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Chinese romanization
Mandarin for Standard Mandarin
    Hanyu Pinyin (ISO standard)
    Gwoyeu Romatzyh
        Spelling conventions
    Latinxua Sin Wenz
    Mandarin Phonetic Symbols II
    Chinese Postal Map Romanization
    Tongyong Pinyin
    Legge romanization
    Simplified Wade
    Comparison chart
Cantonese for Standard Cantonese
    Guangdong Romanization
    Hong Kong Government
    Sidney Lau
    S. L. Wong (phonetic symbols)
    S. L. Wong (romanisation)
    Standard Cantonese Pinyin
    Standard Romanization
    Long-short (romanization)
Min Nan
for Taiwanese, Amoy, and related
For Hainanese
    Hainanhua Pinyin Fang'an
For Teochew
Min Dong for Fuzhou dialect
    Foochow Romanized
Hakka for Moiyan dialect
    Kejiahua Pinyin Fang'an
For Siyen dialect
See also:
   General Chinese (Chao Yuenren)
   Romanisation in Singapore
   Romanisation in the ROC (Taiwan)

Wade-Giles (pronounced /ˌweɪdˈʤaɪlz/; Simplified Chinese: 威妥玛拼音 or 韦氏拼音; Traditional Chinese: 威妥瑪拼音 or 韋氏拼音; pinyin: wēituǒmǎ pīnyīn), sometimes abbreviated Wade, is a Romanization system (phonetic notation and transcription) for the Mandarin language used in Beijing. It developed from a system produced by Thomas Wade in the mid-nineteenth century, and reached settled form with Herbert Giles' Chinese-English dictionary of 1892.

Wade-Giles was the main system of transcription in the English-speaking world for most of the twentieth century, used in several standard reference books and in all books about China published before 1979.[1] It replaced the Nanjing-based romanization systems that had been common until late in the nineteenth century. It has mostly been replaced by the pinyin system today, but parts of it, especially the names of individuals and certain cities remain in use in the Republic of China (Taiwan).


Wade-Giles was developed by Thomas Francis Wade, a British ambassador in China and Chinese scholar who was the first professor of Chinese at Cambridge University. Wade published the first Chinese textbook in English in 1867. The system was refined in 1912 by Herbert Allen Giles, a British diplomat in China and his son, Lionel Giles, a curator at the British Museum.[2]

The Wade-Giles system was designed to transcribe Chinese terms, for Chinese specialists. This origin has led to a general sense that the system is non-intuitive for non-specialists and not useful for teaching Chinese pronunciation.

The Republic of China (Taiwan) has used Wade-Giles for decades as the de facto standard, co-existing with several official but obscure Romanizations in succession, namely, Gwoyeu Romatzyh (1928), MPS II (1986), and Tongyong Pinyin (2000). Taiwanese place names are still being virtually written in Wade-Giles, and many Chinese Americans and Canadians also write their Chinese names in Wade-Giles.

The Hanyu Pinyin system is the official and most widely used system in the People's Republic of China. In Singapore, Pinyin is taught in national schools and widely used in official documents, although a reversal of government policy changed the requirement to register people's Chinese names in Pinyin. Wade-Giles spellings and Pinyin spellings for Taiwanese place names and words long accepted in English usage are still used interchangeably in English-language texts in both countries.

Technical aspects

One symbol-multiple sounds

A common complaint about the Wade-Giles system is the representation of the unaspirated-aspirated stop consonant pairs using apostrophes: p, p', t, t', k, k', ch, ch'. However, the use of apostrophes preserves b, d, g, and j for the Romanization of Chinese languages containing voiced consonants, such as Shanghainese (which has a full set of voiced consonants) and Taiwanese (Hō-ló-oē) whose century-old Pe̍h-ōe-jī (POJ, often called Missionary Romanization) is similar to Wade-Giles. POJ, Legge Romanization, Simplified Wade, and EFEO Chinese transcription use the letter h instead of an apostrophe to indicate aspiration (this is similar to the superscript h used in IPA). The convention of the apostrophe or "h" to denote aspiration is also found in Romanizations of other Asian languages, such as McCune-Reischauer for Korean and ISO 11940 for Thai.

People unfamiliar with Wade-Giles often ignore the apostrophes, even so far as leaving them out when copying texts, unaware that they represent vital information. Hanyu Pinyin addresses this issue by employing the Latin letters customarily used for voiced stops, unneeded in Mandarin, to represent the unaspirated stops: b, p, d, t, g, k, j, q, zh, ch.

