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A “Lasting Boon to All”:
A Note on the Postal Romanization of Place Names, 1896–1949

Prior to the general acceptance of Hanyu pinyin (汉语拼音 ) as the governing transliteration system for Chinese in the mid-1980s, the Wade-Giles system predominated for fifty years except in the spelling of place names.1 Shortly after the establishment of the modern Imperial Post Office (大清郵政總局 Da Qing youzheng zongju) in 1896 it became the toponymic authority for the spelling of place names through its postal style romanization system (郵政式拼音 youzheng shi pinyin), which was carried on in the Republican era (1912–1949) by the Directorate General of Posts (郵政總局 Youzheng zongju). In the early twentieth century, then, Western scholars, cartographers, journalists, and foreign governments commonly employed Wade-Giles for general terms, but maintained Chinese postal spellings for place names.

Upon opening its doors to the general public in 1897 the Imperial Post Office encountered mail matter addressed to and from foreigners living in China using a wide variety of transliteration systems. The dissimilarity in spellings resulted from the existence of numerous romanization systems representing local dialect pronunciations, transcriptions of different regional varieties of Mandarin (官話 guanhua), and Chinese orthoepy as interpreted through different European languages. The Imperial Post Office attempted to solve these transliteration problems by creating postal style romanization.

Postal romanization eased the burden on postal clerks and ensured the prompt and correct delivery of mail matter by requiring the foreign public, overseas Chinese, and international postal patrons to adopt standardized postal spellings, thereby protecting the reputation of the Post Office. Creating the postal romanization system and establishing itself as the official toponymic authority, however, did not eliminate all of the thorny problems inherent in formulating an entire romanization system. The Post Office still had to decide among local pronunciations, a specific regional pronunciation of spoken Mandarin, and between orthographically English or [End Page 96] other European-language representations of those sounds. Prior to 1905 the orthographically English system of Sir Thomas Francis Wade (威妥瑪 1818–1895) based on a Beijing pronunciation of Mandarin and containing some local dialect spellings predominated. Between 1905 and early 1920, the Post Office adopted Herbert A. Giles’ (翟理斯 1845–1935) “Nanking syllabary” but maintained the older Wade spellings and those stemming from local dialects.2 Continued inconsistencies in transcriptions forced the Directorate General to switch back to Wade’s system in 1920. Less than two years later, however, the rapid multiplication of variant transliterations compelled the Directorate to reverse its decision. Between December 1921 and 1949 the Directorate returned to Nanjing Mandarin pronunciations as “the best” for the Post Office while maintaining some local dialect spellings.

At least one latter-day scholar has assailed the Post Office for introducing so-called irregularities into postal romanization because of its use of a combination of local dialects, Nanjing and Beijing pronunciations of Mandarin, and the retention of some pre-existing romanizations and ancient usages.3 What they have criticized is actually the very strength of postal romanization. That is, postal romanization accommodated local dialects and regional pronunciations by recognizing local identity and language as vital to a true representation of the varieties of Chinese orthoepy as evinced by the Post Office’s repeated desire to transcribe according to “local pronunciation” or “provincial sound-equivalents.”4 Both Hanyu pinyin and amalgamated Wade-Giles, by contrast, employ a northern Mandarin that ignores the realities of pronunciation differences and thus local identity and language across China. Although imperfect and often perplexing, postal romanization was the only early twentieth-century national transliteration system that even attempted to integrate both northern and southern Mandarin pronunciations, local dialects, and popularly established usages. [End Page 97]

Early Years Using the Wade System, 1899–1905

When the modern Imperial Post Office was established under the auspices of the foreign-controlled Imperial Maritime Customs Service (海關總稅務司署 Haiguan zong shuiwu sishu) in 1896, there was no generally accepted transliteration system for Mandarin pronunciation. Instead, missionaries, sinologists, foreign traders, and foreign governments created and used a heterogeneous mix of transliteration systems, each with its own strengths and weaknesses, that vied for public acceptance. This bewildering array of choices led one long-term foreign resident of central China in the nineteenth century to comment, “All readers . . . must have been struck with the varying orthography . . . employed by writers on subjects involving the treatment or mention of Chinese places or persons.”5 For example, in the 1890s the “Zhou (周)” dynasty was variously spelt “Chow,” “Cheu,” “Chou,” “Chóu,” “Kâu,” “Châu,” “Ĉou,” “Tsou,” or “Tcheou” depending on which regional pronunciation of Mandarin the transcribers adopted, which European language provided their orthographic base, and whether they incorporated local dialect spellings.6

