Taipei County switches to Hanyu Pinyin

Street signs in Taipei County are beginning to be changed to Hanyu Pinyin. For Pinyin supporters here, this is a long-awaited development.

Here are some examples of new signs in Banqiao, the seat of the Taipei County Government. They were taken near the Fuzhong MRT station.

street sign in Banqiao, Taiwan, in Hanyu Pinyin: 'Fuzhong Rd.' 'Chongqing Rd.'

Xianmin Blvd. Sec. 1 (This is a vertical sign, too narrow for 'Xianmin' on one line, so it's hyphenated, with 'min' on the second line)

Zhongshan Rd. Sec. 1

This is one of the Tongyong signs about to be taken down. It’s at the same intersection as the “Zhongshan” sign at above right. [November 17 update: The sign is now gone.]

The first roads to receive these signs are large ones, especially those connecting one city to another. This is probably going to be a long, slow process, which is certainly to be expected given (a) how damn long it took them to get this started and (b) that most signs never got changed to Tongyong Pinyin during the previous administration. My impression is that most street signs in Taipei County, especially in smaller towns and on smaller roads, remain in MPS2 (the Tongyong Pinyin of the 1980s).

Has anyone noticed any changes yet in Xindian, etc.?

I wish I could provide links to official announcements, etc. But so far I haven’t been able to find any. I have, however, spoken with officials from the county government who confirm the new policy, so I’m going ahead and announcing this here.

Nice to see no InTerCaps. Unfortunately, the apostrophe situation is SNAFU, with those responsible for the signage using outdated guidelines (calling for a hyphen instead of an apostrophe). But I’ve forwarded the central government’s current rules on this to those concerned, which I hope will help get the problem fixed before any such signs go up.

19 thoughts on “Taipei County switches to Hanyu Pinyin

  1. Pingback: Weekly Links – October 29, 2009 « The Daily Bubble Tea

  2. I believe you are a professional language scholar, but please let me understand why you think to use “Pin Yin” instead of the original Chinese character is a best way to communicate with the people who don’t know Chinese?

    I found your site derogatory and demeaning to the citizens of Taiwan. You lived there for a long time, I assumed you must have enjoyed what Taiwan offers, but when you dig into those little town’s road sign, I don’t feel you had any appreciation.

    From your heart, does your criticism to do better for Taiwan or is it to make you feel good and give your friends a laugh, because your Chinese (or Taiwanese) sometimes also make Taiwan’s people laugh at you. You put so much effort to take pictures and make articles to show the mistakes of the places you visited, I wonder whether your purpose is to visit the place or you just looking for the street sign with mistake for your pleasure.

    You show very little consideration for the people and place you visit, you didn’t think about what other people that don’t speak English, but they try very hard to accommodate English speaking visitor’s need, look back in US, did they have the same work done for the visitors? I think you would admit you really had lots of good times in that tiny island.

    It is easy to be critical and make yourself feel superior, but doing so makes you mean to the people that are trying to do the good things to make the visitors feel at home.
    I want to dare you if you put the same effort in mainland China, to dig out as much as you can of their English mistakes on their public information or signs, you are very unlikely to get another visa from the P.R.O.C. government, they may even deport you right away.

    Finally, if you feel those street signs with miss used English sting you so, why not just read Chinese, since you know it very well. Are you so bored with your life that you are reduced to this? Does your Superiority make you try your best to replace the Chinese word?

  3. They appear to have changed train station names too. I remember Xizhi being Hsichi and Qidu being Cidu before, but now they are in proper Hanyu Pinyin.

  4. Mr Gaukel

    Your comment shows a good example of what is trying to correct, which is the misconception that Pinyin is merely a tool for non-Chinese. It is also a viable alternative writing system for native speakers and is widely used in teaching Putonghua, including to Chinese speakers of Cantonese here in Hong Kong where I currently reside.

    Moreover, I do not agree with you that’s comments are derogatory. If you want an example of a derogatory site, I suggest you look at My impression that’s mission is to correct myths about Chinese and to improve the position of Pinyin in both the Chinese speaking world and outside . Remember that most of the signs published on this site will have been produced by local governments with a disregard of the central government’s guidelines. The local authorities should be setting an example rather than spreading an uncoordinated ‘chabuduoism’. The owner of this site frequently lobbies local governments to this effect with varying success.

    I think you would have difficulty finding a single post on this blog which is an attack on the Taiwanese people. Your comparison with the mainland is also quite alarming – are you suggesting that such tyranny by the central government is a good thing?


  5. I am very impressed that you understood and enjoyed that in Taiwan they really don’t have a tyrannical government. The local government has to maintain their public sign under their limited budget and manpower; I think it’s understandable that to replace the public sign for foreign visitor is behind all the local resident’s needs and services. Any frequent visitor to require those replacement jobs be done quickly is like a kid demanding a candy.

