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Chinese, Taiwanese Restaurants Drop 'Golden' and 'Dragon'-Take on Mandarin Names (npr.org)
62 points by pseudolus 17 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 68 comments

I can see the thinking behind the move -- embracing their identity -- but the thing with pinyin is that's not always intuitive for English speakers who've not learned it explicitly.

For instance, take the common New Year greeting 恭喜發財, romanized in pinyin as "Gong Xi Fa Cai". "Xi" in pinyin is pronounced somewhat like "she" in English, but someone who doesn't know will intuitively try to say "eks-ee" or "eks-eye" which is incomprehensible to a native Chinese. Likewise, "Cai" is like "tz" + "eye", but someone might try to say "Kai" as in the pronunciation of "Cairo".

Taiwan used to have an official Romanization system called MPSII. I wish they pushed it harder because it's a lot easier for non-Mandarin-speakers to get right.

• "Gong Xi Fa Cai" becomes "Gung Shi Fa Tsai"

• "Xiaomi" becomes "Shiau-mi"

• "Jiu" (pronounced like "Joe") becomes "Jiou"

• "Qu" (pronounced like "chew") becomes "Chu"

What...! This would have saved me so much pain trying to learn basic phrases a while ago. Looks like there is a converter, which is cool for next time:


Edit: Hmm, it didn't work when I tried it. Not sure if I chose the right source type.

That sounds brilliant for signage, but Pinyin is shorter and this better for digital input methods.

Most Taiwanese use bopomofo* for digital input, so it's not an issue :)

* https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Keyboard_layout_Zhuy...

As an aside, I know primary input methods are not built for foreigners, but it's getting hard to keep all of the input methods in my head. With Japanese at least it's really easy to just do dvorak -> romaji -> [conversion]; but when I have to type russian, I have to switch gears completely, since there is no relation between english and russian keymaps (even in terms of theory of operation, with alternating hands for isolated vowels and consonants). I guess I had to type more Chinese, I guess I could justify it better.

I'd like to think that there are better #1 priorities for a writing system than "as short as possible".

"Be as close to English pronunciation as possible"?

That works if your target audience is English speakers. However, the main consumer of pinyin is Chinese in China, where it's ubiquitous for glossing the readings of Chinese characters, either because some people can't read them, because some characters are obscure, or just for stylistic reasons.

Some thoughts on the topic: https://driftingclouds.net/2018/07/17/from-siberia-to-tibet-...

My (mainland) experience is that on cell phones younger people tend to use pinyin base keyboard input while older people tend to use character recognition software

pinyin is not romanization, it is a pronunciation system used to mark how character should be pronounced correctly. The objective is to have the 'correct' pronunciation, not to make it easier for westerner's to mimic the sound (which is actually the objective of romanization). I don't think we should compare these two systems.

For digital methods, a romanization-agnostic system called shuangpin is pretty optimal.

> "Jiu" (pronounced like "Joe")

Pronounced like "Jyoe", maybe. "Joe" would be the syllable "zhou".

Relying on better pronunciation of non-Chinese speakers as a form of romanization for Chinese speakers is not a good idea.

Does anyone remember when Beijing was Peking?

And I don't think Taiwan had an official romanization system, Wade giles seems more prevalent, and the road signs now are still a laughable mess.

Actually, Bei = Pe, in another form of romanization. "B" in Hanyu Pinyin is an unaspirated "p". In addition, "j" was indeed a "k"-like sound in the past. Mandarin Chinese underwent a linguistic process called palatalization, which softens "k"-like sounds; the same process has Italian pronounce "k" sounds as "tch", and, to a further extreme, has English and French pronounce them as "s".

Peking, the spelling, 'Pe', well 'Pek' with a glottal stop on the 'k' comes from Cantonese from over a century ago.

Maybe not a good idea in general, but it seems perfectly reasonable for naming your restaurant.

