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Jul 22

Zhang Ziyi – What’s in a name?

Written by Buxi on Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008 at 5:49 am
Filed under:culture, General | Tags:, , ,
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Zhang Ziyi was recently interviewed on a Chinese TV network:

She said (in translation):

The first time I was the lead in an English-language film, I received some high praise. And especially as a Chinese person, I thought that was something to be proud of.

At the Cannes Film Festival, in front of all that media, then they call your name… And as a Chinese person, they then call you by your Chinese name… I was pretty emotional. I’ve never thought about changing my name, changing it to an English name. I’ve never thought about adopting an English name just to accommodate them.

My father and mother gave me my name. It’s mine, and if you want to remember me, you have to put some thought into how to pronounce it. It’s mine.

And before anyone takes pride in, or accuses Zhang Ziyi of being a hard-core Chinese nationalist… keep in mind she just got engaged to Israeli venture capitalist Vivi Nevo.

How do others, especially the (ethnic) Chinese, feel about this? Do you understand Zhang Ziyi’s feelings towards her name, or do you reject them? Did you or will you choose to go by an English name? Did you have one given to you by your parents?

And what will you do for your children, if they are born overseas? Will you give them only a Chinese name? Will you give them only an English name?


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88 Responses to “Zhang Ziyi – What’s in a name?”

  1. jen Says:

    an additional question: is it worse to have an English name or constantly have your name mispronounced?

  2. Nimrod Says:

    I can understand people going the way of convenience, but it’s like this… you have to get through the mispronunciation to get to the right pronunciation. People learn. Jose’s of the world don’t change their names because it might be mispronounced. Instead, people learned how it is properly pronounced.

  3. Wukailong Says:

    I’m happy she doesn’t choose an English name devoid of meaning, but keeps to her original name. Btw, my Swedish name is almost never pronounced correctly by foreigners, but I don’t adopt an English name just because of that.

  4. deltaeco Says:

    @Nimrod
    “Jose’s of the world don’t change their names because it might be mispronounced.”

    By the way, it is pronounced José.
    You must stress the last syllable. ;-p

  5. Chops Says:

    Not sure whether English nicknames are a recent phenomenon for mainland Chinese, but many overseas Chinese and those in Hong Kong have been adopting such names for a long time. Chinese Christians also use Christian names.

    However I believe such names are only used when conversing in a Western language, otherwise the Chinese name is still used.

  6. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Nimrod and deltaeco:
    “Jo-say” would be better than saying “Joe-sie”, but if you wanna go hard-core Spanish, it’s “Ho-say”.

    Better yet, there are guys named Jesus, but before you think they’re the second coming, it’s actually “Hay-Zeus”.

    Most people I know have an English name and an anglicized phonetic pronunciation of their Chinese given names. But even when speaking Chinese, we use our English names.

  7. S.K. Cheung Says:

    Having said that, i wonder what she’ll name her kids. Mine have English and Chinese names.

  8. Jane Says:

    I prefer English names because it is impossible to translate Chinese names properly into English. Besides, Pinying pretty much butchers Chinese names anyway.

    English and Chinese are too different, they sound different, they look different, they use different parts of the brain to process. More importantly, Chinese is also about how the characters look. There are so many homonyms in Chinese, you need to know what they look like to distinguish the words. Zhang Ziyi’s Zhang (章) is not the same as the more popular form of Zhang (張), although they have the same pronunciation. To me, my Chinese name is the name that’s properly written in Chinese. I do not consider the pinying version of my Chinese name my name at all.

    Oh yeah, if you are not a native English speaker but would like to give your kids English names, please consult a native speaker as to the appropriateness of an English name. So many Chinese parents give their kids the most ridiculous English names: Romeo, Webby, Shadow, Poony, to name a few, or English names that do not go with their Chinese surnames. Please have mercy on your kids!