For the early Imperial Post Office which followed Customs practice by adopting English as the standard language for its cosmopolitan group of employees, the question centered on which English-Chinese transliteration system to adopt. The origin of this problem lay in the varying transliteration systems incorporated into early Chinese-English dictionaries. By the 1890s the field had been whittled down to three main transliteration schools: Thomas F. Wade’s system using a Beijing syllabary; a general southern Mandarin transcription system incorporated into many dictionaries including Giles’s; and the S. Wells Williams (衛三畏 1812–1884)/China Inland Mission system using a variety of pronunciations from Beijing, Guangzhou, Xiamen, and Shanghai.7 Dictionaries of local dialects, especially for southeastern China, also complicated matters as missionaries proselytizing in those areas often used them for transliterating local place names in their literature and for receiving mail matter from their home congregations or other mission stations.8 [End Page 98]

In order to reduce this confusion and create a workable system for standardizing the spelling of Chinese place names, Sir Robert Hart (赫德 1835–1911), Inspector General of Customs and Inspector General of Posts (總郵政司 Zong youzhengsi), adopted his own makeshift system in 1899. Hart ordered all Customs Commissioners who were ex officio Postmasters (郵政局長 Youzheng juzhang) to submit the names of all sub-offices in their districts in Chinese characters and “transliterated according to the local pronunciation.” 9 As it emerged, postal romanization followed Wade’s transcriptions of Beijing pronunciations including his use of orthographic elements such as aspirates, hyphens, and diacritical marks.10 Early postal romanization, however, also incorporated local dialects and established spellings of important places such as Peking, Tientsin, Canton, Tsingtao, and Chinkiang based on either long-standing or southern Mandarin pronunciations.11

Both external and internal postal requirements necessitated Hart’s decision on the issue of romanization. Externally, as the number of postal establishments increased and the Post Office expanded to inland areas, spellings were necessary for smaller places without established transliterations. Compensating for the only gradual acceptance of postal spellings, the Imperial Post Office still required Chinese characters on mail addressed to inland places up to 1906. Internally, standardized postal romanizations speeded the sorting of mail and facilitated accurate communications between the Inspectorate and postmasters about the places being discussed. Most importantly, Hart’s decision to adopt a postal romanization system obviated the need for changing the spellings of place names each time a new transliteration system became fashionable.

The Giles Dictionary Standard, 1905–1920

By 1905 a number of developments forced Hart and the postal staff to reconsider the question of romanization. The continued expansion of postal facilities to inland places and border provinces, where local dialects were strongest, raised the [End Page 99] question of applying Beijing pronunciation to these place names where local missionaries had long used local dialect spellings. The growth of the foreign population in China, many of whom were unaccustomed to the orthographically English-based transcriptions of Beijing Mandarin, gave the Post Office additional pause as did the foreign public’s inability to write Chinese characters. Finally, the Chinese-language abilities and deficiencies within the cosmopolitan group of foreign postmasters caused considerable variation in the place name spellings submitted to the Inspectorate.12 Lacking great facility with Chinese, hearing local dialects through their mother tongues, and expressing the spellings in English sounds resulted in a romanization system fraught with a maddening variety of alternate spellings.13

In early April 1905 Hart decided to make additional changes to postal romanization hoping to standardize some of the spellings. However, he probably introduced more problems than he resolved. Circularizing the postmasters, Hart ordered a new transliteration system for place names. Replacing the Wade-dominated system whose real inner workings were known only to Hart and the Postal Secretary (郵政總辦 Youzheng zongban) was an ambiguous statement to transliterate “not as directed by Wade, but according to accepted or usual local spelling.”14 In other words, postal romanization would recognize no dominant regional pronunciation of Mandarin, but would transliterate all place names in accordance with local pronunciations of either Mandarin or other dialects depending on the habits of resident foreigners—usually missionaries. Hart’s decision to give equal recognition to all types of local pronunciations and dialects had the opposite effect of what he intended because it resulted in multiple variations in postal romanization.

Hart’s 1905 ruling on romanization turned out to be short-lived. As public confusion and internally inconsistent spellings mounted, Postal Secretary Théophile Piry (帛黎 1851–1917), the French head of the Imperial Post Office since 1901,15 admitted there were “occasional misdirections,” of mail that “draw unmerited [End Page 100] aspersions on the Post Office.”16 In order to reduce the problem of missent mail matter and thoroughly systematize postal romanization, Piry brought together the Imperial Post Office, the Chinese Telegraph Administration (電報總局 Dianbao zongju), and the Customs Coast Department (海政局 Haizhengju) at Shanghai in the spring of 1906 to devise a new system. The Imperial Posts and Telegraphs Joint Conference (帝國郵電聯席會議 Diguo youdian lianxi huiyi) decided to adopt the “Nanking syllabary as given in Giles’ Dictionary,” maintain all previously transliterated place names, and use local pronunciations for all new places in Guangdong, a portion of Guangxi, and part of Fujian. 17 Giles’ Nanjing pronunciations were also, according to Piry, adopted as a “special rule” allowing “the romanization of non-English speaking people to be met as far as possible.”18

