A Few Thoughts on Hiatt's 3 Principles on Chinese Place Names

Ju-yen Teng
Public Services/Catalog Librarian
East Asia Library
University of Washington
(206) 543-4490

According to Hiatt's 3 principles, it seems that he is trying to change all the Chinese place names to Hanyu pinyin form in compliance with the decision of the Library of Congress on changing its Chinese romanization system from Wade/Giles to pinyin. If this is the case, I would like to suggest to Hiatt that he might want to spell out this intention up front at the beginning of his recommendations, using it as a goal to be achieved. The wording of the "goal" might perhaps be stated as follows:

"The creation of a list of the headings of Chinese place names in the Hanyu pinyin form, excluding those names in the form approved by the United States Board on Geographic Names (BGN) and those in a romanized form found on the item."

In this way, he may help the audience to see the purpose and the focus of his project more clearly. Then he may offer the principles as to how to achieve this goal. In this regard, I would also like to make a couple of suggestions.

Hiatt's second principle needs some explanation. I was wondering what romanized form Hiatt had in mind when he said: "...a romanized form found...". In my opinion, this second principle may seem unnecessary. No matter what "romanized form found on the item being cataloged," it can straight-forwardly be converted to pinyin, except for those names approved by BGN. An added title entry with the place name in "a romanized form found on the item being cataloged" may be added.

A couple of more principles may be in need. For example, a principle of "non-political intent". It is a statement to tell people that Hiatt's recommendations are strictly practical and non-political, and that no "political" pressure from any side is welcome. Thus, Hiatt may have more freedom in accomplishing the project.

Hiatt may have to say a few words to define what "Hanyu pinyin" means. It seems to me that in the romanization project, "linguistic localism" or "linguistic regionalism" should, by all means, be avoided. This principle applies especially to the romanization of the place names in the Hong Kong area. I heard that someone might want to propose to romanize the place names in Hong Kong area using Cantonese pronunciations.

In my opinion, "Hanyu" should mean "putonghua," not any of the Chinese dialects. The romanization of the Chinese language should be, in principle, an endeavor to romanize the Hanzi in accordance with its pronunciation in "putonghua". This practice is especially significant in the present Chinese environment where a "Putonghua Movement" is vigorously promoted.

Hence I would like to suggest that, if all possible, the place names in the Hong Kong area should be romanized using the pinyin system in accordance with the Hanzi pronounced in "putonghua," except for those names approved by the BGN. After all, people living in Guangdong Sheng also speak Cantonese (I myself was one of them), but their place names are not romanized in accordance with Cantonese. I think that if people in Guangdong can live with pinyin names, people in Kong Kong should also be able to adapt to such names. As a matter of fact, Hong Kong was a small part of Guangdong Sheng before it was colonized by the British a century ago.

I would also like to suggest that all the shi, xian, etc. should be retained to make the romanization of Chinese place names a faithful transliteration. For instance, should be rendered as "Guangzhou shi," not "Guangzhou". Besides, a "shi" and a "xian" may share exactly the same name in China, even though they are far apart.

The Chinese terms "xiang," "cun," or even "zhen" should be used instead of the English term "village."

Eliminating the "hyphen" and the diacritics in the place names of Taiwan, using "Taiwan" and "Taipei" as models, is also desirable.

Chinese characters for the pinyin words in the article:

Originally posted on eastlib on May 20, 1998. With the author's permission, it is republished in CLIEJ.