Schools should spend more time teaching Pinyin: PRC politician

Xu Xudong (徐旭東/徐旭东), a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and a professor at Central China Normal University in Wuhan, is advocating that public schools in China allocate substantially more time to the teaching of Hanyu Pinyin.

“Gōnglì yòu’éryuán bù jiāo Hànyǔ Pīnyīn, ér xiǎoxué yī-niánjí Hànyǔ Pīnyīn zhī jiāo yī dào yī gè bànyuè, háizi nányǐ gēnshang. Zhè yī wèntí pǔbiàn cúnzài, fǎnyìng qiángliè,” he said.
(“Public kindergartens don’t teach Hanyu Pinyin, and the first grade of primary school teaches Hanyu Pinyin for only one to one and a half months, making it difficult for children to keep up. The problem is widespread and the repercussions are strong.”)

The article does not mention this being in part a class problem, probably because the PRC supposedly does not have such things. But what has been happening is that parents with money tend to send their kids to private preschools where they learn Pinyin and otherwise get a head start on the school curriculum. Or the parents simply teach their youngsters themselves.

Students who don’t get this early boost often fall behind, which is a real problem for something so fundamental. As a result, Xu is proposing that schools spend a semester or even longer teaching Pinyin. The article, which is from a CCP mouthpiece and so should be regarded as representing an official position by at least some influential figures, calls this an easily overlooked but very important issue in basic education.

Intriguingly, Xu also mentions interspersing the teaching of Pinyin with “texts” (kèwén jiàoxué jiāochā jìnxíng / 課文教學交叉進行). The greater use of Pinyin texts in schools — if that’s indeed what is meant — could be a great boon to Pinyin education.

Xú Xùdōng wěiyuán: jiànlì gèng fúhé értóng tèdiǎn de Pīnyīn jiàoxué móshì (徐旭東委員:建立更符合兒童特點的拼音教學模式), People’s Daily, March 5, 2024.

Mandarin words with more than one apostrophe

listen attentively

As I often note, apostrophes are used in only about 2 percent of words as written in Hanyu Pinyin. But when they’re needed, they’re needed. Don’t skip them.

A few years back, someone wrote to me to ask about multiple apostrophes in Pinyin. I dug through a 2019 edition of the CC-CEDICT (2019-11-12 04:41:56 GMT) for an answer. But I don’t think I ever posted my findings online. It’s time to rectify that.

CC-CEDICT is not an ideal source in terms of words, because some entries are phrases rather than single words, though they are not marked separately than words, which means that some entries might be better off with spaces rather than apostrophes, which would reduce the apostrophe count and percentage.

So, with that in mind, of the file’s 117,579 entries, 3,006 needed apostrophes, or 2.56 percent.

No entry needed three or more apostrophes.

Only 52 entries needed two apostrophes, or 0.04% of the total (1 per 2,261 entries).

Most of those were just Mandarinized foreign proper nouns. For example:

  • Ā’ěrjí’ěr: Algiers, capital of Algeria/ 阿爾及爾 阿尔及尔
  • Āi’ěrduō’ān: Erdogan (name)/Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (1954-), Turkish politician, prime minister from 2003/ 埃爾多安 埃尔多安
  • Běi’ài’ěrlán: Northern Ireland/ 北愛爾蘭 北爱尔兰
  • Bì’ěrbā’è: Bilbao (city in Spain)/ 畢爾巴鄂 毕尔巴鄂
  • Dá’ěrfú’ěr: Darfur (western province of Sudan)/ 達爾福爾 达尔福尔
  • Dá’ěrfù’ěr: Darfur, region of west Sudan/ 達爾富爾 达尔富尔
  • fēi’ābèi’ěr: (math.) non-abelian/ 非阿貝爾 非阿贝尔
  • Fèi’àoduō’ěr: Theodor of Fyodor (name)/ 費奧多爾 费奥多尔
  • gǔ’ānxiān’àn: glutamine (Gln), an amino acid/ 谷氨酰胺 谷氨酰胺
  • Láiwàng’è’ěr: Levanger (city in Trøndelag, Norway)/ 萊旺厄爾 莱旺厄尔
  • Léi’ā’ěrchéng: Ciudad Real/ 雷阿爾城 雷阿尔城
  • Luójié’ài’ěrzhī: Raziel, archangel in Judaism/ 羅潔愛爾之 罗洁爱尔之
  • Mài’ěrwéi’ěr: Melville (name)/Herman Melville (1819-1891), US novelist, author of Moby Dick / 麥爾維爾 麦尔维尔
  • Pí’āi’ěr: Pierre (name)/ 皮埃爾 皮埃尔
  • Shàng’àisè’ěr: Overijssel/ 上艾瑟爾 上艾瑟尔
  • Sīfú’ěrwǎ’ěr: Svolvær (city in Nordland, Norway)/ 斯福爾瓦爾 斯福尔瓦尔
  • Sītài’ēnxiè’ěr: Steinkjær (city in Trøndelag, Norway)/ 斯泰恩謝爾 斯泰恩谢尔
  • Tèlǔ’āi’ěr: Tergüel or Teruel, Spain/ 特魯埃爾 特鲁埃尔
  • Xīn’ào’ěrliáng: New Orleans, Louisiana/ 新奧爾良 新奥尔良

