénhuàjú wénwù chù chùzhǎng Chén Zhìmíng biǎoshì, zhēngqǔ ràng Tóng’ān qū wén guǎn bàn jiāng qí dìngwéi qū jí wénwù bǎohù dānwèi.

Jù liǎojiě, Lú Zhuàngzhāng shēngyú Qīngcháo xián fēng sì nián (1854 nián), shì Xiàmén Tóng’ānrén. Zài chuàngzhì pīnyīn fāng’àn, tuīguǎng jīng zhāng guānhuà (jí Pǔtōnghuà), tuīxíng báihuà kǒuyǔ, cǎiyòng héngpái héngxiě, tíchàng xīnshì biāodiǎn, shǐyòng jiǎntǐ súzì děng fāngmiàn, Lú Zhuàngzhāng zài guónèi kāile xiānhé.

source: Tóng’ān fāxiàn Lú Zhuàngzhāng gùjū, Dōngnán Kuàibào, February 15, 2006

8 thoughts on “home of romanization pioneer Lu Zhuangzhang found

  1. I know what you mean, but I’ll add anyway that I don’t think the character-based writing system is particularly strong — just the attachment to it and stubborn refusal to examine alternatives to its exclusive use. But every story that’s published about how yet another invention or teaching method has “saved” Chinese characters only serves to confirm the fact that they’re severely ailing and getting less and less well known all the time.

  2. Well, I meant support for the character writing system is strong. It’s been around for ages and people are emotionally attached to them. I doubt we’ll ever see Chinese communities switch to an alphabetized system. Add to that the fact that pinyinized names (persons or places) are totally incomprehensible even with the tonemarks given, since people create names on a character selection basis, not a “what does it sound like basis”. Maybe characters should be kept for names of persons and places, but disused for other everyday affairs?

    One can hope however that as Hanyu Pinyin becomes THE dominant system for inputting Chinese worldwide, more and more people will see that the character based system is just counter-intuitive (many people I know can’t even grasp that, saying that they type slower in Chinese because they never “learned” how to type Chinese! Grr! Talk about intuitive concepts!)

  3. Hi, again, P TAN:
    Most names aren’t incomprehensible, especially not place names. There are certainly lots of personal names that *sound* the same. But to the extent that this is a problem, it’s a language problem, not a romanization one.

    Some of the problem is rooted in China’s insistence on applying Mandarin to names, whether they come from Mandarin or not, as I mention in one of my comments added to an earlier thread. Part of what makes reading newspapers a challenge is the popularity among some of using obscure characters in personal names. Last year Japan expanded its list of characters permissible in names.

    A few weeks ago I was in a cab in Taipei. I noticed that the driver had written zhuyin next to the characters for his name. The characters (which I’ve since forgotten — not that I could read them myself anyway) were sufficiently obscure that most people couldn’t read them.

    Hanyu Pinyin is already the dominant system for inputting Chinese characters. But there’s certainly a lot of reactionary resentment of that. I’ve seen claims from Wubi supporters, for example, that Pinyin input will bring about the doom of Chinese civilization!

  4. I don’t agree with you. Let’s take a look at Cao2 Xi1 Lu4, a road in Shanghai. Cao2 can be ? or ? (7 possibilities). Xi1 is even more of a nightmare. At first glance you’d guess ?. WRONG!!! It’s ?.

    What about Lai2 Wu2, a place in Shandong province? Without looking at the characters you probably wouldn’t know. Seems like it’s ??, at least intuitively. Well, it’s ??.

    What about the name of Chiang Kai Shek’s (Jiang Jieshi’s ???)hometown, Xi1 Kou3? Xi1 can be 89 different characters. Kou3 of course is ? (only 1 possibility). Well it’s ??. Unless you KNEW what it was beforehand, you couldn’t have figured it out.

    The fact is, place names CANNOT be contextualized. Some person, thousands of years ago, just made up a name for the place with certain characters, without taking into account how they sound in Mandarin, assuming Mandarin existed back when the name came into existence.

    Let’s look at the name of that famous actress, Zhang1 Zi3 Yi2.

    Zhang1 can be ? or ?, both are common surnames, the first being more common. Zi3 can be ?? ?? ? (12 possibilities according to NJStar). Yi2 can be 24 different characters, including ?,?,?,?,?. An absolute nightmare.