  9. raffiaflower Says:

    Zhang Ziyi has a “difficult” reputation with the Hongkong paparazzi, but maybe that’s because she won’t be cowed by them the way most of their local celebs are.
    When I met her, she said that she was in Taiwan when news was announced that Beijing had been chosen to host the Olympics, and she had never felt so excited and proud of being Chinese.
    I was touched by her remark; someone sincere and humble about her feelings (though it was in her early CTHD days of fame) could not be as bad as what the HK snobs make out as being gauche and tasteless.
    She is only going to marry the man (maybe), not the entire race. It’s a personal choice.

  10. raffiaflower Says:

    As for her name, for her Memoirs of Geisha movie, and the promotional interviews, it was used as Ziyi Zhang, which some Chinese people found “disturbing”. But it was to avoid confusion probably among Westerners who do not understand the Chinese tradition of surname before name.
    The trend these days among some overseas-educated Chinese is to use it that way; some will also shorten it; for example, Wong Kean Long will use it as Kean Wong. Rather odd…

  11. Chops Says:

    Many Westerners don’t know that in Chinese names, the family name is the first name,
    whereas for Westerners, the family name is the last name.

    Westerners can also address someone who is not very close, using just their last name,
    whereas in Chinese, sometimes it’s not practical to call someone just by their surnames,
    since they are so common (see the Fedex ad, Mr Zhang).

  12. FOARP Says:

    @Raffiaflower – I think the majority of educated people here in the UK do know the name order used in eastern Asia, and if they don’t, pandering to their ignorance is hardly going to help them. To my mind Chinese names are designed to be said one way and sound very odd when said the other way round. Finally, people in the west have little difficulty remembering names like Mao Zedong, Hu Jintao, and Jiang Zemin. The Chinese Snooker champion Ding Junhui is also known by his full name.

  13. Joel Says:

    I like it when Chinese people are able to English-ize their Chinese name, rather than simply adopt an English name. For example, my first Asian boss (Taiwan) is called 明到,and in English (he has excellent English) he’s Mingdaw. Doing that helps carry over the person’s identity into the new language. Of course when English speakers say “Mingdaw” it doesn’t sound the same and Chinese speakers saying “明到” but at least there’s a connection.

    I also like it when, if people choose an English name, it doesn’t sound typical. “Star,” “Moon,” “Fragrance,” etc. are now almost cliche Chinglish names that ESL teachers discover on a regular basis, but I like those for two reasons: English speakers can use them no problem, but they still indicate something a little different, a little special, and to me that better expresses the Chinese person’s identity in English. Obviously this can easily be taken too far; it doesn’t help to choose a name that’s just going to make everyone in the foreign language laugh and feel sorry for you when they hear it. But why not let Chinese people have Chinese-y English names?

    It’s hard to really “own” your new name in a foreign language. I personally had a hard time choosing a Chinese name. How can you choose when you can’t feel the language and culture? You’re choosing blindfolded!

  14. Brendan Says:

    Wow, maybe one of the first things that’s ever made me think positively of Zhang Ziyi. I don’t have a Chinese name and don’t particularly want one. I have a string of characters that I use when I’m registering for something online and the site won’t allow me to use my real name, but in all interpersonal dealings, I use ‘Brendan O’Kane.’

    I don’t see why people feel the pressure to choose new names. Mispronunciation is slightly irritating, I suppose, but I grew up in South Philadelphia, so I’ll answer to pretty much any variation on ‘Brendan’ that there is.

  15. Joel Says:

    We felt we needed to choose Chinese names because our English names are inaccessible to the majority of Mainlanders, or at least require too much effort for most. And I think the same is true for most names going both ways across the Chinese-English language barrier. That said, i think the best 2nd-names have one foot on both sides of the language/culture barrier (see #13 above).

    Besides, learning to express yourself and relate in another language and culture is fascinating, i think.