Examples of more regular Mandarin entries with two apostrophes include:

  • bái’éyàn’ōu: (bird species of China) little tern (Sternula albifrons)/ 白額燕鷗 白额燕鸥
  • báixuě’ái’ái: brilliant white snow cover (esp. of distant peaks)/ 白雪皚皚 白雪皑皑
  • chū’ěrfǎn’ěr: old: to reap the consequences of one’s words (idiom, from Mencius); modern: to go back on one’s word/to blow hot and cold/to contradict oneself/inconsistent/ 出爾反爾 出尔反尔
  • húnhún’è’è: muddleheaded/ 渾渾噩噩 浑浑噩噩
  • pāi’àn’érqǐ: lit. to slap the table and stand up (idiom); fig. at the end of one’s tether/unable to take it any more/ 拍案而起 拍案而起
  • qì’áng’áng: full of vigor/spirited/valiant/ 氣昂昂 气昂昂
  • qīng’ěr’értīng: to listen attentively/ 傾耳而聽 倾耳而听
  • qīqī’ài’ài: stammering (idiom)/ 期期艾艾 期期艾艾
  • suíyù’ér’ān: at home wherever one is (idiom); ready to adapt/flexible/to accept circumstances with good will/ 隨遇而安 随遇而安
  • xiù’ēn’ài: to make a public display of affection/ 秀恩愛 秀恩爱
  • yǐ’échuán’é: to spread falsehoods/to increasingly distort the truth/to pile errors on top of errors (idiom)/ 以訛傳訛 以讹传讹

A few of those present interesting questions in orthography. For example, Xīn’ào’ěrliáng or Xīn Ào’ěrliáng?

But, basically, those entries are outliers. Relatively few words in Pinyin need an apostrophe; only a minute subset of those need two apostrophes; and, to my knowledge, none need three or more apostrophes.

Can you think of any triple-apostrophe words? Sorry, written examples of stuttering don’t count.

Most common baby names in China, 2020

What were the most common names for newborn babies in China in 2020?

Please note that some names appear more than once (Yichen three times in the top 10 for boys, and Yinuo and Yutong twice in the top 10 for girls). The only differences are in some of the characters used.

Most common names for newborn boys in China, 2020

Rank Chinese characters Pinyin (with
tone marks)
(without tone marks)
1 奕辰 Yìchén Yichen
2 宇轩 Yǔxuān Yuxuan
3 浩宇 Hàoyǔ Haoyu
4 亦辰 Yìchén Yichen
5 宇辰 Yǔchén Yuchen
6 子墨 Zǐmò Zimo
7 宇航 Yǔháng Yuhang
8 浩然 Hàorán Haoran
9 梓豪 Zǐháo Zihao
10 亦宸 Yìchén Yichen

Most common names for newborn girls in China, 2020

Rank Chinese characters Pinyin (with
tone marks)
(without tone marks)
1 一诺 Yīnuò Yinuo
2 依诺 Yīnuò Yinuo
3 欣怡 Xīnyí Xinyi
4 梓涵 Zǐhán Zihan
5 语桐 Yǔtóng Yutong
6 欣妍 Xīnyán Xinyan
7 可欣 Kěxīn Kexin
8 语汐 Yǔxī Yuxi
9 雨桐 Yǔtóng Yutong
10 梦瑶 Mèngyáo Mengyao

I tried using ChatGPT again to clean up the HTML in the tables above. But it kept hallucinating and changing characters, and it never gave me the entire tables but cut off at least one row each time. So I cleaned up the code myself in a text editor.

Source: 《2020 nián quánguó xìngmíng bàogào》 fābù (《二〇二〇年全国姓名报告》发布), Gōng’ānbù wǎngzhàn (公安部网站), February 2, 2021

The most common given names in Taiwan, by decade

Some names have waxed and waned in popularity in Taiwan over the past century or so. This post gives tables of the top-three names for each decade (as calculated by the ROC calendar).

In this post, I give only Mandarin forms of names — out of familiarity, not preference. An exacting writer seeking character names might do well to investigate how such names might be pronounced in Taiwanese, Hakka, or even yet another Sinitic language other than Mandarin, depending on the who, when, and where.