Partly because of the popular omission of the apostrophe, the four sounds represented in Hanyu Pinyin by j, q, zh, and ch all become ch in many literature and personal names. However, were the diacritics to be kept, the system reveals a symmetry that leaves no overlap:

  • The non-retroflex ch (Pinyin j) and ch' (Pinyin q) are always before either i or ü.
  • The retroflex ch (Pinyin zh) and ch' (Pinyin ch) are always before a, e, ih, o, or u.

Furthermore, Wade uses lo for three distinct sounds (le, luo, and lo in Pinyin); jo for two (re and ruo); and no for two (ne and nuo).

One sound-multiple symbols

In addition to several sounds presented using the same letter(s), sometimes, one single sound is represented using several sets of letters. There exists two versions of Wade-Giles Romanizations for each of the Pinyin syllables zi, ci, and si.

  • The older version writes tsû, ts'û, and ssû
  • The newer version writes:
    • tzu for tsû, but it still remains ts- before other vowels, as in tsung for the Pinyin zong.
    • tz'u for ts'û, but remains ts'- before other vowels.
    • szu or ssu for ssû, but is s- before other vowels. Note, not ss-.

Precision with empty rime

On the other hand, Wade-Giles shows precisions not found in other major Romanizations in regard to the rendering of the two types of empty rimes (Simplified Chinese: 空韵; Traditional Chinese: 空韻; pinyin: kōngyùn):

  • -u (formerly û) after the sibilant tz, tz', and s (Pinyin z, c, and s).
  • -ih after the retroflex ch, ch', sh, and j (Pinyin zh, ch, sh, and r).

These empty rimes are all written as -i in Hanyu Pinyin (hence undistinguishable from true i as in li), and all written as -ih in Tongyong Pinyin. Zhuyin, as a non-Romanization, does not require the representation of any empty rime.

Partial interchangeability of uo and e with o

What is pronounced as a close-mid back unrounded vowel is written usually as -e as in pinyin, but sometimes as -o. This vowel in an isolate syllable is written as o or ê. When placed in a syllable, it is e; except when preceded by k, k', and h, when it is o.

What is actually pronounced as -uo is virtually always written as -o in Wade-Giles, except shuo and the three syllables of kuo, k'uo, and huo, which already have the counterparts of ko, k'o, and ho that represent pinyin ge, ke, and he.


In addition to the apostrophes used for distinguishing the multiple sounds of a single Latin symbol, Wade-Giles uses hyphens to separate all syllables within a word, whereas Pinyin only uses apostrophes to separate ambiguous syllables. Originally in his dictionary, Giles used left apostrophes () consistently. Such orientation was followed in Sinological works until the 1950s or 60s, when it started to be gradually replaced by right apostrophes () in academic literature. On-line publications almost invariably use the plain apostrophe ('). Apostrophes are completely ignored in Taiwanese passports, hence their absence in overseas Chinese names.

If the syllable is not the first in a word, its first letter is not capitalized, even if it is a proper noun. The use of apostrophes, hyphens, and capitalization is frequently not observed in placenames and personal names. For example, the majority of overseas Chinese of Taiwanese origin write their given names like "Tai Lun" or "Tai-Lun," whereas the Wade-Giles actually writes "Tai-lun." The capitalization issue arises partly because ROC passports indiscriminately capitalize all letters of the holder's names (beside the photograph). It is also due to the misunderstanding that the second syllable is a middle name. (See also Chinese name)

Wade-Giles uses superscript numbers to indicate tone, and official Pinyin uses diacritics. The tone marks are ignored except in textbooks.

Comparison with Pinyin

  • Wade-Giles chose the French-like j to represent a Northerner's pronunciation of what now is represented as r in Pinyin.
  • Ü always has a diaresis above, while Pinyin only employs it in the cases of and , while leaving it out in -ue, ju-, qu-, xu-, -uan and yu- as a simplification because u cannot otherwise appear in those positions. Because (as in 玉 "jade") must have a diaresis in Wade, the diaresis-less yu in Wade-Giles is freed up for what corresponds to you (有) in Pinyin.
  • The Pinyin vowel cluster ong is ung in Wade-Giles. (Compare Kung Fu to Gong Fu as an example.)
  • After a consonant, both the Wade-Giles and Pinyin vowel cluster uei is written ui. Furthermore, both Romanizations use iu and un instead of the complete syllables: iou and uen.
  • Single i is never preceded by y, as in pinyin. The only exception is in placenames, which are hyphenless, so without a y, syllable ambiguity could arise.
  • The isolated syllable eh is written as ê, like in Pinyin. (Schwa is occasionally written as ê as well.) But unlike Pinyin, which uses -e if there is a consonant preceding the sound, Wade-Giles uses -eh. (See circumflex)
  • In addition to being the schwa, ê also represents the Pinyin er as êrh.

