Romanisation of Chinese names

Thomas Wade, who invented the basis of the Wade-Giles romanisation

Chinese languages and dialects use phonetic sounds and written characters unlike those used in Western languages. For Chinese words and names to be pronounced by non-Chinese speakers, they must be converted into a usable written form. This process is known as romanisation

Different European nations have developed their own systems of romanisation. Some forms of romanisation used in the 19th and 20th centuries include EFEO (developed in France for French-speakers), Lessing-Othmer (Germany) and Latinxua Sinwenz (Russia).


The most common form of romanisation used by English-speaking people was called Wade-Giles. The Wade-Giles system was developed and refined in the second half of the 19th century by Thomas Wade, a British diplomat and academic who specialised in China and Chinese languages. It was further refined by Herbert Giles, another British diplomat, in the early 1900s.

Wade-Giles spells Chinese words and names phonetically, using apostrophes and hyphens to indicate some of the complex ‘stop sounds’ present in Chinese languages. Until the mid 20th century, Wade-Giles was the most common system of romanisation in English-speaking countries like Britain, the United States and Australia.


A more recent system of romanisation is pinyin, developed in China itself during the late 1950s and revised several times since. In 1979, the Chinese government declared pinyin the official system of romanisation.

Unlike Wade-Giles, pinyin does not employ punctuation marks to show phonetic variations or stop sounds – however, the pronunciation of pinyin letters and letter-groups often differs from English. The pinyin form of Tzu-hsi, for instance, is Cixi – but this is pronounced “tsee-chee”, not “siks-see” or “kiks-see” as some English speakers might expect.

Because it is mandated by the Chinese government, pinyin is now considered the most appropriate or ‘politically correct’ form for English-speaking writers and students. On this website, almost all Chinese names and places are romanised using pinyin. A few Wade-Giles romanisations still in common use – such as “Mao Tse-tung”, “Chiang Kai-shek” and “Sun Yat-sen” – are sometimes included for reference.

The following table lays out pinyin and Wade-Giles romanisations for significant Chinese Revolution people, groups or terms, along with their English pronunciations:

People and groups

pinyin Wade-Giles pronunciation meaning
Qing Ch’ing ching Last imperial dynasty
Kung Fu Zi Confucius con-few-shus Philosopher
Cixi Tzu-Hsi tsee-chee Dowager Empress
Guangxu Kuang-hsu gwahn-shu Emperor 1875-1908
Puyi Pu-i pu-ee Emperor 1908-1912
Sun Yixian Sun Yat-sen sun-yat-sen Guomindang founder
Yuan Shikai Yuan Shih-kai wahn-shee-ky Early president
Wang Jingwei Wang Ching-wei wang-ching-way Guomindang leader 
Jiang Jieshi Chiang Kai-shek chee-ang-ky-shek Guomindang leader
Mao Zedong Mao Tse-tung mowt-say-toong CCP leader
Zhou Enlai Chou En-lai cho-on-lie CCP leader
Zhu De Chu Te ju-deh Red Army leader
Liu Shaoqi Liu Shao-ch’i leesh-ow-chee CCP leader
Deng Xiaoping Teng Hsiao-p’ing deng-sheow-ping CCP leader
Lin Biao Lin Piao lin-pi-ow CCP leader
Jiang Qing Jiang Ch’ing jee-ahng-ching Mao’s fourth wife 
Tongmenghui Tung-meng Hui tong-men-hwee Early political group
Guomindang Kuomintang gwo-min-dahng Nationalist political party


pinyin Wade-Giles pronunciation meaning
Beijing Peking bay-shing Capital city of China
Nanjing Nanking nahn-jing Nationalist capital
Shanghai Shanghai shang-high Southern coastal city
Jiangxi Chiang-hsi, Kiangsi ji-ahng-shee Province, CCP soviet
Yan’an Yen-an yeh-nahn Post-1936 CCP soviet
Shaanxi Shensi shahn-see Northern province
Huangpu Whampoa hwang-pew GMD military academy
Guangzhou Canton gwahn-jo Yellow River
Sichuan Szu-ch’uan, Szechuan sitch-wahn Western province
Guangxi Kuang-hsi gwang-shee Southern province
Huang He Hwang-ho hwang-he Yellow River
Chang Jiang or Yangtze Ch’ang Jiang yung-tsee Major river
Xinhai Hsin-hai shin-high 1911 revolution

Citation information
Title: “Romanisation of Chinese names”
Authors: Glenn Kucha, Jennifer Llewellyn, Steve Thompson
Publisher: Alpha History
Date published: January 31, 2016
Date accessed: August 10, 2019
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