>And I don't think Taiwan had an official romanization system

They had a few but never used any of them consistently, hence the mess.

>Does anyone remember when Beijing was Peking?

The name Peking came from Cantonese.

That take forever to summarize. How about learn PinYin from the basic?

I just found this video on YouTube, can be a good start: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9XbQJPF817I&list=PLWXyZU_NJb...

This is similar to HK, Cantonese had a similar Romanization system as well, makes things trillion times easier for English Speaker to pronounce it.

No idea where did the Chinese Pinyin came from.

I always wondered why Romanization was done the way it was. Someone had the unprecedented opportunity to build a system from whole cloth where everything was pronounced just like it sounded, and completely fucked it up.

Only if you expect it to look like English spelling specifically?

If the benchmark instead is other European languages, pinyin seems reasonable. The mapping of Q is probably the most unexpected feature.

The goal of Pinyin was to be a pronunciation guide for Chinese people who have no preconceived ideas about what letters make what sounds. It works great for that. The problem is when foreigners try to pronounce Pinyin using their existing knowledge of the Latin alphabet. Inevitably they end up pronouncing "Xiaomi" as "Jow-me", etc!

I think this isn't giving Pinyin enough credit.

The biggest problem with English pronunciation, and the biggest reason everyone says English spelling is a mess, is the Great Vowel Shift: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Vowel_Shift

So when you're writing a sound in the Latin alphabet, you have two choices:

- spell it like English (the only language with spelling so confusing, spelling bees are a thing)

- or spell it like every other language (relatively consistent)

Pinyin... chose to be consistent, like every other language.

A lot of the other weirdness is based on other languages, too: for instance, "x" is pronounced "sh" is Portuguese as well.

I'm not saying saying use English vowels or anything like that, I just mean they could have used the letters in more standard ways like MPSII does.

By what "standard". Many pinyin pronunciations are close to standard for many European languages expect English. On top of that Mandarin has multiple similar sounds (in pinyin presented as "x", "sh", "j" and "q") that would force you to get a little more creative.

My understanding is Pinyin was created to improve literacy rates within China, not as a bridge to western languages.

I assume the parent is referring to the fact that letters are pronounced differently depending on the context. That said, unless the parent is a native speaker of spanish or esperanto, that doesn't seem like much of a problem. It's at least more consistent than english.

It's impossible to make a system like you're suggesting. When people try to create a "romanized" spelling of the words in their language, they almost always run into the problem of sounds that aren't part of the alphabet. To make it work, you have to do something like add accent marks, or create some special letter combinations.

The problem is that...English does not have all the phonemes from other languages, Romanization will never give you the complete correct pronunciation. As foreigner, you basically lost not only the way to pronounce alien phonemes, also lost the ability to hear it. You will map it to the closet phoneme in your own language, and think they are the same anyway.

There are several different Romanizations of Chinese and each one had different priorities.

I think it’s more than embracing identity but also moving away from the bland greasy spoon cheap fare type and moving to more sophisticated and upscale variety.

The compromise is to have Chinese characters reflecting one name and an unrelated and disconnected English name to appeal to both audiences.

Something like:


Vegan Chinese.

恭喜发财 (Gong Xi Fa Cai) was never a common greeting phrase in Mandarin speaking regions. It was more commonly used in Cantonese (thus it was more commonly written as Gong Hey Fat Choi).

In Mandarin speaking regions of China it's common to say 恭贺新禧 or 新春愉快 or simply 新年好.

In proper Mandarin pronunciation, "Xi" sounds more like the second syllable of "missy" not "she".

I don't know if you pronounce "missy" differently than I do, but I pronounced the second syllable "see".

And to me, Mandarin 'xi' sounds a lot more like "she" than "see".

You might not differentiate too well with "shi" and "si" pinyin in mandarin if you are not a native speaker. Or maybe you pronounce "she" differently. There shouldn't be a "sh" sound in "xi".