    What about my name in Hanyu pinyin? Chen2 Hong2 Zhao4. Chen2 can only plausibly be ?. Hong2 can be out of a possible 11 characters, likely to be ?? ? or ?. Zhao4 can be ?? ?? ? out of 9 possibilities. You’re no closer to figuring out what my name actually is. In case you’re wondering, I have Fujian ancestry and live in Hong Kong. I find the problem of homophony to be less pronounced in Cantonese, although my Mandarin isn’t fluent.

    Let’s not forget this is also pinyin with tones. Hanyu pinyin is usually given without tonemarks. The surname Jiang can be ?? ???. (The last two are incidentally Jiang1).

    OK, maybe it is a language problem. But the fact is, personal names just CANNOT be pinyinized whilst remaining comprehensible. You can’t contextualize names. And the Chinese people aren’t about to stand for a decree that says “You may only construct names from these 100 characters.” There was huge uproar in Mainland China when the surname ? was simplified into ? (during the 2nd batch of simplified characters, which were eventually rescinded). ? of course means pay, and nobody would want such a surname.

    Hanyu pinyin is popular in Mainland China, but most people in Hong Kong defiantly stick to Cang1 Jie2 (not me, I never bothered to learn it, and I can’t memorize that many characters at any given time anyway so it’s a useless system for me). And amongst those who can’t speak proper Mandarin, they’ll shun hanyu pinyin. Which seems to me to be a good reason to ram Mandarin down MORE people’s throats, so that pinyin can be used by all Chinese in the Greater China region!

    If sticking to a counter-intuitive, rote-learning system is the doom of Chinese civilization, then maybe the downfall of such a thing should be applauded! (I’m not sure whether Vietnamese has tones, but I suspect it does (those diacritical marks), and I wonder how they deal with this issue of names. Korean is easy since it’s an atonal language.)

  5. Perhaps we have different ideas about what is “comprehensible.” It seems to me you’re speaking about Chinese characters as if they were some sort of Platonic truth, with them representing the “real” name as opposed to what people say. But it’s important to remember, as I keep saying again and again on this site, that Chinese characters are a script, not a language.

    You write, “Some person, thousands of years ago, just made up a name for the place with certain characters, without taking into account how they sound in Mandarin, assuming Mandarin existed back when the name came into existence.” But I would note that is generally not what happens. Names are from language, not characters. Illiterate peasants didn’t just live in villages for generation after generation, waiting for some scholar to come by and inscribe characters, thereby giving the place a true name. Characters represent language, not the other way around.

    Sometimes the characters correctly represent the etymology of the name, sometimes not. Take the name of Taiwan, for instance. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t have a thing to do with “terraced bay” or any other character-derived etymology. That’s just an example of “the common fallacy of wàngwénsh?ngyì ????, whereby the semantic qualities of Chinese characters interfere with the real meanings of the terms that they are being used to transcribe phonetically,” as Victor Mair notes in How to Forget Your Mother Tongue and Remember Your National Language. Also, you should ask yourself how the situation is different in the West, where people use an alphabet. Are people in the West in infinite confusion about what place “Philadelphia” refers to? Do they need Chinese characters to be able to identify Oklahoma, Kansas, Idaho? What about London, Istanbul, or even Beijing?

    Etymologies, when correct, are nice for us word nerds. But most people speaking their own languages have little awareness or need for them.

    Re. Hanyu Pinyin often being given without tone marks, that’s often perfectly fine as long as words are parsed correctly and proper capitalization is used. But using tone marks is no big difficulty — they’re certainly less mafan than dealing with Chinese characters.

    Vietnamese does have tones, as you guessed. But names are names. People all around the world get by just fine without Chinese characters. Sound is ultimately what matters most. Would Mandarin-speaking parents surnamed Wang, for instance, ever even consider naming their child, say, ?? (Badan), even if they thought the meanings behind the characters were beautiful and perfect?

  6. Valid points you make – I hadn’t thought about place names like that. Although what you say is correct, it would take a huge paradigm shift to have people come up with names (places and persons) using an alphabetised system. Names wouldn’t “have meaning” anymore. ??, that violinist, has a name that means the light of the sun. Change it to Chen Xi and it’s just as mundane as Bob or Ed. I’m not sure Chinese people are up for that.

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