The Joint Conference made a significant departure from accepted practice by dropping all orthographically important aspirates, hyphens, and diacritical marks from the postal romanization system. For example, “T’aiyüan” became “Taiyuan,” “K’aifêng” became “Kaifeng,” “Ch’êngtu” became “Chengdu,” and so on. Later critics focused specifically on this issue as the fundamental problem of postal romanization for mangling Chinese orthoepy.19 In fact, the decision to eliminate all aspirates, hyphens, and diacritical marks was made so that romanized Chinese personal and place names could be telegraphed. 20 As far back as the 1870s, foreigners had been working on a suitable way to telegraph Chinese characters. Ultimately they encoded all Chinese characters with a unique four-digit combination. 21 This code system, however, failed with respect to transliterated Chinese characters because the telegraph could not account for aspirates, hyphens, or diacritical marks. For this reason the Joint Conference dropped them.

Emerging out of the fits-and-starts of Hart’s early efforts, Piry’s work at the Imperial Posts and Telegraphs Joint Conference brought postal romanization into its second stage of development—a stage when postal romanization would be, in Piry’s [End Page 101] phrase, a “lasting boon to all.” In this second stage the Post Office required postal romanization to be “exclusively used” by all foreign residents, overseas Chinese, and international postal patrons to protect the reputation of the Service from complaints about the misdirection of mail matter and facilitate the sorting and delivering of mail. Assuming that postal romanization would be “universally recognized,” Piry also dropped the requirement for Chinese characters on mail addressed to inland places.22 Even with these changes, Piry was fully cognizant “the romanization as now settled will not satisfy sinologues,” but the Conference participants made these decisions so that the documents and maps of the Chinese Customs, Posts, and Telegraphs used the same romanized forms. Piry as postal secretary would also maintain the romanized forms as the new toponymic authority for transliterated place names.23 With such an authority, foreign residents would no longer have to sift among transliteration systems, but could be confident their mail would reach the desired destination.

The Post Office employed a number of avenues to publicize the new spellings to the foreign public. First and foremost, foreigners could ensure their spellings matched the postal standard by “copying faithfully a postmark or letterhead.” 24 Probably more useful for disseminating official postal romanizations were a number of Post Office publications in their English-Chinese “Public Series” sold at nominal costs or available for viewing in all postal establishments. The yearly bilingual Working Reports (郵政事務年報 Youzheng shiwu nianbao) from 1904 to 1906 contained a list of all postal spellings as did the official List of Post Offices ((郵政局所彙編 Youzheng jusuo huibian), which was issued every few years starting in 1903.25 After 1917, many issues of the Postal Guide, a handbook containing the basic rules of the Post Office, also carried a full list of romanized place names.26 The Post Office also distributed the official spellings through their popular provincial route maps and in the editions of the China Postal Atlas ((中華郵政輿圖 Zhonghua youzheng yutu).27

Between 1906 and early 1920, when postal romanization was based on southern Mandarin pronunciations, the Directorate and postmasters also adopted [End Page 102] local dialect spellings for many places in southeastern China and a few in other regions as seen in Table 1.28 The second or third character of a place name often reveals the influence of local dialect spellings such as the use of chang (昌) variously rendered as chang, cheong, and chong; jin (金) as chin, kin, kum, and que; jiang (江) as chiang, kiang, kang, and kong; and chang (長) as chang, chong, cheong, cheung, diong, and do. The source and number of these dialects remains unknown. In certain cases, the Post Office used the generally accepted transliteration of a local dialect pronunciation of a given Chinese character such as hing (興) in Shaohing (紹興) dialect even when the local pronunciation and spelling would have been different, as in Hingwen (興文), Sichuan or Hingshan (興山), Hubei.29 Transcribing local dialects sometimes helped differentiate between two places having the same characters, but most often a practical provincial abbreviation was added to the place name. For example, there are three places spelled Fangshan in the List of Post Offices: Fangshan (房山) County in Hebei, Fangshan, An[hui] (芳山), a rural township, and Fangshan, Sha[nxi] (方山), another county.