I'm a native speaker; my first language was Mandarin.

On the other hand, I'm a Southerner, so I don't usually distinguish between "sh" and "s" sounds. I can do the 卷舌 thing, though, well enough that Northerners tell me I'm doing it right, and I don't think either Pinyin "shi" or Pinyin "si" sound anything like English "she". And while I don't think Pinyin "xi" sounds exactly like English "she", I think it sounds pretty close.

... in the vernacular. Proper pronunciation is more like “she”.

This is an issue lost on most native speakers of mandarin, and it’s hard as hell to teach to learners.

pinyin —> proper sound —-> actual sound

xi —> she —> see

si —> suh —> suh

shi —> shuh —> suh

chi —> chuh —> tsuh

ci —> tsuh —> tsuh

There are more, but I’m too many beers in now to remember.

The best test is to ask someone how to say 四十四是四十四 (44 is 44). It’s a good test for tones. This is properly something like /shuh suh shuh shuh shuh suh shuh/. In vernacular, this usually becomes something like /suh suh suh suh suh suh suh/ with tones being the only hint at different words.

Chinese is fun.

In standard Beijing Mandarin pronunciation? If you have a dialect then you might have stronger "sh" sound when trying to pronounce "si" "ci" "zi" "xi", so it's hard do differentiate between "si" and "shi", "ci" and "chi" or "zi" and "zhi". 四是四,十是十,十四是十四,四十是四十。

I humbly suggest that Beijing Mandarin pronunciation is not “standard” putonghua — otherwise, mostly of these sounds would end with a retroflex /r/.

I forget the details now, but “standard” putonghua has two variants, and each variant revolves around Jiangsu province (something like north and south?). Anyway, Beijing people think that they speak the “standard”. People educated in linguistics know better.

I beg to differ. Read here: "Its pronunciation is based on the Beijing dialect, its vocabulary on the Mandarin dialects, and its grammar is based on written vernacular Chinese."


No, just give up trying to find that sound in English, it basically does not exist. Apparently Cantonese is a lot easier for English speaker to learn, they don't have these special phonemes.

As a native Chinese, I can say with confidence that Xi sounds closer to "she" than "see".

Most of the ideas listed in the article seem quite unlikely to me. I very much doubt that the 53k people studying Mandarin have anything to do with it, for instance, or that it makes us "ready to engage mainland China" (lol, what?).

It may be more interesting to compare with other ethnic cuisines. Foreign language names for restaurants have been very common for years, including for other Asian cuisines (e.g. Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean). When you look at it that way, the Chinese restaurant scene actually seems to be a late arrival to this trend.

I think this represents a deliberate break in branding with the previous Chinese restaurant tradition. Maybe it's to signify a difference in cuisine (authentic Chinese vs. American Chinese?). Or an ethnic difference (like the article mentions, more Northern Chinese who speak Mandarin, vs. the old immigrants who spoke Cantonese or Taishanese).

Or perhaps younger restaurateurs actually have a more "American" ear, and now feel that names like "Golden Dragon" sound kind of goofy. In the article, Mr. Huang actually says that he looked at names like "Sauce" or "Hearth" first, which are typical trendy names of the moment for an American restaurant. So, paradoxically, the use of Chinese names may actually be due to the owners being more Americanized.

I'd like to see more Chinese restaurants offering more authentic dishes. Sure most strip mall Chinese places need to have the American Chinese food staples because people expect it, but I think they might also have some success putting a few of the off-menu authentic Chinese dishes on the menu.

Strongly agreed. I once went to a sichuan restaurant with a Chinese friend and he asked for the "secret" menu. He ordered a bunch of things I'd never expected to try before, like spicy pan-fried pork intestines.

It was incredible food. Literally the best I'd ever had. I made a habit of bringing American friends to this restaurant all the time, asking for the secret menu, and ordering things at random (because I couldn't read anything). Never was anybody disappointed and it became a weekly thing to go back and try new food.

