Peking Opera or Jingju?
A Chinese friend of mine told me that the Chinese government is considering making it mandatory for English publications in China to refer to Peking Opera as Jingju (the pinyin version of the Chinese word). The reason stated: to avoid confusion. Wow, irony.
bodaweiJune 20, 2011, 01:51 AM
Yeah, I know what you mean xiaophil - it will certainly confuse a lot of people...
But I do agree with getting rid of the word Peking in Peking Opera, it reminds you of a bad era when foreigners decided how Chinese place names should be pronounced. It will live on as PEK for Beijing used by the airline industry, that should be enough.
Hey, aren't you being a bit harsh? The "Peking" transcription may indeed have come from a "bad" era in your book, but the "P" in that transcription came from the Wade Giles convention in which "P" was a soft unaspirated and unvoiced "P sound", and " P' " was for the aspirated "P sound", for which the official modern pinyin equivalents are "P" and "B". So the variance in that component merely comes from the transcription convention. The "-king" component was because that's how it is pronounced (correctly) in many of the southern dialects (as in Nanking, Chungking etc). You could argue that at least we could have been more consistent in English using a name that was as close to how the residents of the city pronounced it, and that would be fair. But then in English we still say "Munich", "Moscow", "Vienna" , and we sound the "s" in "Paris". I think our track record in general for Asian place names is even worse. In that context "Peking" doesn't count so much as a miss, much less a miss typifying a "bad era".
In addition to what sclim said above (which I agree with), I want to point out that the English names that were chosen for many Chinese whatnots were chosen so that they made sense to people who speak English. The Chinese do this too! In what sense does 德国 sound anything like Germany? If the Chinese government really wants to be fair with proper names, it should do the same for perhaps millions of foreign proper names that they pronounce incorrectly.
It is also annoying that they think they can tell us how to speak English. We don't tell them which words, which spellings, which system, or whatnot while communicating in Chinese. It's just insane that some official would decide to push on us their Chinese words when the original English words, whether Beijing Opera or Peking Opera, are sensible translations of the original.
Lastly, using Jingju requires one to be familiar with the pinyin pronunciation system, which most native English speakers are not.
'but the "P" in that transcription came from the Wade Giles convention in which "P" was a soft unaspirated and unvoiced "P sound", and " P' " was for the aspirated "P sound", for which the official modern pinyin equivalents are "P" and "B". So the variance in that component merely comes from the transcription convention. The "-king" component was because that's how it is pronounced (correctly) in many of the southern dialects (as in Nanking, Chungking etc). '
You've got way too much education sclim!! It probably should not worry you that your message makes no sense at all to me. :) Despite support from xiaophil above - I respect both of you but you have to stay in the real world, we'd be lonely without you.
If there was any value at all in what you say, we'd all still be using Wade-Giles wouldn't we (actually, maybe we are; Wade-Giles is just terribly misunderstood)? And pronunciations (correct or otherwise) from many of the southern dialects. I reckon we should all use Kunminghua.
Anyway - thanks for your input. I remain a proponent of 'jingju' - and I have always been embarrassed by 'Peking' and will be happy to see it confined to museums in future.
I know this conversation seemed dried up, but I wish to understand your thinking here if you have the time.
I don't see why Peking Opera or Beijing Opera could be bad. It is a direct translation of the Chinese word. (京 = Bei'jing', and 剧 = opera, or at least some kind of performance.) It seems quite sensible to me, and more importantly intelligible to native English speakers, i.e. to my mother, Jingju is a meaningless utterance, while Beijing Opera makes sense. Furthermore, doesn't it seem just as likely that a Chinese person came up with the name Peking Opera?
I'm not trying to debate you really; I just don't get your position. I know it is of no material importance, but call it a pet peeve of mine when a foreigner tells me how I should speak my language.
My pet peeve is almost exactly the opposite - hence our differences on this point. :)
I grew up listening to Australian media mangling the language in Papua New Guinea - incorrect pronunciations were enshrined in the 'style guide' for the Australian Broadcasting Commission as it was then. I always thought 'how disrespectful, ignorant, arrogant,..' etc. I could have added 'unnecessary' because the language there is very easy for foreigners to pronounce; there are no tricks. This arrogance in respect of the language fitted well with our colonial endeavours in that country .. we just didn't care enough about how the native language sounded.
So all of this left a scar.
Then after I became interested in China and Chinese I bemoaned the lack of effort by Australians to even get close to the correct pronunciation of Chinese names, even by professionals (eg. teachers, but also journalists) who needed to communicate on a daily basis. Chinese is more of a challenge than the Melanesian languages, but we have also come a long way I thought in learning to respect other people's cultures.