  16. FOARP Says:

    I had a Chinese name that was simply a two-syllable transliteration of my own name which was also a name in Chinese, and was made up for me by a barmaid who found my name too difficult, but yeah, I much preferred it when people used my real name.

  17. Netizen Says:

    I like Zhang Ziyi because she speaks her mind. Who she marries? Who cares. As long as she makes good movies.

    Ziyi a nationalist? A hard-core? What a world have we come to! People can be evil for their own purpose but we should leave them being evil at their oblivion. Buxi, I don’t think this blog should help promugate this type of viciousness of these people.

  18. byte_me Says:

    I really applaud Ziyi for her stand. Why should we discard our Chinese names for the convenience of those with too short a tongue to pronounce it properly or those who are just too lazy to learn how to?

    However, I did go through a few English names in my teens :) But by the time I graduated and started working, I was quite adamant on using my Chinese name. Studying Chinese as a first language must have played a big part in my decision. This was also a time when history lessons in Singapore was mainly about the history in China, before the syllabus was later changed to cover more local history. So I was really into my Chinese heritage and all.

    However, I must be an anomaly because, I was surrounded by Celeste Lin, Katherine Tan, Cyril Seah, Herman Poon, Andrew Chan, Evelyn Tan, Juliana Xu, etc. This is how it is in Singapore, with a Chinese majority! My buddy’s got a beautiful Chinese name 光佑 but he’s never liked it, preferring Christopher instead. What can I say? My other buddy has altogether given up on a Chinese name for her daughter known as Josephine,

    Personally I find these guys loosing something really precious. English names are meaningless to the Chinese. They are merely names, without the aspirations and poetic beauty found in the Chinese name,

    My daughter has a Chinese name and she darn well knows what it means and is proud of it.

  19. Theo Says:

    Never understood why so many Chinese people take an English name. You never meet a “Benson Kobayashi” or “Twinkle Gupta” …

  20. Chops Says:

    Burma has become Myanmar.
    Peking has become Beijing.

    So far China has not changed it’s English name to “Zhong Guo” :-)

  21. chorasmian Says:

    Firstly, I think I should explain the traditional name system to people from other culture. Given Mao Zedong as a sample.

    Mao(毛) is his family name (姓), no need to explain.

    Ze (泽) is his generation name (辈分). All his brothers, cousins will have this character in their name. His younger brother is named 毛泽民. However, not every family has such tradition.

    Dong(东) is his own name (名)to identify him in the family. 名 is usually given by the father when the baby is 3 months old, representing the wish from the father.

    Runzhi(润之)is his Zi(字). 字 is used as a mark to declare the name bearer is educated. It is usually given when the boy is 20 years old, the meaning of which should relate to 名. In this case, Run(润)has the same meaning as ze(泽). Some say it should be given by the father, some say by the teacher, I don’t know which one is true though I think the latter saying is more likely.

    Ziren(子任)is his Hao(号). 号 is given by the name bearer himself and used as a personal character claim to express himself. When situation change in different stage of life time, it may change.

    San Ya Zi(三伢子)is his baby name (乳名). Because people believe if the name of little child sound too good, it may attract the attention of the devils and give bad luck. So many people have an awful baby name when he was a kid, but it will be abandoned after grow up. Only his parents can call this name. In this case, 三伢子means the third child.

    All these names are for the same person, they will be used in different situation when he grow up except his baby name. Zedong (泽东)is the name he used to call himself, Runzi(润之)is the name for others to call him. Ziren(子任)is the name he used to sign his works and personal collections.

    For better or worse, this tradition fade away and this system is simplified to only family name and given name (名) left nowadays. When traditionally I should have different names in different scenarios, why not have an English name for English speaking environment?

    Another reminder for foreigner in China. Unlike in western culture, name mispronunciations in Confucianism is not an insult, but incorrect writing is a severe insult. When writing a letter to someone using Chinese, you have better make sure the name is written correctly.