    I bet you are very welcomed in any of their local offices (or even center government office), but how about you and other frequent visitors make some useful contribution (like laborers, common materials or fundraises donations, talk is cheap you know) that would actually help to get the job done. After your contributions and numerous suggestions they will sincerly say “thank you”.

    For your information, one Chinses friend from Hong Kong said, in Hong Kong, many people learn and use Chinese in traditional or simplified characters, pinyin is only for pronunciations, but there is a group of foreigners that don’t want to learn or don’t think they need to learn to read Chinese, those people are mostly from big business, all they need is to learn the conversational Chinese for their business purposes, under their limited goal, there is a kind of text book only for this kind of learner, and it is all written in pinyin, I think you know that is true, to say that’s the way in Hong Kong to promote “Putonghua” is a white lie or misdirection. Plus, you must also knew that China had tried to use “pure Pinyin language” to replace Chinese Characters a long time ago, and it failed, I don’t think they will try it again. I am concerned other people trap themselves in the pure pinyin Chinese and miss the major part of the beauty of Chinese Language. To push the use of pinyin as a alternative writing system for Chinese is using a language in a convoluted manner.

  6. I could respond to all of this point by point. But given how you have approached this and how greatly you misunderstand — perhaps willfully so, in some cases — Chinese characters; Pinyin; the history of script reform; this site and its aims; my motivations and actions; how Taiwan’s bureaucracy deals with romanization, signage, and recommendations from the public; and pretty much everything else you seem to think you know something about, I won’t waste my time.

  7. should be commended for its effort to clean up the roadsign romanization mess, before it causes even more people to not be able to find other people or companies before their plane leaves… never again to make contact.

  8. Mr. Gaukel’s a great example of how it’s totally accepted in modern society to consider yourself an expert on things when you’re barely literate enough to read them.

  9. Haven’t seen any new signs here in Zhonghe yet – and they still have to fix the “Jungher” and “Yuatnong Rd” (Yuánt?ng Lù) signs.

    Tongyong still very much in evidence here, with Guancians and Sioulangs and Singnans and whatnot. If I may make a geeky computer comparison, Internet Explorer 6 was obsolete pretty much upon launch in 2001, and it’ll still be going strong in 2010, despite the fact that many better alternatives exist. I’m fairly confident that Tongyong (like IE6) will die eventually, but it’s taking its own sweet time about it.

  10. How will they kill Tongyong in DPP controlled areas? If Zhou Xiwei loses the election to the DPP, will they try and revive Tongyong in Taipei County? Any chance of getting the DPP to give up on Tongyong?

  11. @Taffy: Thanks for the report from Banqiao’s neighbor. For those people don’t recognize this, I should perhaps point out that “Jungher” might not be an all-out typo but MPS2 with its Beijing-r hat on.

    @Mark: When Chen Shui-bian was president the central government did not require local governments to adopt Tongyong Pinyin — though some of them (i.e., Jilong and Penghu) did so out of confusion even though they were under KMT administrations. The Ma administration, however, has gone further: Hanyu Pinyin is at least technically a requirement nationwide. So I don’t think that if Zhou Xiwei gets tossed out (as he probably deserves to be) things could change. And, anyway, because the KMT rigged the timing of the change of Taipei County to a special municipality, Zhou won’t have to face the voters soon, which gives more time for new signs to go up.

    If the blues lose the national executive branch I suppose things could change. But if Hanyu Pinyin is finally implemented correctly and thoroughly and then some administration decided to change it, I think it’s safe to say that many in the foreign community — including the American Chamber of Commerce and ECCT — here would be so livid the government would back down. It’s hard to say what the English-language papers would do, though, as the two green-leaning ones have abdicated to the Tongyongists of the Northern Taiwan Society on this issue.

  12. Pinyin info-how will they force the DPP controlled governments to change? I can’t imagine signs changing to Hanyu Pinyin in Gaoxiong any time soon. Tongyong Pinyin is still everywhere, I fear it’s going to take years to eliminate.
    Do you know what view important DPP figures have on the issue?

  13. The central government might be able to force local governments to change their signage — primarily through budgetary blackmail. It probably won’t; but I’m pretty sure that in the long run the local governments will come around regardless. Support for Tongyong is a mile wide and an inch deep.

    There is indeed a lot of Tongyong out there, but not as much as some people seem to believe — at least on local signage. My theory is that people go to a place, see a sign in Tongyong (or in what they erroneously believe is Tongyong) on a major road, and — unless they see any of Hanyu Pinyin’s distinctive zh’s, q’s, or x’s — assume the rest of the signs there are also in Tongyong. But other than in the cities of Gaoxiong and Tainan (and just the cities, not even the counties), most local signs are not in Tongyong but in MPS2 (which I like to refer to as the Tongyong Pinyin of the 1980s — though that one was a KMT project).

    Throughout Taiwan Tongyong is visible mainly on highway signs, which are the responsibility of the national government, even within city limits; so those will definitely change to Hanyu Pinyin. But for the most part, other than in just a few places, Hanyu Pinyin signs won’t be replacing Tongyong Pinyin ones but MPS2 signs that were never changed to Tongyong Pinyin.