Table 1

Examples of Local Dialect Pronunciations Incorporated into Postal Romanization

Betau 馬頭 Engteng 永定
Nanzin 南潯 Hoihow 海口
Diongloh 長樂 Kirin 吉林
Jehol 熱河 Pakhop 百合
Tamsui 淡水 Irekte 宜力克都
Kwaikwaisheklung 桂貴石龍 Tangchioh 東石
Woosong 吳松 Songlin 雙林
Quemoy 金門 Womuk 和睦
Kalgan 張家口 Pakhoi 北海

The Soothill-Wade Interregnum, 1919–1921

Although the Post Office’s adoption of Giles’s Nanjing syllabary routinized some postal transcriptions, variant spellings, local dialect place names, and inconsistent application of the rules of southern Mandarin orthoepy continued to [End Page 103] result in mounting problems for the Directorate compelling a return to a Wade standard in early 1920. Most of the problems stemmed from the absence of a guide or established rules instructing the foreign Postmasters how to spell local place names. Coupled with the Post Office’s internal problems was a general movement by the Beijing government towards standardizing pronunciation across China, culminating in the 1912 creation of the National Phonetic Alphabet (注音字母 Zhuyin zimu), a system based primarily on Beijing pronunciation. By 1919 the Ministry of Education was prepared to announce the adoption of this “national language (國語guoyu)” for elementary schools throughout the country to coincide with the release of an official dictionary of the language.30

Confronted by internal problems with romanizations and external movements towards a standardized national language based on Beijing pronunciations, Co-Director General Henri Picard-Destelan (鐵士蘭 1878-?) announced in early December 1919 a new study of romanization being undertaken by the Directorate with “a view to introducing a uniform system” of spellings for foreigners based on the proposed national language.31 The Directorate distributed a table consisting of the main sounds of Chinese along with characters to all District Head Offices and ordered the Commissioners to fill in the “principal provincial sound-equivalents.” To ensure the proper rendering of provincial or local dialect spellings, Picard-Destelan encouraged Commissioners to “approach the Missionaries of the place” whose understanding of local pronunciations the Directorate considered authoritative. The governing dynamic, however, was that southern Mandarin spellings were to be abandoned in favor of the Beijing-based transcriptions of Wade or G. C. Stent (司登德 1833–1884), a former Customs employee who had compiled a lexicon of Beijing “dialect” in 1871.32

By the following April the Directorate made a new ruling adopting northern Mandarin pronunciation, a decision “prompted” by the Ministry of Education’s order that all elementary schools teach guoyu. Although Picard-Destelan desired “a romanization scheme which will meet the requirements of all provincial and local dialects,” the tables of local sound equivalents for northern Mandarin pronunciation returned to the Directorate demonstrated the “impossibility” of such a system. Because the Giles’ system was “necessarily vague” and allowed “much latitude for [End Page 104] alternative spellings” it was now dropped.33 In its place, Picard-Destelan ordered the adoption of Wade’s romanizations as contained in Reverand W. E. Soothill’s (苏慧廉 1861–1935) Dictionary. 34 All older romanizations in southern Mandarin pronunciation remained as previously determined because introducing new transliterations might have caused untold confusion among the foreign public. All aspirates, hyphens, and diacritical marks were still omitted except the modified ü.

The Southern Mandarin Dialect, 1921–1949

Almost two years after adopting Soothill-Wade romanizations as the postal standard, Picard-Destelan quietly reverted to “the Southern Mandarin dialect,” which had guided postal romanization between 1906 and April 1920, in December 1921 as “admittedly the best for the Post Office.”35 Because the Post Office maintained all older southern-based romanizations in order to avoid public confusion, the rapid incorporation of Soothill-Wade transcriptions had resulted in considerable variation and insurmountable difficulties for the Post Office and its foreign patrons. Between the adoption of the Soothill-Wade standard in early 1920 and its abandonment in late 1921, the Post Office undertook an unprecedented expansion resulting in the establishment of 13,103 additional offices and agencies.36 By December 1921 the Directorate had romanized roughly one-third of all establishments according to the Soothill-Wade standard. Before the situation worsened, Picard-Destelan thought reversion to southern pronunciation was necessary “until such time as uniformity is possible.”37

The “southern Mandarin dialect,” then, despite the general trend towards Beijing pronunciations by Chinese and foreigners, became the official system of postal place-name spelling for the remainder of the Republican era with some changes made to important place names from outside the Post Office. For example, when Beijing was renamed Beiping in 1928, the National Government’s Central [End Page 105] Political Council (中央政治會 Zhongyang zhengzhi hui) ordered the Post Office to use the spelling Peping, but later requested the spelling changed to Peiping.38 In 1931 the National Government eliminated the use of remaining imperial zhou (州) designations and fully adopted county (縣xian) names. 39 Although these administrative name changes did not directly change postal spellings, they did affect how postal patrons addressed their mail matter. Dropping the zhou designations caused considerable confusion among both Chinese and foreign postal patrons as commonly known places now came to be called by rarely used county names.40 The general practice became, even in official postal documents, to use the new county name with the original zhou name in parentheses (although many postal patrons continued to use the older designations).