  22. zuiweng Says:

    @chorasmian
    Excellent summary.

    Tsai Chih-hao has done some statistics on frequency of Chinese family names (no big surprises) and given names:

    http://technology.chtsai.org/namefreq/

  23. maxiewawa Says:

    I have an English name, a Chinese name, a Japanese name a Korean name, a French name, a Russian name, and an online moniker. I usually go by a different name depending on what language, or if I’m online or not. What’s the big deal. I think she’s thinking too much about it.

  24. bianxiangbianqiao Says:

    American adults are perfectly capable of pronouncing Chinese names if they care.
    But if you have a small child going to school in America, he or she needs an English name. Despite the misperception of Americans being individualistic and “just being oneself”, conformity is mantra of American kids. You don’t want your child to be rejected for sticking out.
    My impression is Zhang Ziyi has far less support among Chinese than non-Chinese. Her main shortcoming is her birthplace, which is associated with lack of feminine grace (and brain) in South China. I heard she is treated with contempt in the south.

  25. FOARP Says:

    @BXBQ – On the other hand, if someone grows up using a certain name, they will most likely never use any other. A Chinese-American friend of mine has both a Chinese name and an English name, but cannot even write his Chinese name and does not answer to it. Many kids go by a nickname anyway, and I don’t think there is any great harm in letting the kid choose it. Far more usually the main problem that Chinese children face in western schools is the language barrier, only education can solve this.

  26. Hemul Says:

    What’s the big deal here? I don’t think she’s a rabid nationalist for not taking an English name. Zhang Ziyi is already a trademark in her own right. And no one has ever question the habit of many foreigners to take three-character names with Chinese surnames. Does that imply that they are “Sinicized”?

    @BXBQ

    American adults are perfectly capable of pronouncing Chinese names if they care.

    …and the point you’re trying to make is that they don’t care? It’s just as difficult for an adult to achieve a correct Chinese pronunciation as it is for a Chinese to learn to pronounce a European language. We should have respect for these difficulties. I guarantee you that the first “i”-sound in Ziyi is very hard for an American to imitate and the the distinction between Chang and Zhang is very difficult too.

  27. Joel Says:

    I agree with Hemul about bianxiangbianqiao’s comment (24):
    “American adults are perfectly capable of pronouncing Chinese names if they care.”
    The average American adult has no chance of properly pronouncing Chinese names. My wife and I know how hard it is to properly pronounce Chinese, let alone hear and remember people’s names that sound so different. Most of the time we just hope to get it close enough to be understood; we know our accents are thick. And we live here; studying Chinese is our job.

    And it goes both ways. Especially when native Chinese speakers try to say your English name, and your English name happens to be “Joel.” ;)

  28. Opersai Says:

    I did adopt a English name alone with my Chinese name, both are my legal name. I guess I don’t quiet feel the attachment to my Chinese name since it was changed from the name I was given at birth, first and last name. I don’t know, maybe I just got used to changing names.

    Let me ask a question, what if someone was never happy with their given name? Like a girl with a boyish name or vice versa? Or maybe they are given a name that’s easily made fun of or silly? Like example given by someone, Poony, Shadow, Romeo? Should he/she have the right to chose a name for him/herself?

  29. Opersai Says:

    @BXBQ
    ““American adults are perfectly capable of pronouncing Chinese names if they care.””

    Sorry, I have to disagree too. For most part, they can get it close, but for some sound, it’s almost impossible for some people, like most sounds start with “x”, “xie”, “xu”, “xiu”

    I’ve seen English speaker trying to pronounce “xiu” before, she tried sooooooooooooo hard, but she just couldn’t even pronounce it.