We have made an effort with aboriginal words - in the 1970s there was a comprehensive re-write of place names so that the 'pinyin' now more closely reflects how the words are pronounced. Something similar happened in India and other countries. In China the Wade-Giles system was superceded by pinyin. (Sclim may be right, I don't understand the argument, but if as a foreigner in China you follow the Wade-Giles system you will not be understood by native speakers, that is the practical end of the argument for the majority of people.) Now there are some exceptions - words like Peking and Canton (and mah-jong and Taichi for that matter) have become English words, and yes your mother would understand Peking Opera and not understand 京剧 jingju. But I don't think that it is too much of a stretch to use the more correct word (in the same way that I welcome the respect now given to aboriginal languages in Australia and would welcome a few journalists learning how to say famous Chinese names so that they would be understood and appreciated by the Chinese people), and translate it where necessary for native English speakers.
Hope this goes some way towards explaining my response at the top.
Interesting debate. I agree that it would be nice to all have accurate pronunciations of foreign place names, pronouns and the like, but I wouldn't be too critical of where the result falls short. Consider that English has something like 47 sounds and there are 138 sounds in the international phonetic alphabet [not to mention tones etc]....this means that monolingual English speakers are familiar with pronouncing less that half of the sounds there are in the worlds languages, let alone understanding how these are represented in written form. Don't forget how long it takes learners here to learn to pronounce a difficult language like Chinese well even with an excellent programme like CPod's pinyin programme, and here we have a special interest. I think sclim's point above was a good one too and worth trying to grasp. One of the big problems with the Wade Giles system was that it wasn't intuitive...you had to know how it worked. The crux here is the importance of the apostrophe. The apostrophe represents that the sound is aspirated. You need to think about the action your vocal organs use to make these sounds.
sorry, I had to suddenly attend to something and didn't want to lose what I had typed, so posted it.
where was I?
...The crux here is the importance of the apostrophe. The apostrophe represents that the sound is aspirated. You need to think about the action your vocal organs use to make these sounds. P and B are made with a similar action....both have the lips coming together..but B isn't aspirated...it doesn't release a little jet of air, and also it is voiced [the vocal cords are vibrating]. So basically in Wade Giles a plain P with no apostrophe was a B. But most people didn't realise this and so we had it pronounced by most as a P [in Wade giles it was P with an apostrophe that was pronounced how we'd pronounce a P]. So the problem was the system was not intuitive or well understood. Also, don't forget in those days they didn't have the same resources we do now. Anyhow, I agree it's always nice to try one's best, but I wouldn't jump to the conclusion that disrespect is involved when folk don't manage to make a perfect job of it.
I never knew this (and I appreciate your efforts to explain it so clearly), but even if Wade-Giles is a highly sophisticated and accurate pronunciation guide, and its only flaw is the highly technical style of notation which is a little inaccessible to ordinary people, it doesn't really change my point does it? Why wasn't Peking written with an apostrophe etc.? Or was it? So the 'e' was actually 'ei' as well? Interesting. The result was general lack of communication, right? Not just about Beijing. But no-one did anything about it for many years? A number of questions about this remain to be answered, in my mind at least. But I will look at Wade-Giles in a different light, thanks. As an aside, have you ever come across anyone at all who uses the Wade-Giles system with accurate results? I am thinking of older people I have met who say the names of Chinese cities with the 'old' pronunciation .. it seems to me that even if Wade-Giles is flawless in a technical sense it is/was still a spectacular failure in doing its job as a pronunciation guide.
Actually I am far from convinced that everyone's intentions with language are actually pure and that there is no disrespect involved. I see evidence around me even now, so perhaps in that respect I was wrong to say it was a 'bad era'; (and as I say I grew up with it.) The 'George Bush' pronunciation of Iraq and the politics around that is a kind of case in point - of course he had an army of advisers ready to coach him in pronunciation but he had good reasons to persist with a jarring mispronunciation. I had an Iraqi classmate in the past and I asked him: 'so how DO you pronounce Iraq?'; the american administration and the media had given me cause to wonder.