Table 2

Examples of County Names used in Postal Spelling after 1931

Old Chinese Name Old Romanization New Chinese Name New Romanization
蘇州 Soochow 吳縣 Wuhsien
揚州 Yangchow 江都 Kiangtu
太原 Taiyüan 陽曲 Yangku
西安 Sian 長安 Changan
蘭州 Lanchow 皋蘭 Kaolan
哈爾濱 Harbin 濱江 Pinkiang
溫州 Wenchow 永嘉 Yungkia
廈門 Amoy 思明 Szeming
福州 Foochow 閩侯 Minhow
廣州 Canton 番禺 Panyü

Even after 1921 problems of transliteration remained acute for the Post Office in determining names for places in Tibet, Xinjiang, pre-1924 Mongolia, and [End Page 106] other ethnic minority regions.41 Foreign postmasters in these areas demonstrated the limits of their linguistic abilities and of their central government orientation by ignoring many local pronunciations. For example, postmasters transliterated most Uighur place names with their Chinese pronunciations:

Table 3

Examples of Postal Romanizations for Chinese Pronunciations of Uighur Place Names

Characters Wade Post Office Uighur
鎮西 Chen-hsi Chensi Barköl
哈密 Ha-mi Hami Qumul/Kumul
疏附 Shu-fu Shufu Kashgar
迪化 T’i-hua Tihwa Urumqi

Occasionally, with no apparent rhyme or reason, the List of Post Offices did contain the transliterated Uighur names for places in Xinjiang.42 For example:

Table 4

Examples of Postal Romanizations for Uighur Pronuncations of Local Place Names

Characters Wade-Giles Post Office Uighur
阿爾泰 Ah-erh-t’ai Altai Altay
庫爾勒 K’u-erh-lei Kuerhlei Kurla
依爾克斯塘 I-erh-k’o-ssu-t’ang Ierhkoszetang Irkestan/irkeshtam
吐魯番 T’u-lu-fan Turfan Turpan

In other border regions like Tibet the Directorate used some local pronunciations. The List of Post Offices recognized the Tibetan places of Gyanda (江達 Jomdo), Gyantse (江孜 Gyangzê), Lhasa (喇薩, currently 拉薩), Phagri (帕克里), and Shigatse (西格孜 Xigazê) by their local pronunciations with four other Tibetan cities being transliterated by their Chinese names.43 In Mongolia the Imperial Post [End Page 107] Office recognized local pronunciations for places such as Urga (庫倫 Örgöö/Ulan Bator), Wulangkum (烏蘭固木 Ulaangom), Kiachta (Russian: Kyakhta 恰克圖) and a handful of other towns and cities.


Between 1899 and 1921, the foreign administrators of the Chinese Post Office created postal style romanization in order to provide standardized place names to the public and facilitate postal operations. Critics of the system complained about its lack of orthographic marks, its mixture of romanization systems, and its use of multiple romanizations for the same character. The Post Office made these compromises in light of the practical considerations of telegraphy, the recognition of the importance of local dialect pronunciations, and their own indecision on whether to adopt a base system following northern or southern pronunciations of Mandarin. The ultimate success of postal romanization stemmed from the toponymic authority of the Directorate General to allow foreigner residents to send their mail without the awkwardness of choosing among the various transliteration systems. In time, such international cartographic organizations as the Permanent Committee on Geographical Names, the Conference of the International 1/M Map, and the National Geographic Society as well as academics, foreign governments, missionary societies, and journalists recognized the toponymic authority of the Directorate General of Posts.44

Compared to Hanyu pinyin and its hegemonic use of northern pronunciation, the postal romanization system with all its idiosyncrasies appears far more accommodating to local language differences. Rather than view China with a “Central Plains attitude (大中原心態 Da Zhongyuan xintai),” the Post Office understood China and its place names from a number of perspectives and preferred the heteroglossia of southern and northern Mandarin pronunciations, local dialect spellings, and an orthographically ambiguous romanization system to one dominated by English-language transcriptions of Beijing pronunciations. The People’s Republic of China officially dropped postal romanization in 1964, but it would take until the late 1970s and early 1980s for Hanyu pinyin to make inroads against the foreign use of postal spellings.45 The Republic of China (Taiwan)’s adoption of Tongyong pinyin (通用拼音) in 2002 has further reduced the influence of postal system spellings. Despite its many inherent problems, however, postal style romanization was, as Piry had predicted, a boon to the foreign public, cartographers, academics, missionary societies, newspapers, and foreign governments—none of whom could agree on a [End Page 108] general transliteration system, but all of whom used postal place name spellings for more than eighty years. [End Page 109]

Lane J. Harris
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Lane J. Harris

Lane J. Harris is a Ph.D. candidate in the History Department at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and lecturer at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington. He is currently completing his dissertation on the history of the modern Chinese Post Office between 1896 and 1949 under the guidance of Poshek Fu.


