By Kevin Stoda, Taiwan
I teach at Chung Shan Junior High School here on Beigan Island one day each week. I had had trouble remembering the name for several weeks. Today, I realized one reason why this is the case. This reason is that the name Chung Shan, the founding father of modern republicanism in China has had his name transcribed using a variety of transcription methods. However, in the West, his name is written in most western textbooks and history books as Sun-Yatsen.
I believe that this is difference in spelling and pronunciation of a very very popular Chinese name (and historical personage) is simply because the translation methods in the West at the turn of the 20th Century are no longer similar to what they commonly are now. In addition, some Chinese regions, such as Taiwan, cling to a variety of transcription methods, rather than the more popular, Hanyu Pinyin, method (adopted in the mid-20th Century in mainland China.)
This problem in transcribing modern Chinese can be seen as the rough equivalent to a modern Western Reader being given dozens of spelling differences (depending on region, countries, and township or local preference) to state the same thing, place, or name.
The best example I have of this in USA-English transcriptions is the town of Rolla (in Missouri) and the city of Raleigh, North Carolina. The pronunciation is essentially the same for both places. However, the spellings are quite different. Similarly, the city of Worcester in England is sometimes spelled in different settings the way it is pronounced: Wooster--as in Wooster, Ohio. (In the England, Worcester is always pronounced the same manner as is the name of the city in Ohio.)
CHINESE LANGUAGE TRANSCRIPTION
China had no standard transcription system until the late 19th and the 20th centuries. Finally, western Christian missionaries began to work on this issue in doing translations approximately two centuries ago. This is one reason why "[t]he second-most common [R]omanization system [for the Chinese languages], the Wade-Giles, was invented by Thomas Wade in 1859 and [later] modified by Herbert Giles in 1892. As this system approximates the phonology of Mandarin Chinese into English consonants and vowels, i.e. it is an Anglicization, it may be particularly helpful for beginner Chinese speakers of an English-speaking background. [Over the subsequent century,]Wade-Giles was found in academic use in the United States, particularly before the 1980s, and until recently was widely used in Taiwan."
According to one Wikipedia author, "Today the most common romanization standard for Standard Mandarin is Hanyu Pinyin, often known simply as pinyin, [was] introduced in 1956 by the People's Republic of China, and later adopted by Singapore and Taiwan." Wikipedia claims that "Pinyin is almost universally employed now for teaching standard spoken Chinese in schools and universities across America, Australia and Europe. Chinese parents also use Pinyin to teach their children the sounds and tones of new words." However, in Taiwan a great variety of transcription methods are actually quite evident to me--and my fellow teachers at Chung Shan Junior High School.