The "pronunciation" in Wade-Giles if done as intended would have been exactly the same as the "pronunciation" in Pinyin, if done as intended. That is to say, W-G and P-y are merely TRANSCRIPTION METHODS of representing well spoken Putonghua in a consistent and non-ambiguous way using Latin alphabet letters, and attempting to minimize the number of letters needed, and as few other non-letters (diacritics and apostrophes and such) as possible. To this end they both succeeded, more or less, with W-G failing to avoid a lot of apostrophes, and P-y being a little inconsistent in sound values differing depending where the letter is used. The problem comes only when non-trained people try to read the letters (of W-G or P-y), applying the sound rules of their own native languages. For English speakers, the problem is compounded by the fact that many sounds in Putonghua don't exist at all in English. (But the reverse often happens: many native Putonghua speakers have learnt Pinyin, and when they attempt English they attach Pinyin (un-English) values to letters transcribing English words). Babardwan, it's true that the W-G apostrophe (e.g. P'ing for P-y ping) was a distraction for many people, who were confused by having to think about pronouncing something that in another context they would have no problem with. But the P' in P'ing 平 (W-G) is the same as the P in Ping 平 (P-y), which is the same as the P in Pencil (English), except, in the Southern Hemisphere, where often less aspiration is used, particularly in South Africa, where, to my ear it is not aspirated at all, and the P in Pencil almost sounds like the Pinyin B, or the Wade-Giles P, which is probably why W-G used P for that sound. If a South African says the English word Ping, to me it is like he is saying Bing in Putonghua (ice). And Bodawei, without disputing your point, "Peking" actually isn't Wade-Giles it would have been Peiching; the frequently referenced Wade-Giles name was actually Peip'ing (北平) which is what 北京 was called in those days.
This discussion about Peking Opera is relevant and interesting, but I think it is important to remember Beijing Opera would be out too. It seems to me that 京剧 has a clear meaning that is instantly recognizable to any literate Chinese. It's not like a name such as Amy that most of us have no idea what it means. Now it seems to me if 京剧 is translated as Jingju, it loses all meaning to most native English speakers, a problem pinyin based Beijing Opera doesn't have. I don't see how it is respectful to take a translation that is descriptive, not to mention established, and replace it with a word that sounds meaningless to the average speaker does justice to Chinese culture.
Sorry to belabour this thread, but I just reread your post and noticed a point that I missed in my first rapid scan. You had made a string of excellent points, but there was a comment at the end I cannot agree with. The 'b" English is indeed aspirated. But the "b" in Pinyin notation is meant to represent the unaspirated unvoiced bilabial plosive initial consonant of Putonghua speech, so it ISN'T VOICED (no vibration of vocal chords), or more exactly, isn't voiced when a native Putonghua speaker pronounces it, and this is the standard that we students are trying to emulate. As it turns out, the VOICED UNASPIRATED bilabial initial consonant (English pronounced "b") doesn't exist in Putonghua speech, so when it is inadvertently introduced it sounds foreign in Putonghua. Unfortunately, this often occurs when native English speakers (and, presumably, other European language speakers) learn Pinyin and apply English pronunciation rules to the Pinyin letters as they are attempting to pronounce Chinese words.
It is often stated that this sound (the unaspirated unvoiced bilabial consonant represented by Pinyin "b") doesn't exist in English, but that isn't exactly true. In the English words "purple" and "purpose", the first "p" is aspirated (puff of air released from sudden relaxation of pursed lips). The second "p" is NOT aspirated, neither is it voiced (being an English "p" not a "b"). This second "p" is exactly the Chinese sound represented by the Pinyin "b" (or Wade-Giles "p"). We English speakers make that sound all the time as a "p" buried in the middle of a word, although we don't usually pay attention to it, so in theory it should be easy to capture that sound and splice it to the front of a syllable when necessary, but it appears the English instinct is to see or visualize the letter "b" as part of the Pinyin word, and to voice the consonant English-style. (If we were to voice the second syllables in the English words mentioned it would be obvious and jarringly different to ourselves as well as to other English speaking listeners --"purble" and "purbose".)
As it turns out, as I mentioned earlier, South Africans don't seem to have a problem making that consonant sound at the beginning of a syllable in English, but whether or not they are fooled into voicing the consonant by the "b" notation in Pinyin I don't know.
The inappropriate voicing of the Pinyin consonants "g", "j", "d" and "z" (and the long "buzzing" of "z" -- I forget what the phonetic term is) are similarly evoked problems caused by applying English consonant pronunciation rules to Pinyin transcribed Putonghua words.
So I would beg to differ, bababardwan, that Pinyin is intuitive (and Wade-Giles is not). Sure Wade-Giles has obvious apostrophes and diacritics and circumflexes that brand it as obviously wierd and non-English. But the absence of wierdness in Pinyin is deceptive, and not necessarily "intuitive", at least not in the way I understand intuitiveness. "Bing" in Pinyin doesn't look wierd, so intuitively one pronounces that transcription the same way as one would read the English word. And one would be wrong, if we were trying to pronounce the Putonghua Chinese word. I would agree that Pinyin is economical of letters, all the letters are found on the normal keyboard and font set and there is no need to hit the shift key (at least till you get to tones- but that's another matter). But "intuitive" implies a whole lot of phonetic facility that is automatically transferred by the acquisition of Pinyin usage versus Wade-Giles, and that ain't necessarily so, I would think.