Note: Although the normal style for names in Hanyu Pinyin is to write given names solid, without a space or hyphen, I have used hyphens in this post to preserve the style of writing names that has been standard in Taiwan for many decades. I am including the spelling in Wade-Giles, even though I don’t recommend using that system, because that is what is commonly seen in Taiwan — albeit without apostrophes or umlauts.

Most popular Taiwan boys names, by ROC decade of birth

Birth Year Chinese
Pinyin Wade-Giles
1912–1920 明、金水、健 Míng, Jīn-shuǐ,
Ming, Chin-shui,
1921–1930 金龍、金水、金生 Jīn-lóng,
Jīn-shuǐ, Jīn-shēng
Chin-lung, Chin-shui,
1931–1940 正雄、文雄、武雄 Zhèng-xióng, Wén-xióng,
Wen-hsiung, Wu-hsiung
1941–1950 正雄、武雄、文雄 Zhèng-xióng, Wǔ-xióng,
Wu-hsiung, Wen-hsiung
1951–1960 金龍、進財、榮華 Jīn-lóng,
Jìn-cái, Róng-huá
Chin-lung, Chin-ts’ai,
1961–1970 志明、志成、文雄 Zhì-míng, Zhì-chéng,
Chih-ming, Chih-ch’eng,
1971–1980 志偉、志明、建宏 Zhì-wěi,
Zhì-míng, Jiàn-hóng
Chih-wei, Chih-ming,
1981–1990 家豪、志豪、志偉 Jiā-háo,
Zhì-háo, Zhì-wěi
Chia-hao, Chih-hao,
1991–2000 家豪、冠宇、冠廷 Jiā-háo,
Guàn-yǔ, Guàn-tíng
Chia-hao, Kuan-yü,
2001–2010 承恩、承翰、冠廷 Chéng-ēn,
Chéng-hàn, Guàn-tíng
Ch’eng-en, Ch’eng-han,
2011–2018* 承恩、宥廷、品睿 Chéng-ēn,
Yòu-tíng, Pǐn-ruì
Ch’eng-en, Yu-t’ing,

Most popular Taiwan girls names, by ROC decade of birth

Birth Year Chinese
Pinyin Wade-Giles
1912–1920 秀英、英、玉 Xiù-yīng,
Yīng, Yù
Hsiu-ying, Ying,
1921–1930 秀英、玉蘭、玉英 Xiù-yīng,
Yù-lán, Yù-yīng
Hsiu-ying, Yü-lan,
1931–1940 秀英、玉蘭、玉英 Xiù-yīng,
Yù-lán, Yù-yīng
Hsiu-ying, Yü-lan,
1941–1950 秀英、秀琴、美玉 Xiù-yīng,
Xiù-qín, Měi-yù
Hsiu-ying, Hsiu-ch’in,
1951–1960 麗華、秀琴、秀美 Lì-huá, Xiù-qín,
Li-hua, Hsiu-ch’in,
1961–1970 淑芬、美玲、淑惠 Shū-fēn,
Měi-líng, Shū-huì
Shu-fen, Mei-ling,
1971–1980 淑芬、雅惠、淑娟 Shū-fēn,
Yǎ-huì, Shū-juān
Shu-fen, Ya-hui,
1981–1990 雅婷、怡君、雅雯 Yǎ-tíng,
Yí-jūn, Yǎ-wén
Ya-t’ing, I-chün,
1991–2000 雅婷、怡君、怡婷 Yǎ-tíng,
Yí-jūn, Yí-tíng
Ya-t’ing, I-chün,
2001–2010 宜蓁、欣妤、詩涵 Yí-zhēn,
Xīn-yú, Shī-hán
I-chen, Hsin-yü,
2011–2018* 詠晴、子晴、品妍 Yǒng-qíng,
Zǐ-qíng, Pǐn-yán
Yung-ch’ing, Tzu-ch’ing,

*: The counting of names continued until June 2018. I’ll give newer figures once I have them.

Source: Quánguó xìngmíng tǒngjì fēnxi (全國姓名統計分析). Department of Household Registration, Ministry of the Interior, Taiwan, 2018, p. 59.

Gwoyeu Romatzyh on Taiwan buses

Although in posts mentioning Gwoyeu Romatzyh I often note that romanization system can be seen in the wild in Taiwan most often on the sides of coach buses, I haven’t put online many examples of this. So here’s an image-heavy post with some examples of photos I’ve taken of the Gwoyeu Romatzyh romanization system on buses in Taiwan.

The captions give the Gwoyeu Romatzyh, along with the Hanyu Pinyin (with and without tone marks) in parentheses.

