I studied Chinese at the Fu Jen University (輔仁大學) located in Hsinchuang (新莊). Prior to this, when I had been in Germany and needed to send my application forms to Taiwan, I didn’t have the ability to write the address in Chinese, this I used the English version „Fu Jen University in Hsinchuang“. Later in Chinese classes, I learned that the character „仁“ is transcribed „ren“ in the study book and not „jen“, and I also had to learn that the busses going from Taipei to Hsinchuang actually didn’t go to Hsinchuang or Xinzhuang as learned in class, but rather to Sinjhuang or Shinjuang, since these forms had been used. This chaotic Pinyin writing is very common in Taiwan and partly displays a highly inconsistent situation.
But why do I actually mention this over here? Well, because I’m a foreigner and Latin letters are something I’m used to since I was a small kid. Although I’m able to understand Chinese characters by now, when I have to choose between Chinese characters and Latin letters, I rather prefer the latter. However, in Taiwan, Latin letters not necessarily lead to a better understanding for foreigners. Some Taiwanese might probably think that foreigners coming to Taiwan shall adapt to the local way of life and culture, but if that’s the case, I don’t understand why the Pinyin writing is used at so many places. Furthermore, I also studied Zhuyin Fuhao (Bopomofo) at Chinese classes, but I can’t it find anywhere on the streets of Taiwan.
Why is this thing so complicated in Taiwan? Of course I know that political reasons play a role, but different from the question whether to use traditional or simplified characters, using Pinyin does not deal with some kind of cultural heritage. I can totally understand that people in Taiwan don’t want to use a writing system that was developed on the mainland, but not being able to decide for an alternative way of writing is also a wasted effort. The People’s Republic of China introduced Hanyu Pinyin in 1957 and basically didn’t change much since then. Besides Zhuyin Fuhao (Bopomofo), Taiwan used the Wade-Giles System (e.g. Hsinchuang), which was developed in England in the 19th century. From 1986 on, MPS II (e.g. Shinjuang) was used. From 2000 on, Tongyong Pinyin (e.g. Sinjhuang), and from 2009 on Hanyu Pinyin (e.g. Xinzhuang) leading to the fact that „新莊“ and „ㄒㄧㄣㄓㄨㄤ“ and „Hsinchuang“ and „Shinjuang“ and „Sinjhuang“ and „Xinzhuang“ all describe the same name. Wow, applause please!
The strange things is: „Practical Audio-Visual Chinese“ is the standard book for foreigners learning Chinese in Taiwan (I don’t know any foreigner who didn’t use this book for studying Chinese), however, this book uses traditional characters, Bopomofo, English and Hanyu Pinyin as Romanization system. But when I started to learn Chinese in 2004, no one used Hanyu Pinyin in Taiwan. Furthermore, many people in Taiwan are not able to write place names in Latin letters according the sound, since they learned Bopomofo at school. I think this kind of situation doesn’t meet Taiwan in the era of globalization and somehow makes me wonder whether I should laugh or cry about it.
Learning Pinyin is not that difficult. When I saw Bopomofo for the first time, I also thought that it will be very difficult to learn, however, I could write it without any problems after five days, just like small kids in Taiwan 😉 A standardized way of writing Pinyin is no sign of an upcoming unification with the mainland, but the expression of understanding the needs of foreigners in Taiwan as well as the intention to communicate with other countries.