  30. Will Says:

    @BXBQ
    I am married to a Chinese woman, and my mother (an american adult) still can’t pronounce her name after a year of marriage. My mother has trouble with the syllable Liang (亮, in this case).
    She also speaks French with no American accent, I have been to France with her and on no occasion did anyone ever know where she was from.
    My mother is a language teacher: ESL, French, Spanish, Latin. She taught Chinese students English as they first came to America for many years. She tries very hard, but for some people it is not possible. We are talking about a woman who reads for pleasure in 2 foreign languages and speaks them without accent.

    I agree with Zhang Ziyi that people should try to pronounce whatever name the person addressed chooses. The English name has become a tradition in Chinese Schools, and I think it is particularly useful because usually foreign teachers do not speak any Chinese, so remembering 300+ Chinese names which change every semester is not really an option.

  31. yo Says:

    The pinyin system was NOT meant for non-chinese pronunciation, despite the fact they use roman characters. So letters like zh, ch or xu would be useless to say an American speaker.

    Having an English name for casual or legal purposes is a personal preference. People who keep their Chinese names risk having their names mispronounced. My suggestion would be, unless you have an “easy” name that could be remembered by say an American person (or where ever you are living), change it to match the local culture.

    I don’t know if anyone here has heard this joke, but it’s from an Indian comedian who said that Indians do the same thing.

    In America, my name is Apunahashapetalonashiloneae… you can call me… Steve
    Or in the Congo, my name is Apunahashapetalonashiloneae… you can call me… *bop bop click click snap*

  32. Buxi Says:

    I thought this topic might gather some interest. Just to clarify, I don’t think Zhang Ziyi is a “hard core Chinese nationalist”. But she clearly takes strong pride in her culture even while interacting regularly with “foreigners”… and that’s not something all Chinese do. I applaud her for it.

    My name falls into the category that no English-only-speaker will ever be able to pronounce or guess. So, that’s given me many a headache at times. I’ve been in many group events where I know they’re about to call me because the host has to stop and say: “Uh… I know I’m going to butcher this one…”

    I’ve picked a convenient English nickname, but not a “Christian” name, that makes it easier to talk over the phone. That’s about the only scenario where I think a Chinese name really doesn’t work… people are otherwise afraid to call me back, because they aren’t sure what my name is.

    But even with all these difficulties, I have the same attachment with my given name that Zhang Ziyi has with hers. Watching Zhang Ziyi’s interview, I know exactly how she feels. When I attend conferences or events where I’m the only mainland Chinese (or even the only non-white) in attendance, I too get a little thrill from seeing my very FOB-by Chinese name on the list.

    My wife is in more or less the same situation. She has a Chinese name, but is lucky enough to have the Taiwanese wade-giles romanization that makes it almost easy to pronounce. :) She’s a half-ABC, and while she has a convenient nickname (just her initials), she also takes pride in her full name.

    So with our children (child so far, #2 on the way), we are giving them Chinese names, and no English name. We know for a fact this will cause “problems” in school. But frankly, I’m fine with that. I don’t think they need to compromise their identity. We are very confident that any “problems” will pass quickly, because Californians are very accommodating. My kids will probably pick an English nickname (maybe their initials) when they grow up, and I think of that as a part of the same process that my wife and I had to go through.

    @chorasmian,

    Thank you for the great example. My parents generation still used the “generation name”, but by my generation… no luck. We’re trying to restore that with my children. I also think of the English nickname as my Hao. :)

  33. Dana Says:

    I used to be on the Zhang Ziyi bashing bandwagon because I felt like she was taking away a lot of roles from other just as talented Chinese actresses. Now she has less roles, and I’m starting to see all her good sides.

    She has some of the most Chinese pride I know. She stood with the rest of the crowd when Hu Jintao came to the US, like any other hai wai Chinese wanting support their president, and she’s always mentioned China’s positives when I read interviews. I think she’s very intelligent and will go far. I still don’t think she’s more talented than, but

    Being a big fan of analyzing Chinese entertainment, politics and economics, it’s interesting how they all mix. In particular I love the entertainers who promote Chinese culture.