Comparison chart

Vowels a, e, o, i
IPA ɑ ɔ ɤ ɑʊ ɤʊ an ən ɑŋ ɤŋ ɑɻ ʊŋ i iɤʊ iɛn ɪn ɪŋ
Pinyin a o e ai ei ao ou an en ang eng er ong yi ye you yan yin ying
Tongyong Pinyin a o e ai ei ao ou an en ang eng er ong yi ye you yan yin ying
Wade-Giles a o o/ê ai ei ao ou an ên ang êng êrh ung i yeh yu yen yin ying
Zhuyin ㄨㄥ ㄧㄝ ㄧㄡ ㄧㄢ ㄧㄣ ㄧㄥ
Vowels u, y
IPA u ueɪ uan uən uʊn uɤŋ uʊŋ y yɛn yn iʊŋ
Pinyin wu wo wei wan wen weng yu yue yuan yun yong
Tongyong Pinyin wu wo wei wan wun wong yu yue yuan yun yong
Wade-Giles wu wo wei wan wên wêng yüeh yüan yün yung
Zhuyin ㄨㄛ ㄨㄟ ㄨㄢ ㄨㄣ ㄨㄥ ㄩㄝ ㄩㄢ ㄩㄣ ㄩㄥ

Non-sibilant consonants
IPA p m fəŋ fʊŋ tiou tuei ny ly kəɻ
Pinyin b p m feng diu dui t ger k he
Tongyong Pinyin b p m fong diou duei t nyu lyu ger k he
Wade-Giles p p' m fêng tiu tui t' kêrh k' ho
Zhuyin ㄈㄥ ㄉㄧㄡ ㄉㄨㄟ ㄋㄩ ㄌㄩ ㄍㄜㄦ ㄏㄜ
example 歌儿
Sibilant consonants
IPA tɕiɛn tɕyʊŋ tɕʰɪn ɕyɛn ʈʂə ʈʂɚ ʈʂʰə ʈʂʰɚ ʂə ʂɚ ʐə ʐɚ tsə tsuɔ tsɨ tsʰə tsʰɨ
Pinyin jian jiong qin xuan zhe zhi che chi she shi re ri ze zuo zi ce ci se si
Tongyong Pinyin jian jyong cin syuan jhe jhih che chih she shih re rih ze zuo zih ce cih se sih
Wade-Giles chien chiung ch'in hsüan chê chih ch'ê ch'ih shê shih jih tsê tso tzŭ ts'ê tz'ŭ szŭ
Zhuyin ㄐㄧㄢ ㄐㄩㄥ ㄑㄧㄣ ㄒㄩㄢ ㄓㄜ ㄔㄜ ㄕㄜ ㄖㄜ ㄗㄜ ㄗㄨㄛ ㄘㄜ ㄙㄜ
IPA ma˥˥ ma˧˥ ma˨˩˦ ma˥˩ ma
Pinyin ma
Tongyong Pinyin ma
Wade-Giles ma1 ma2 ma3 ma4 ma0
Zhuyin ㄇㄚ ㄇㄚˊ ㄇㄚˇ ㄇㄚˋ ㄇㄚ・
example (traditional/simplfied) 媽/妈 麻/麻 馬/马 罵/骂 嗎/吗

Note: In Hanyu Pinyin the so-called fifth accent (neutral accent) is written leaving the syllable with no diacritic mark at all. In Tong-yong Pin-Yin a ring is written over the vowel instead.


Chinese Postal Map Romanization is based on Wade-Giles, but incorporating a number of exceptions that override the systematic rules.

See also

  • Simplified Wade
  • Cyrillization of Chinese from Wade-Giles
  • Daoism-Taoism Romanization issue
  • Legge romanization


  1. Krieger, Larry S. and Kenneth Neill, Dr. Edward Reynolds (1997). "ch. 4", World History; Perspectives on the Past. Illinois: D.C. Heath and Company, p. 82. ISBN 0669405337. “This book uses the traditional system for writing Chinese names, sometimes called the Wade-Giles system. This system is used in many standard reference books and in all books on China published before 1979.” 
  2. Chinese Language Transliteration Systems—Wade-Giles. UCLA film and television archive. Retrieved August 4, 2007. (Web archive)

External links

All links retrieved May 3, 2023.


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