The food was so good that it led to me going to China just to try even more authentic Chinese food.

I think there's this idea that Americans are afraid to try authentic foreign cuisine, but at least with millennials, I think it's the opposite. We grew up with TV shows about people eating "weird" food. We want to discover new things.

Not sure where you are. But in Bay area, American Chinese cuisine and authentic Chinese cuisine are different genres. As a Chinese I never go to the former unless I have to.

Better to ask your Chinese colleagues for suggestion.

“American Chinese” food was invented primarily in the Bay Area, so it makes sense that it’s so common there.

Chinese (and Chinese-descended) people lived in California in large numbers before any other part of the US - since the 19th century.

I like both as a Chinese. Especially if the American Chinese dish is something invented in the US, not a bad version of a Chinese dish. If they are basically a bad copy of a Chinese dish, you would actually judge it differently than just a dish, because you would compare it to how it should taste like.

I know where the authentic Chinese food is, but it's a bit of a drive.

In the majority of the US there are no authentic Chinese restaurants, it's the restaurants in those places that I'm talking about.

Dim Sum in Chinatown is a revelation. Have the property values in SF destroyed Chinatown yet?

Go to the South Bay or the east Bay, that's where the new generation of Chinese work and live.

SF's China Town doesn't matter much now. Similar to LA's, where most good Chinese restaurants are outside Chinatown.

Thanks for the hints, I'll definitely check that out next time I visit.


I don't think there's anything wrong with Americanized cuisines in general (or cuisines adapted by immigrants in general). Tex-Mex, what we recognized as "Mexican Food" here is great and burritos from taco trucks can be amazing. But I would speculate that since Americanized Chinese food arrived so long ago, it took on the tastes of America from 60+ years ago; just bland, salty and fatty. So a new wave of authentic Chinese would be great. The problem with having Americanized Chinese food established is it's hard to change directions - the expectations of standard Chinese food is hard to fight. Trend-setters want a new cuisine and the fans of current "Chinese Food" want it as it is.

You can, either ask for the Chinese menu or ask if they have a certain dish (the Chinese name)

That's what I meant by off-menu. My point is that I think that offering more authentic dishes on the menu would go over well.

There was a Taiwanese-owned restaurant here in Minneapolis for many years called Evergreen, which is a _very_ Taiwanese name, just translated into English.

I have some friends who many years ago threatened to make a Chinese restaurant name generator. Take about 20 words and just pick a pair at random. Jade Dragon, Peking Pagoda, Dragon Palace, etc. It was funny because it would have worked.

Next up, drop “Best”, “Gourmet”, “Jade” snd “Garden”. Funny enough even in China and Taiwan you see “Golden” (Ex. Golden Bowl Soup) in restaurant names, though perhaps not the same frequency.

In China, some restaurant named after these words but those are really because the owners like the good meanings behind these words.

Actually these days people tend to not use these because they look pretty silly and antique.

I wonder if the common trend for Vietnamese restaursnts to have Vietnamese words in their names is as much about cultural pride as it is that there are so many possibilities for puns, e.g Pho Real, Pho King, Pho Keene Great, Un Pho Gettable, Bun Me.

If you’re interested in these sorts of topics - feast meets west is a great nerdy podcast about the Asian food scene in nyc http://feastmeetswest.com

I think the main reason is that foreign word went from being foreign to being fashionable. People love to use foreign word when talking about food because it makes them sound knowledgeable and well travelled.

https://instagram.com/mrchow is a good exanple of a restaurant without the dated golden dragon phoenix motif

I had the misfortune of eating here last week, with some colleagues visiting from mainland China at that, and unfortunately the food is Panda Express level crud. It's still very much American Chinese food for white people, just in flashy surroundings.


Seriously? Why did you redact pork intestines?

I don't have the slightest clue what you're talking about.

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