DPP position on romanization

(BTW, this is my 7 KB JPG version of the 442 KB(!) BMP(!) file used on the DPP's site.)With Taiwan’s presidential election less than six months away and various position papers being issued, perhaps it’s time to take a look at where the opposition stands on romanization.

Sure, various politicians rant from time to time. But they may or may not be taken seriously. What about the party itself and its candidate?

Google doesn’t find any instances of “拼音” (“pīnyīn”) on the official Web site of the Democratic Progressive Party’s presidential candidate, Tsai Ing-wen (Cài Yīngwén / 蔡英文). But searching for “拼音” on the DPP’s official Web site does yield at least a few results. (See the “sources” at the end of this piece.) It’s probably no surprise that none of them contain anything but bad news for those who support Taiwan’s continued use of Hanyu Pinyin.

Typical is the “e-paper” piece from 2008 that states the change to Hanyu Pinyin will cost NT$7 billion (about US$240 million). (If the DPP candidate wins, will the DPP follow its own assertions and logic and say that it would be far too expensive for Taiwan to change from the existing Hanyu Pinyin to Tongyong Pinyin?) I have no more faith in that inflated figure than I have in the other claims there, such as that the use of Hanyu Pinyin would not be convenient for foreigners and that there is no relationship between internationalization and using the world’s one and only significant romanization system for Mandarin (Hanyu Pinyin).

Then there’s the delicious irony that the image of a Tongyong Pinyin street sign the DPP chose to use in that anti-Hanyu Pinyin message has a typo! The sign, shown at top right, should read Guancian, not Guanciao. (In Hanyu Pinyin it would be “Guanqian.”) That’s right: The DPP says Taiwan needs to use Tongyong — but the supposed expert who put together that very argument apparently doesn’t know the difference between Tongyong Pinyin and a hole in the wall..

That document is a few years old, though. What about something more recent? Just three months ago the DPP spokesman, Chen Qimai (Chen Chi-mai / 陳其邁), complained that the Ma Ying-jeou administration had replaced Tongyong Pinyin with Hanyu Pinyin, calling this an example of removing Taiwan culture and abandoning Taiwan’s sovereignty. So there’s nothing to indicate a change in position over time.

It’s worth remembering that there’s a lot of blame to go around for the inconsistencies and sloppiness that characterize Taiwan’s romanization situation. Historically speaking, the KMT is certainly responsible for much of the mess. And the Ma administration’s willingness to go along with “New Taipei City” instead of “Xinbei,” “Tamsui” instead of “Danshui,” and “Lukang” instead of “Lugang” demonstrates that it is OK with cutting back its own policy in favor of Hanyu Pinyin. Nevertheless, it’s now the DPP — or at least some very loud and opinionated people within it — that represents the main force for screwing up perfectly good signage, etc.

Back when I was more often around DPP politicians, I would occasionally ask them privately about their opinions of Hanyu Pinyin. For the most part, they had no opposition to Taiwan’s use of it, regarding this as simply a practical matter. But they would not say so publicly because President Chen Shui-bian’s dumping of Ovid Tzeng made it clear what fate would meet those who opposed Chen on this issue.

Even though Chen is no longer in the picture, I fear that many in the DPP have come to believe their own propaganda on this issue.

I urge individuals (esp. those with known pro-green sentiments) and organizations (Hey, ECCT and AmCham: that means you especially!) that want to avoid a return to the national embarrassment that is Tongyong Pinyin to tell Cai Yingwen and the DPP now that Taiwan’s continued use of Hanyu Pinyin is simply good policy and is supported by the vast majority of the foreign community here, including pro-green foreigners.


18 thoughts on “DPP position on romanization

  1. @M: It’s more a letter than a story. But, still, it’s pretty pathetic. It seems like the papers here will print just about anything.

    For those who are curious and don’t want to go through the piece: Basically, someone is complaining that “Chien Kuo,” which the author identified as the Tongyong Pinyin spelling for the name of a school that is written “??” in Chinese characters, was changed by that evil, crafty Ma Ying-jeou to the confusing Hanyu Pinyin spelling of “Jianguo.”

    In reality, of course, the Tongyong Pinyin is “Jianguo,” which is exactly the same as the Hanyu Pinyin spelling.


  2. It’s really wrong headed to try to force Hanyu Pinyin on Taiwan.

    First, from the perspective of pedagogy and ease of literacy, the first and foremost concern should be to add the tone markers to the pinyin. Hanyu Pinyin doesn’t help you pronounce things properly unless you’ve learned what “x” is supposed to sound like for example. So if it’s only for people that already have an idea of Chinese sounds, I find it hard to believe that they would need more than a view of 20 signs to start to understand the corresponding letters from Hanyu Pinyin to Tongyong Pinyin.

    Second, I think you are completely missing the Google argument. Just as Tsai Ying-wen is arguing that one reason for asserting Taiwanese identity other than the cultural, historical, and democratic arguments is that the whole world already knows Taiwan as Taiwan and trying to brand yourself as the Republic of China makes it impossible to Google and confusing even when you can be found; likewise, Tongyong Pinyin/other alternate pinyin usage in people names means it’s easy for Taiwanese to find each other all over the world. It’s an odd, probably not so purposeful side-effect, but it’s a strong phenomenon. Likewise, Taiwan place names transliterated as Tongyong Pinyin often by virtue of a different spelling, will not be confused with similarly named places in China which are all Hanyu Pinyin. Easy to Google for.

    Last, you really can’t avoid the political factor here. Whether he’s right or not Ma Ying-jeou is purposely trying to unify the pinyin between China and Taiwan because he thinks it’s one more step towards bringing the two countries together as one. That’s anathema to many Taiwanese.

  3. Regarding your first argument:

    It doesn’t matter which romanization system Taiwan uses, it will NEVER satisfy all foreigners because every language has different pronunciations and people will never be able to pronounce Chinese romanization correctly unless they know Chinese pronunciation. Your argument suggests that Hanyu Pinyin is the wrong choice because foreigners don’t know how to pronounce it. But you can substitute Hanyu Pinyin here with any other romanization system and the argument will still be the same.

    Regarding your second argument:

    This argument is also rather weak because Tongyong Pinyin and Hanyu Pinyin are nearly identical. So the chances where the same name in Hanzi are spelled differently will be rather low. Also this argument reeks of the pan-green TI attitude of wanting to be different for the sake of being different…

    Unless you have any actual evidence of President Ma wanting to “bring the two countries together as one”, this is nothing more than speculation.

  4. I generally support Green Party ideologies, but I wish Tongyong Pinyin would die off. Most foreigners learn Hanyu Pinyin. That’s just the way it is. The Romanization of Chinese is mostly for foreigners. Most Taiwanese I know don’t deal at all with Pinyin at all except in finding out how to spell their names on their passports. They pay no attention to the Romanization on street signs, and I’m sure if surveyed, half the people wouldn’t even know it’s there. There’s no identity to it at all. Like the above poster stated, promoting it just comes from the desire to be different for the sake of being different. If the government was at all interested in making the Romanization more international and easier for foreigners – the people its meant for – then they would simply adopt the international standard, Hanyu Pinyin. This is a clear example of political in-fighting losing grasp on the main point.

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  7. The island nation of Taiwan must use Tongyong Pinyin, a separate romanization from Beijing. Taiwan is recommended to use Tongyong Pinyin. The Tongyong Pinyin is for the Hakka language and not Mandarin.

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