The research for this note was carried out at the Second Historical Archives in Nanjing. I thank the archivists and staff for their constant and supportive cooperation on my larger project on the Chinese Post Office. Poshek Fu contributed valuable suggestions during the germination, research, and writing phases of this project. Mei Chun read several drafts and always supplied insightful comments with good humor. Two anonymous reviewers for Twentieth-Century China helped focus my arguments and saved me from mistakes, and Christopher A. Reed provided valuable editorial advice. An International Dissertation Research Fellowship granted by the Social Science Research Council and a Fellowship from the Institute for International Research at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center supported this research.


1. On the adoption of Hanyu pinyin, see: Hilary Chappel, “The Romanization Debate,” The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs 4 (July 1980): 105–118.

2. Although Giles gave preference to Beijing pronunciation as the most prestigious version of Mandarin throughout his life, his Dictionary also includes pronunciation standards for several other regions in China including the Nanjing area, which is the source of the Post Office’s southern pronunciation standard. Herbert Allen Giles, A Chinese-English Dictionary (Shanghai: Kelly & Walsh, 1892).

3. On the gradual shift from Nanjing to Beijing pronunciations of Mandarin among Chinese and foreigners starting in the 1850s, see: W. South Coblin, “A Brief History of Mandarin,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 120: 4 (October-December 2000): 537–552; W. South Coblin, “Robert Morrison and the Phonology of Mid-Qing Mandarin,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Series 3, 13, 3 (2003): 339–355.

4. Sir Robert Hart, Inspector General’s Circulars, Circular No. 877, Postal No. 45, 9 January 1899 in Imperial Maritime Customs, ed., Postal Circulars and Notes, 1879–1905, Volume 1 (Shanghai: Statistical Department of the Inspectorate General of Customs, 1906) in Second Historical Archives (hereafter SHA), 137.2023–1; Co-Director General Destelan, Co-D.G. Circular Memo No. 426, 8 December 1919 in Ministry of Communications, Directorate General of Posts, Taipei, Taiwan, Postal Romanization (Taipei: Directorate General of Posts, 1961), Appendix A, 5.

5. F. Porter Smith, “The Translation and Transliteration of Chinese Geographical Names,” Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of London 21: 6 (1876–1877): 580–582.

6. W. Perceval Yetts, “Transliteration of Chinese,” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 51: 292 (July 1927), 45.

7. Thomas F. Wade, The Peking Syllabary: Being a collection of the characters representing the dialect of Peking; arranged after a new orthography in syllabic classes according to the four tones; designed to accompany the hsin ching lu, or, Book of Experiments (Hong Kong: n.p., 1859); Giles, A Chinese-English Dictionary; and S. Wells Williams, A Syllabic Dictionary of the Chinese Language: Arranged According to the Wu-fang Yuen Yin, with the Pronunciation of the Characters as Heard in Peking, Canton, Amoy, and Shanghai (Shanghai: American Presbyterian Mission Press, 1874).

8. E.g. Carstairs Douglas, Chinese-English Dictionary of the Vernacular or Spoken Language of Amoy: With the Principal Variations of the Chang-chew and Chin-chew Dialects (London: Trübner, 1873); A. M. Fielde, First Lessons in the Swatow Dialect (Swatow: Swatow Printing Office Company, 1878).

9. Sir Robert Hart, Inspector General’s Circulars, Circular No. 877, Postal No. 45, 9 January 1899 in Imperial Maritime Customs, ed., Postal Circulars and Notes, 1879–1905 in SHA137.2023–1.

10. “Report on the Working of the Post Office for the Year 1904” in Chinese Maritime Customs Service, Decennial Reports on the Trade, Navigation, Industries, Etc. of the Ports Open to Foreign Commerce and the Condition and Development of the Treaty Port Provinces, 1902–1911, 3 volumes (Shanghai: Statistical Department of the Inspectorate General of Customs, 1913), 2: Appendix II.