    At any rate I’d much rather have her than that pretty but not as talented Korean actress in John Woo’s new film. Blech, I wonder what he was thinking? He can’t even make that much money from Korea.

    The English name thing was not due to the English rise as a global language but rather the colonization of Hong Kong and their prolific entertainment industry. Because they led the way for Chinese entertainment back then, all the entertainers had English names. But they had an excuse.

    It was Taiwan’s successful foray into the entertainment world back in the 80s/90s with F4 etc continued this tradition without any real reason behind it. They were not aiming for an English market or anything. They just copied Hong Kong and coupled with their affinity for Western culture resulted in the ENTIRE Taiwanese industry having English names that mean so little.

    Now mainland China’s entertainment industry is making the same progress that Taiwan did in the 80s/90s but I hope they have the sense to not have English names. Let’s take a look:

    Younger People in mainland China who have yet to get an English name:

    Hu Ge
    Huang Xiaoming
    Liu Ye
    Lu Yi
    Bao Jianfeng

    Gong Li
    Gao Yuan Yuan
    Li Bing Bing
    Fan Bing Bing

    Some people who have:

    Aloys (Germanic) Chen Kun
    Kelvin Yan Kuan

    Crystal Liu Yifei
    Betty Sunli
    Vicki Zhaowei

    I really like those two guys in the above list, which is a pity.

  34. Charles Liu Says:

    Didn’t that really tall funny guy on CCTV adopt a Chinese name (Da Shan)? Then Again Bai Lin is all naked and all Hollywood, she didn’t change her name (no need to?)

    I think everyone’s situation is different. I did it to make it easier for people around me. I didi ask for my parent’s permission to prepend the Anglo name.

  35. Buxi Says:

    @Charles,

    I agree with you everyone’s situation is different.

    Many overseas Chinese and Taiwanese hate the idea of writing their name with simplified characters, probably with the same passion Zhang Ziyi feels towards her Chinese name. So, I certainly don’t want to “judge” anyone else’s decision by my standard… unless their life happened to be exactly identical to mine. Who knows, maybe the next generation will want to be called by a series of numbers (their QQ number?) because it’s more convenient.

    But it’s interesting to see where everyone stands on this topic, and what message we’ll be passing on to our kids.

  36. Jane Says:

    Since we are on this names topic, I am kind of curious about the translation of English personal names and place names into Chinese. When I told non-Chinese friends the way certain American city names were pronounced in Chinese, they were shocked. They couldn’t recognize any of them. It seems Chinese people sort of take the initiative to translate English names into Chinese and be like, well that is how it is going to be said in Chinese and non-Chinese people don’t really have a choice. And also, the Chinese versions of many English names don’t sound anywhere close to the English pronunciation (examples: Elizabeth, John, Mary, the tones in Chinese are not the same at all). So, it seems it is unfair to demand that non-Chinese people pronounce Chinese names properly when Chinese people more or less twist English names into a form that’s very different from the English pronunciation but easy to pronounce for the Chinese. Anyway, maybe one day both English and Chinese will be widely spoken in the world, and we don’t have to deal with this hassle.

  37. FOARP Says:

    @Dana – F4’s names are particularly bad “Vanness”? What the hell kind of name is that for an (allegedly) straight man?

  38. Netizen Says:

    Jane,

    The sounds in Chinese pinyin are very limited, and foreign person and place names have to be configured to this existing framwork. I feel they are close enough, may not be to a native’s ears.

  39. totochi Says:

    @BXBQ – “American adults are perfectly capable of pronouncing Chinese names if they care.”
    Not true. I’ve not met one that can say my Chinese name with any consistency. Also, no one puts tone markers in their romanized name so I can’t see how non-Chinese speakers can figure out the correct pronounciation unless they learn some basic Chinese language rules.

    My parents picked an English name for me and my sister when we moved to Canada and our Chinese name became our middle name. When I have kids, I will probably continue that model.

