Library of Congress
Pinyin Conversion Project

Frequently Asked Questions

What's the difference between Wade-Giles and Pinyin?

Q - How can I tell the difference between Wade-Giles and Pinyin?

A - There are a number of ways to distinguish Wade-Giles (WG) romanization from pinyin (PY).

Usually, you can tell the difference between WG and PY by looking at the individual syllables themselves:

When you see syllables beginning with the letters B, D, G, Q, R, X and Z, you are looking at pinyin. Here are some tips:

hsien tsai is WG romanization
xian zai is PY romanization
t'u shu kuan is WG romanization
tu shu guan is PY romanizaton
hseh hsiao is WG romanization
xue xiao is PY romanization

Look for differences in diacritic marks and spacing. In Personal Names especially, the spacing of individual syllables and the use of hyphens are often good clues.

Ayns, apostrphes: - WG uses ayns (sometimes incorrectly written as apostrophes) to indicate aspiration. PY does not use the ayn, but occasionally uses the apostrophe to indicate 1) where joined syllables beginning with the letters a, e or o begin, and 2) when one joined syllable ends in the letter n and the following syllable begins with the letter g.

ts'ui is a WG syllable
ch'ien is a WG syllable
Ch'en, Chin-an is a personal name in WG
Chen, Jin'an is a personal name in PY
Wang, Yen-keng is a personal name in WG
Wang, Yan'geng is a personal name in PY

Umlaut - the umlaut is used commonly in WG; but only two syllables in PY include an umlaut: n and l (to differentiate from the syllables that are romanized as nu and lu)

ch' is a WG syllable
y is a WG syllable
l could be either a WG or a PY syllable

Hyphen - some WG syllables may be separated by a hyphen; the hyphen is not used in PY. A personal name romanized in WG often includes a hyphen.

Wang T'ieh-jen is a personal name in WG
Tzu-hsi is a personal name in WG
Mao Tse-tung is a personal name in WG

Joined syllables - some PY syllables may be joined together; individual WG syllables are never joined. Personal names romanized in PY will often include joined syllables.

Wang Tieren is a personal name in PY
Cixi is a personal name in PY
Mao Zedong is a personal name in PY

There are several differences in how place names are romanized:

There will be several changes in the way that place names will be romanized in bibliographic description when we convert to PY. Following the forms preferred by the US Board on Geographic Names (BGN), the new romanization guidelines call for the following practices when we romanize place names:

  1. Generic terms for geographic locations and jurisdictions began with a lower-case letter in WG; they will be capitalized in PY:

    Ho-nan sheng == Henan Sheng
    Su-chou shih == Suzhou Shi
  2. Joined syllables vs. hyphenated syllables: individual syllables of multi-syllabic place names or names of geographic features were hyphenated in WG romanization; they will be joined together in PY:

    Pei-ching == Beijing
    Shang-hai == Shanghai
    Hei-lung-chiang == Heilongjiang
  3. Generic terms for geographic locations and jurisdictions will continue to be separated from place names:

    Tung-t'ing hu == Dongting Hu
    Ch'ung-ch'ing shih == Chongqing Shi
  4. The individual syllables of multi-syllabic generic terms were separated in WG, but they are connected in PY:

    Chung-hua jen min kung ho kuo == Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo
    Ts'ang-chou ti ch' == Cangzhou Diqu
    O-lun-ch'un tzu chih ch'i == Elunchun Zizhiqi
  5. In WG, a single-syllable generic term for a jurisdiction was joined to a single-syllable place name. In PY, the term for the jurisdiction will be separated from the name of the place:

    Ch'i-hsien == Qi Xian
    P'i-hsien == Pi Xian
  6. Place names that are of non-Chinese origin will be continue to be romanized systematically in bibliographic description (even though sometimes the established heading for the jurisdiction may be romanized in a "conventional" form). As mentioned above, syllables that were hyphenated in the WG romanization of these place names will joined in PY:

    Wu-lu-mu-ch'i == Wulumuqi
    Kuang-chou == Guangzhou

Please note that how a place name is romanized in the bibliographic description may differ from the form used in the heading. For example,

WG romanization PY romanization Form of name in heading
Su-chou; Su-chou shih Suzhou; Suzhou Shi Suzhou (Jiangsu Sheng, China)
Ch'ung-ch'ing; Chongqing;  
  Ch'ung-ch'ing shih   Chongqing Shi Chongqing (China)

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