11. There is never-ending confusion about the origins of romanized Chinese place names before the postal romanization system was created. Quite often even scholars mistakenly assume that the above examples along with a whole host of others such as Chekiang (Zhejiang), Kiangsi (Jiangxi), and Kiukiang (Jiujiang) stem from postal romanization. The romanizations of most major Chinese cities and provinces pre-dated the establishment of the Imperial Post Office and were based on spellings created by earlier scholars or foreign residents in China who followed southern Mandarin pronunciations. The most obvious result of this distinction is that words transcribed in southern Mandarin pronunciation starting with k or ts are transcribed by Wade as ch or ch’—so Nanking instead of Nanching and Tsingtao instead of Ch’ing-tao.

12. In 1912, for example, the Post Office employed 115 foreigners: 56 Britons, 15 French, 10 Germans, 3 Americans, 8 Italians, 4 Austrians, 5 Norwegians, 3 Danes, 3 Swedes, 1 Hungarian, 4 Portuguese, and 3 Russians. SHA137(2).1098.

13. Foreign postal employees were expected to study Chinese to receive promotions, but a lack of proficiency was not grounds for dismissal. J. A. van Aalst, Postal Secretary’s Circulars No. 51, 1 August 1901 in Postal Circulars and Notes, 1879–1905, Volume 1. A full six-year course of Chinese study was not required of all foreign postal staff until 1918. Co-Director General Destelan, Circular No. 449, 18 April 1918 in SHA137.2023–4.

14. Sir Robert Hart, Circular No. 1232, Postal No. 82, 4 April 1905 in Imperial Maritime Customs, ed., Postal Circulars and Notes, 1879–1905, Volume 1 in SHA137.2023–1.

15. Although the Imperial Post Office was officially a branch of the Imperial Maritime Customs Service until May 1911, in 1901 the French succeeded in having Piry named Postal Secretary and thenceforth all of the foreign heads of the Post Office, except when the Norwegian Erik Tollefsen held the position between 1928 and 1931, were French until 1943 when the Japanese forced A. M. Chapelain out of office.

16. “Extract from ‘Report on the Working of the Post Office, 1906’” in Ministry of Communications, Directorate General of Posts, Taipei, Taiwan, Postal Romanization (Taipei: Directorate General of Posts, 1961), Appendix A, 2.

17. The Directorate adopted two main features of southern Mandarin pronunciation—the distinction between sharp and rounded sounds and the use of the entering tone (rusheng) resulting in Wade’s ch or ch’ being transliterated as k or k’; Wade’s undifferentiated hs sound was transcribed in postal romanizations with a rounded tone h and a sharp toned s. The entering tone in postal romanization was represented by the use of the letter h at the end of a syllable signifying a sudden cessation of sound such as “peh” as in Hopeh.

18. “List of Post Offices, 1906, Preface,” in Ministry of Communications, Postal Romanization, Appendix A, 3.

19. E.g. A.R.H., “The Romanization of Chinese Place-Names,” Geographical Journal 102: 2 (August 1943): 67–71.

20. “List of Imperial Post Offices, 1906, Preface” in Ministry of Communications, Postal Romanization, Appendix A, 3.

21. Erik Baark, Lightning Wires: The Telegraph and China’s Technological Modernization, 1860–1890 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1997), 84–86.

22. Théophile Piry, Postal Circular No. 145, 3 October 1906 in Ministry of Posts and Communications, ed., Postal Circulars and Instructions, 1906–1911, Volume 2 (Shanghai: Supply Department of the Directorate General of Posts, 1912) in SHA137.2023–1.

23. Ministry of Communications, Postal Romanization, Appendix A, 3.

24. Ibid.

25. The List provided the English, postal romanization, and Chinese characters for each Post Office as well as the services offered at each respective office. For surviving copies, see: Ministry of Communications, Directorate General of Posts, List of Post Offices (Shanghai: Supply Department of the Directorate General of Posts, 1923, 1932, 1936, 1947).

26. The Postal Guide was published five times between 1899 and 1916 as just a handbook. Ministry of Communications, Directorate General of Posts, Postal Guide (Shanghai: Supply Department of the Directorate General of Posts, 1917).

27. Ministry of Communications, Directorate General of Posts, China Postal Atlas, showing the Postal Establishments and Postal Routes in Each Province (Shanghai: Supply Department of the Directorate General of Posts, 1908, 1919, 1933, 1936).

28. For a complete list of transliterated locally pronounced place names employed by the Post Office, see Ministry of Communications, Postal Romanization, Appendix B.

29. The adoption of the Shaoxing dialect pronunciation of “hing” applied to geographical areas with different dialects opens up the question of a hierarchy of dialects or places within the postal romanization system. Unfortunately, determining this hierarchy would require a comparative study of thousands of romanized postal place names as well as a diachronic analysis of the myriad transliteration system proposed for local dialects during the late Qing and Republican eras, an undertaking that is beyond the scope of this study.