  40. FOARP Says:

    @Charles Liu – Ask the majority of expats in China what they think of Da Shan (or that annoying Da Niu) and their answers won’t be positive, let me tell you. Peter Hessler referred to him as being like a ‘trained monkey’ and I think this is not unaccurate.

  41. MutantJedi Says:

    As Netizen says Jane, pinyin really isn’t an alphabet but a way to write a Chinese syllable. (There’s a right way of saying this but it’s been decades since my linguistics class.) But, I’m sure you know this already.

    That said, unless I know the city being talked about, I’m mostly lost with the Chinese names :) It took me many many times to figure out that Bālí is Paris. It doesn’t even sound like the French way of saying Paris. 呵呵

    And, like you, I’m expecting the world is going to be more and more exposed to Chinese so the sounds might not seem so unusual in the future.

  42. Netizen Says:

    @FOARP,

    I didn’t know majority of expats in China think negatively of Dashan. Too bad. Maybe they are envious of his or Da Niu’s easy success.

    Who is this Peter Hessler, the New Yorker guy? I don’t consider him an expat, so he can’t be an authority on expats.

  43. MutantJedi Says:

    … it is sort of obvious but Zhang Ziyi is an actor. An actor’s name becomes their trademark. Once an actor has established a name for themselves, they can’t just change it arbitrarily. It becomes their public identity.

    This is also not a phenomena exclusive to Chinese actors. I have a friend who changed her solid Anglo-Saxon name because her primary market was Spanish speaking. :)

    Selecting a stage name is important. An actor will want their audience to recognize them. What I think is significant these days is that Chinese actors feel they have an option with staying with their Chinese name. This is a good thing.

  44. MutantJedi Says:

    @FOARP,
    With Netizen, I haven’t heard much bad stuff about Dashan or Da Niu except from a few expats…

  45. ZT Says:

    I love Zhang Zi Yi even if I can’t pronounce her name properly. Her humility appeals to me.

    But, I am tickled by the middle aged women in my backward Province of Guizhou who despise her for having played a prostitute. They actually feel she is one because she played one. If i want to get on their nerves I jokingly announce that I am in love with Zhang Zi Yi and they go nuts!

    Go figure.

  46. jen Says:

    @Netizen –
    Peter Hessler is the New Yorker guy (he’s also written two books). how can you not consider him an expat? he lived for 10+ years in China (and might still be here, i’m not sure). i do consider him pretty much an authority on the foreign experience in China.

    @MutantJedi –
    I agree about city/country names. If I don’t know it, I rarely can understand a Chinese transliteration of place/people names. Sometimes, if i’m reading it and repeat it over and over in my mind I can figure it out (or figure it out based on context).

    As for names, it’s funny because I will answer to any variation of the name Jennifer but for some reason when Chinese hear the name “Jen” they hear it as “Jane” and I hate this. So i’ve started always saying Jennifer or Jenny which usually get heard correctly. Also, my chinese name is basically a transliteration of Jenny + a surname that somewhat corresponds to my last name, which i’m ambivalent about. i kind of want a more interesting chinese name but also don’t feel qualified to choose it myself.

    For chinese people choosing english names – most westerners don’t know the meaning of their english names (or at least i didn’t until i was looking up names to help a student choose one…) so i wouldn’t worry too much about meaning.

  47. MutantJedi Says:

    @jen

    My English name is Mark – one given to the god of war… don’t think that’s what my parents had in mind when they picked it but… :) The “rk” is hard for Chinese speakers to get right so it comes out as something like 马可. I don’t have any problems with that.

    My Chinese name was given to me by my HK buddies in University. I didn’t want just a transliteration but a “real” Chinese name. After all, some of them had English names like “Kevin” or “Arthur”. They would say, “What’s wrong with 马可? It’s a book in the Bible!” Finally, the gave in. They sent me out of the flat while they decided on a name. I had already picked a family name 梅. In Cantonese, it sounds close to how my English surname starts and it is the family name of a fellow I respected a lot.