Outsiders always decide on foreign place names for their own language, all over the world, all throughout history. If English speakers want to call the capital of China "Peking" that's their own business because it's their own language. I mean look at how the Chinese give Chinese names to western cities. Should we get upset about Chinese cultural imperialism now too?
Post-colonial guilt is uninteresting. Three cheers for Ceylon, Burma and Peking!
Hi everett - thanks for your input. Actually we have got a fair way off topic - I was not objecting to what foreigners call things in their own countries or between themselves. This is actually about the right of the Chinese to determine place names or nouns within their own borders. Actually I kind of agree it is a pointless debate in the sense that they have a sovereign right to call things what they like. I don't know whether 'post-colonial guilt is uninteresting' - quite a few people here have commented. It is interesting to me because I grew up as a colonial in a foreign culture.
The sad thing is, and I feel bad about this, apparently the reason for this proposed change is because some professional Chinese 京剧 performers have received complaints after their performances that what they were performing was not 'opera', i.e. the foreigners were expecting Chinese people to perform Italian style opera. Well, I can see how this problem could arise, and I would hate to deal with these kinds of annoying, ignorant complaints, but still, and I could be wrong, I think most reasonably educated people know what Beijing Opera is, 中国通 or not.
Sorry for going way off topic and if the mods feel this should be deleted, feel free.
Hi bodawai, Of course I believe there are legitimate issues related to the legacy of colonialism. What I meant by "post colonial guilt is uninteresting" is just when trivial or unimportant issues are made points of contention. I think it cheapens the debate to consider the English (and Swedish) word "Peking" to be denigrating. So regardless of whether it's inside or outside the borders, I just don't respect the demands of governments that we should change the names we use for their countries in our languages. Governments shouldn't police language.
I don't mind if they just propose it. For instance "Sri Lanka" is a beautiful name and I like it and am happy that it has caught on. But there is nothing nasty or colonial or triumphalist about calling the country Ceylon. That's the English word for the country. These linguistic demands strike me rather as an expression of unsavoury nationalism, not as an attempt to promote understanding or reconciliation.
If the problem was as xiaophil wrote, that tourists get mad because 京剧 isn't "opera" then, same thing, newspapers shouldn't be forced to bow to stupidity and ignorance. I have nothing against newspapers writing Jingju if it's their own editorial decision. I'm just opposed to this kind of language politics in general. I dislike the French Academy's language policing just as much, for instance their saying that "flipper" should be called "billiard electronique". To me, that's just plain silly.
'flipper" should be called "billiard electronique". To me, that's just plain silly.'
Couldn't agree more - flipper is of course a bowling action made famous by Shane Warne (I think - my cricket isn't that strong). Or our American friends might think it means a party animal that lives in the sea and makes loud thwacking sounds.
And I see your point now about not liking the government regulating language .. I guess that I am about 八成 on the same page as you. I understand the argument that we are over-governed, but I see a role for government in righting injustices, giving powerless people a hand up, and removing discrimination. I just get a little uncomfortable with discussions about 'the government shouldn't do this and shouldn't do that', I just find myself looking for motivations, and asking 'who wins?' and 'who benefits?' And I got thwacked by an American last night who wanted Obama to regulate, with a bit of decent firepower, in China, to require the Chinese to speak English. To show us a bit of respect. And I wish I was joking. The second American in the space of weeks to stare at me and ask 'do you WANT China to take over Australia?' I had never thought that a possiblity say six weeks ago and now I am scrutinising every sentence that comes out of Wen Jiabao's mouth.
sclimJune 20, 2011, 06:25 AM
In answer to Xiaophil: To be fair, I only took issue with bodawei's association of old "Peking" name = bad era, bad attitude towards naming. It seems reasonable that if "Beijing" is the current official nomenclature (35 years seems long enough to ensure it should now replace the old terminology) then, for consistency's sake stop using "Peking" as the written form whenever it is feasible (I would imagine that IATA's PEK designation for the Beijing airport is cast in stone -- gives new meaning to the石 compnent in 代码!!). This makes common sense for the body of English speaking foreigners's trying to make sense of the culture, and makes for more clarity, even if it doesn't necessarily make their pronunciation better. But the "mandatory" use of "jingju" in foreign publications?? Wow. In jounalism clarity is paramount, so what would be the penalty if a journal gave a helpful explanation such as
"jingju (known in former times by foreigners as "Beijing Opera")..."
Maybe having to listen to it for hours?
Oh, by the way,德国 wasn't intended to sound like "Germany", which is only what Englanders call Deutschland. The德 is merely the closest approximation to "Deutsch". Yes, it isn't very close, but give them points for trying to make it sound like what the "Deutsch" 人民call their language.