    About a year ago I spoke with an official with the Gaoxiong City Government’s transportation bureau. She told me that the city planned to switch to Hanyu Pinyin. Of course, the way things work here is that there can be all the meetings in the world; but someone at the top can still screw things up at the last minute. So I’ll believe Gaoxiong’s change when I see it. But this nonetheless indicates that the city government hasn’t exactly manned the barricades to ward off Hanyu Pinyin.

    I have spoken with a number of influential and high-ranking people in the DPP about their views. Most said they viewed romanization as a practical matter and expressed embarrassment by Chen Shui-bian’s push for Tongyong; they said — off the record, so I’m not naming names — that they’d be fine with Hanyu Pinyin. That, however, was several years ago; I haven’t had an opportunity to speak directly about this with any DPP officials since then.

    It’s important to keep in mind that Tongyong wasn’t really a DPP thing; it was a Chen Shui-bian thing. The distinction might not have mattered so much when Chen was president. But it’s a lot more important now that he’s not free (really) to throw his weight around.

  14. > Throughout Taiwan Tongyong is visible mainly on highway signs, which are the responsibility of the national government…so those will definitely change to Hanyu Pinyin.

    I tried to pound it through to the national government that the signs
    on the expressways should be given higher priority instead of just
    letting Tongyong just sit there on them until they rust or something,
    even on the exits to Taibei (Taipei), alas…

    From: 交通部民意信箱
    Subject: 回信: Re: [030-98030836] 高速公路拼音
    Date: Tue, 27 Oct 2009

    國道高速公路局局長 李 泰 明 敬啟

  15. Is it just me or are there others that feel like while a unified, standard, romanization of the Chinese characters would definitely be beneficial to all (those in Taiwan, as well as international foreigners, etc.), it just seems weird or awkward to start writing all things in Hanyu Pinyin when it comes to cities in Taiwan.

    As someone said, Taibei vs Taipei. Taipei is well accepted around the world already, and I have hardly ever seen “Taibei” written in news stories. Even the Xinhua news uses Taipei with a P and not a B. Going on, Taizhong vs Taichung, Kaohsiung vs Gaoxiong, Kending vs Kenting, etc.

    Perhaps I really am just too anti-China, as the Hanyu style of pinyin in conjunction with Taiwan cities irks me. On another note, I like the fact that in general, you can tell if someone is from Taiwan or from China by how they spell their last name (of course not always true). But, when you see a John Chang vs a John Zhang, you know which one is more likely to be from Taiwan.

  16. Over the years there have been lots of changes to spellings of place names in Taiwan — sometimes even changes to the names themselves. Historically speaking, for example, the “Taipei” spelling hasn’t been used much longer than the “Taihoku” (Japanese era) one. And when the KMT moved to Taiwan they left scarcely a street name unchanged, relabeling them all after places in China rather than Taiwan, etc.

    It should not be ignored that they also imposed Mandarin names — certainly not native to the places — rather than original Taiwanese or Hakka names, to say nothing of the names from the languages of Taiwan’s various tribes.

    Much of the push for Tongyong Pinyin came indirectly out of this, though I always thought it at best spectacularly naive to believe that having a “Chongcing Road” instead of a “Chongqing Road” somehow desinifies the inherently Chinese name.

    The question of just how far changes to spellings should go can indeed be a tricky one. But given Taiwan’s poor record of avoiding typos and frequent use of bastardized Wade-Giles, which is deeply flawed and inherently ambiguous. there’s not much debate that at least some spellings need to be fixed. And when it comes down to places as small as, say, Kending it gets harder and harder for the Ministry of the Interior to claim that they’re internationally known and so should get to have their recent traditional spellings retained.

    Anyway, basically the plan for Hanyu Pinyin doesn’t cover anything that the plan for Tongyong didn’t already cover. In other words, the only spellings that are to be changed to Hanyu Pinyin are those that already were changed or were slated to change to Tongyong. And many of those spellings had already been changed in the 1980s to MPS2.

    I, too, tend to favor orthographic forms that in general allow for ways to distinguish the names of people in Taiwan from people in China. But the simple hyphen can do just that all by itself (e.g., Chen Shui-bian vs. Chen Shuibian). (Relatively few people in Taiwan have a monosyllabic given name.) Anyway, if Taiwanese choose to use an “English” name (e.g., John) they shouldn’t complain too much about people not knowing where they’re from.

    Fortunately, in Taiwan the law allows for people to choose whether to use a hyphen, whether to use Hanyu Pinyin or lots of other systems, and whether to adopt a Mandarin name or one from Hoklo (Taiwanese), Hakka, or an Aborigine language.

    Freedom at the personal level, useful norms at the place-name level: that’s how it should be, I think.

  17. @Jidanni: At least they answer your messages. A month or two back I sent more than 50 corrections to the bus authorities (who had requested such corrections from the public); but I haven’t heard a word from them, even though I know from the read receipt that the message was received.

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