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Chinese Romanization in Library of Congress Cataloging

Jiajian Hu

In 1997 the Library of Congress announced its decision to switch from the Wade-Giles (WG) system to the pinyin system for the romanization of Chinese. This conversion will affect all online Chinese bibliographic records in almost entire fields, including the fields of main and added entries, title and statement of responsibility, series, notes, subject headings, as well as some part of the Library of Congress classification and cutter number. Following is some background and reasons of this historical conversion.


The multiplicity of dialects spoken by the Chinese in different regions have caused different romanized forms of Chinese. There are many romanized schemes used by different institutions to transliterate Chinese to English, e.g., Wade-Giles, pinyin, Gwoyeu Romatzhy and Yale, etc. The most prevalent transliteration scheme, adopted by Library of Congress from near the beginning of the century and then used by most libraries of the Western world, is the Wade-Giles system. This system was developed in the 1850s by Sir Thomas Francis Wade, a British military and diplomatic officer who spent much of his career in China. His system later was modified by Herbert Alien Giles, who used it in his Landmark Chinese-English Dictionary, and it has since been commonly called the Wade-Giles system. In 1958, however, the pinyin scheme was adopted for transliteration of Chinese by the Mainland Chinese government. It is not the official romanization scheme used in Mainland China.

After several years of cataloging practice, The Library of Congress found that the Wade-Giles system was problematic and needed revision. The Library of Congress was dissatisfied with Wade-Giles for the following reasons. First, it had phonetically redundant syllables. Second, it failed to render the Chinese national standard pronunciation. Finally, it wasn't able to show the semantic distinctions between multiple readings of single characters.

Since its first official promulgation in 1958, the pinyin scheme has remained unchanged. It has succeeded in maintaining clarity, consistency and unified standard. After 40 years of practice, pinyin has proved to be scientifically well-structured and reliable romanization scheme that faithfully and exactly represents the Chinese phonemes and syllables. It is an accurate rendition of the standard Chinese pronunciation based on Beijing dialect.

Because of pinyin's demonstrable superiority to Wade-Giles for online retrieval and its widespread trend, the Library of Congress had announced its decision to tentatively adopt the pinyin system for cataloging of Chinese publications on June 29, 1979. The decision was immediately dropped a year later after opposition from major university libraries in the United States. These institutions were reluctant to make the effort and bear the financial cost for such an endeavor, especially because at the time they were not sure that pinyin was a superior system. Now, 30 years later, the matter was examined again. The Library of Congress finally made the decision to convert from Wade-Giles to pinyin for romanization of Chinese. The effort to change to pinyin is worth making.

Reasons for Changing

a. The Pinyin system of romanization of Chinese is now generally recognized as the standard through the world. Since the 1970s, Western newspapers and journals began to use the pinyin system, (e.g.. New York Times in 1979) readers began to see "Mao Zedong" and "Deng Xiaoping" rather than "Mao Tsetung" and "Teng Hsiao-p'ing". The British library began to use pinyin for bibliographic control of its Chinese collected. Other institutions, including most European libraries and all U.S. federal agencies except the Library of Congress, followed suit. Because most of the rest of the world is now using pinyin. Library of Congress should, for practical reason, switch to pinyin.

* Jiajian Hu, technical service librarian. The Chicago Library.


b Most users of America libraries today are familiar with the pinyin romanization of Chinese names and places. Providing access to Chinese language with that system will make it easier for them to locate material.

c. The use of pinyin romanization by libraries also will Facilitate the exchange of data with foreign libraries.

d. Pinyin has more access point than Wade-Giles for online retrieval. By using diacritical marks, Wade-Giles has reduced 25 percent more machine-readable units than that by pinyin. Because diacritical marks are ignored in online processing, Wade-Giles has provided 25 percent less access points than that of pinyin. For instance, pinyin romanization use the consonant pairs "B" and "P," "J" and "Q," "D" and "T," "G" and "K" to represent sounds that approximate the sound they represent in English. The Wade-Giles uses identical letters for each of its consonant pairs, adding an aspirate mark to one of each pair to distinguish them, namely "P" and "P'," "Ch" and 'Ch'," "T" and "T"' and "K" and K'."


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