Herng Chuen (Héngchūn/Hengchun)

Wuu Feng (Wǔfēng/Wufeng)

Diing Dong (Dǐngdōng/Dingdong)

Shin Shinn (Xīnxìn/Xinxin)

Jin Shii (Jīnxǐ/Jinxi)

Jiann Fa (Jiànfā/Jianfa)

Shuenn Yih (Shùnyì/Shunyi)

If you ever find yourself stuck on how to pronounce English

It’s times like this I especially miss John DeFrancis. How he would have loved this! It’s partially an example of what he dubbed “Singlish” — not Singapore English but Sino-English, the tortured attempt to use Chinese characters to write English. He details this in “The Singlish Affair,” a shaggy dog story that serves as the introduction to his essential work: The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy. (And I really do mean essential. If you don’t have this book yet, buy it and read it.)

Here are some lyrics from a popular song, “Count on Me,” by Bruno Mars, with a Mandarin translation. The interesting part is that a Taiwanese third-grader has penciled in some phonetic guides for him or herself, using a combination of zhuyin fuhao (aka bopo mofo) (sometimes with tone marks!), English (as a gloss for English! and English pronunciation of some letters and numbers), and Chinese characters (albeit not always correctly written Chinese characters — not that I could do any better myself). Again, this is a Taiwanese third-grader and so is someone unlikely to know Hanyu Pinyin.

lyric sheet, as described in this post

“If you ever find yourself stuck”



ever ㄟㄈㄦ ei-f’er



yourself Uㄦㄒㄧㄦㄈㄨ U’er xi’erfu




“I’ll be the light to guide you.”






the l[e]



to tu






“Find out what we’re made of”



















“When we are called to help our friends in need”

What when

























ChatGPT writes poetry in Pinyin, sort of

I asked ChatGPT to “write a poem in Mandarin using Pinyin.”

Its first response took the form of a sonnet:

qīngchūn yǒu tài duō de mèngxiǎng,
xīwàng yǒu yīgè xiǎng zhù de dìfāng.
yīgè rén zài huáshān shàng,
tā de mèng yǒu tèbié de chàng.

zài fēngláng zhī xiàn,
tā yòng bàozhǐ zhànwàng huāliàn.
yǒngqì bǎ dōngfēng zài shǒu,
zài yùndòng zhōng fàng sīwáng zhī hòu.

mèngzhōng yǒu tài duō de jìhuà,
yǒnggǎn bǎ tāmen dōu chéngshí huà.
yǒngyuan bùyào bèi shìjiè suǒ bǎozhòng,
zhǐyào huílái bùwàng jiùshì yīzhǒng.

qīngchūn yǒu tài duō de mèngxiǎng,
wǒmen yīqǐ xiǎng zhù zhè yīqiè de dìfāng.

That one won’t win any prizes, but the result was still much better than the one produced when I asked ChatGPT to make another:

Sì jiāo qíng yuán, xìng fú suì suì,
Chūn fēng yè sè, ruò dàng huā kāi.
Dōu shì shuāng shǒu, shuāng shǒu yī,
Xīn lián xīn shì, shuāng xīn xī.

Qīng sè yǔ tiān, yǔ zhuǎn yǔ duō,
Cǎo yuǎn shān jǐn, dōu xīng huā tuō.
Yuè liàng guāng míng, míng yǔ ruò,
Qíng qíng yǔ hǎo, yǔ zhōng yǔ.

Shēn tián yǔ sǎng, qíng hǎo yǔ,
Liàng yǔ fēn fēn, shǎn chéng yǔ.
Qīng chuān huáng hé, yǔ yíng cháo,
Chūn sè xīn róu, xìng fú mǎo.

Wēn huā yǔ chūn, yǔ xǐ xīn,
Sān yuán sì jì, yǔ zhōng shuāng.
Chūn tiān xìng fú, zhuǎn yǔ shuāng,
Qíng huā yǔ jīng, yǔ yīng huáng.

That opaque mo no syl la bic mess is infected by the spirit of Literary Sinitic, which Pinyin isn’t designed to handle.

I’m hopeful that ChatGPT will get trained properly on the rules of Hanyu Pinyin — both the short-form rules of Pinyin and the longer (and superior) work of Yin Binyong — and so will be able to produce proper Pinyin. But maybe wǒ yǒu tài duō de mèngxiǎng.

As one of my heroes, Hu Shih, wrote one hundred years ago,

Nǐ bùnéng zuò wǒ de shī,
zhèngrú wǒ bùnéng zuò nǐ de mèng


NB: I should probably remind everyone, should you wish to include Chinese characters or Pinyin with tone marks in a comment, be sure to encode them first or they’ll end up scrambled here. (Not my fault. Sorry.)