30. Jiaoyubu, duyin tongyi hui, Guoyin zidian (Dictionary of national pronunciation) (Shanghai: Shangwu yinshuguan, 1920). In 1932 the National Government revised the Guoyin zidian into Gwoyeu Romatzyh (guoyu luomazi) as contained in: Jiaoyubu, guoyu tongyi choubei weiyuanhui, Gwoin Charngyong Tzyhhuey (Dictionary of common words in national pronunciation) (Shanghai: Shangwu yinshuguan, 1932).

31. Co-Director General Destelan, Co-D.G. Circular Memo No. 426, 8 December 1919 in Ministry of Communications, Postal Romanization, Appendix A, 5.

32. G. C. Stent, A Chinese and English Vocabulary in the Pekinese Dialect (Shanghai: Customs Press, 1871). Stent also published a Chinese and English Pocket Dictionary (Shanghai: Kelly & Co., Shanghai, 1874).

33. Co-Director General Destelan, Co-D.G. Circular Memo No. 486, 22 April 1920 in Ministry of Communications, Postal Romanization, Appendix A, 5.

34. Co-Director General Destelan, Instruction No. 240, 30 September 1920 in Ministry of Communications, Directorate General of Posts, ed., Postal Circulars and Instructions, 1919–1922, Volume 5 (Shanghai: Supply Department of the Directorate General of Posts, 1923) in SHA137.2023–5. W.E. Soothill, The Student’s Four Thousand Tzu and General Pocket Dictionary (Shanghai: Presbyterian Mission Press, 1899). The Post Office chose Soothill’s Dictionary, which went through at least twenty separate editions between 1899 and 1952, because it was used by foreign postal staff studying Chinese.

35. Instruction No. 251, Additions and Amendments to Instructions: No. 56, 15 December 1921, Officiating Co-Director General, temporarily C. Rousse in Ministry of Communications, Directorate General of Posts, ed., Postal Circulars and Instructions, 1919–1922.

36. Jiaotongbu, Youzheng zongju, ed., Zhongguo youzheng tongji huiji (Collection of Chinese postal service statistics) (Taibei: Jiaotongbu, Youzheng zongju, 1956), 32–34.

37. Instruction No. 251, Additions and Amendments to Instructions: No. 56, 15 December 1921, Officiating Co-Director General, temporarily C. Rousse in Ministry of Communications, Directorate General of Posts, ed., Postal Circulars and Instructions, 1919–1922.

38. First Secretary Huang Naishu, Circular Memo No. 10, 29 June 1928 in SHA137.288–3.

39. Twice in the early Republican era, 1913 and 1917, the Beijing Governments had attempted this same shift by eliminating the imperial territorial subdivisions between province and county, but their innovations failed to gain general acceptance. Postmaster General T. Piry, Circular No. 317, 3 June 1913 in SHA137.2023–3; Co-Director General Destelan, Circular No. 436, 22 August 1917 and Circular No. 445, 14 January 1918 in SHA137.2023–4.

40. For complete list: Jiaotongbu youzheng zongju tongling di liu-si-ba hao, youzheng zongban Qian Chunqi huiban Duofusen, 4 April 1931 (Ministry of Communications, Directorate General of Posts, Circular No. 648, Director General Qian Chunqi and Co-Director General Erik Tollefsen) in SHA137.288–24

41. Prior to 1924, Chinese mail was regularly routed through Outer Mongolia to Xinjiang. Following the establishment of the Mongolian People’s Republic in 1924, the Soviets created a Mongolian Post Office. Shortly after 1925 the Mongolians themselves took over their Post Office, but the Directorate considered it a rather “primitive” service into the 1930s. L. I. Vironoff, “Mongolian Post Office,” undated in SHA137.5289.

42. J. H. Reynolds, “Place-Names in Sinkiang,” Geographical Journal 65: 3 (March 1925): 242–247. On variants in Manchuria, see A.R.H., “Names in Manchuria,” Geographical Journal 52: 5 (November 1918): 311–314.

43. Postal Secretary T. Piry, Postal Instruction No. 109, 17 January 1911 in Ministry of Posts and Communications, ed., Postal Circulars and Instructions, 1906–1911, Volume 2 in SHA137.2023–1.

44. A.R.H., “The Romanization of Chinese Place-Names,” 67–71, which also compares postal spellings to Gwoyeu Romatzyh. Reynolds, “Place-Names in Sinkiang,” 242. “International Map of the World,” Geographical Journal 36: 2 (August 1910): 179–184.

45. Susan Biele Alitto, “The Language Issue in Communist Chinese Education,” Comparative Education Review 13: 1 (February 1969), 58.