    When I returned, they had my name ready for me: 梅天乐. They said it reflected my optimism. :)

  48. EugeneZ Says:

    I am too quite glad that Zhang Ziyi has not adopted an English name, I remember that she gained international fame because of a Chinese movie “crouching tiger …” directed by Ang Lee. However, I do not get why having kept her Chinese name is something that Zhang Ziyi should be publicly bragging about. She has plenty to be proud of, such as her acting career, but not the fact that she kept her Chinese name. For those who adopted an English first name or nick name, everyone has their reasons. Some may just enjoy the opportunity to pick a first name other than a “given” name, many do it for the sake of convenience. Is Zhang Ziyi implying that those who adopted an English name such as Joan Chen are less favorable because of it? I hope not.

  49. Luofengpo Says:

    I don;t think she’s really taking a moral high ground or something of that sort. She seems like she just doesn’t care enough to romanize her name, or take on a new Western name just for the sake of greater appeal (not that she needs help building appeal :-P) Of course, there’s the possibility that she keeps her Chinese name to make herself seem more distinctly Chinese in the first place, not necessarily to distance herself from Western audiences, but rather as a means to stand out more.

    But taking English names is more of a way of making thigns easier on yourself too, at least in my opinion. Example–my given name is Mo Ran (damn SCIM input isn’t working, bear with me)…but this of course presented a problem early on when teachers, assuming every a in a foreign language is an “Ah” began calling me moron. So of course, I kind of just stuck a ‘g’ in the middle to make it more obvious. Sure it makes it easier for other people to pronounce my name, but it’s also less of a burden on me–I don’t have to correct everyone or point out that they’re inadvertently insulting me when they want my attention.

    sidenote: Geisha aren’t prostitutes really–to simplify a Geisha to the term prostitute is a great disservice to the tradition, regardless of the…er…distasteful duties both jobs may entail. Prostitutes certainly don’t get trained in school and learn to sing, dance, and accompany themselves, and Geisha certainly didn’t exclusively offer carnal entertainment ;-)

  50. Netizen Says:

    @Jen,

    Thank you for confirming Peter Hessler is the New Yorker guy. Because of that, he is foreign reporter in China. I see foreigner reporters and expats as two different cans of fish because their purposes of coming to China are different.

    Foreign reporters work for a media outlet in the home country and whose audience is its own citizens. Expats normally work for a company whose customers are normally residents of the host country.

    Thus their perspectives are different. Their feelings toward the host country are different. Foreign reporters promote the interests of their home country. On the other hand, expats should, although not always, help build bridge between their home and host countries.

    The expats should be aware of this distinction and distance themselves from constant bashing of the host country by foreign reporters, whom the expat mistakenly see as fellow expats. The latter is mistake number one of being expat, in my view.

    The current difficulties of expats in China is partially due to the blurring of this line.

  51. Netizen Says:

    Seeing in the light of what I said above, it’s not hard to understand when Peter Hessler called an expat “trained monkey”, he has something in mind. The expats should denounce and reject this characterization of Peter Hessler’s. They didn’t, and I wonder why.

  52. FOARP Says:

    @Netizen – Peter Hessler spent two years working as a university teacher in Sichuan, the quote I gave is from a book he wrote about that. Most expats in China who I know really don’t think much of Da Shan, the way he threatens people who criticise him with having their websites blocked (look what happened to Sinosplice) is pretty off-putting, and the stuff he does for CCTV is lame beyond belief.

    The fact that you believe that all foreign reporters are working in their native county’s interests shows that the characterisation of foreign reporters as spies still has some in its grasp. How much of Peter Hessler’s writing have you actually read? I know him vaguely as a friend of a friend (of a friend) and can tell you that you would find few more seriously pro-China American journalists.

  53. Joel Says:

    @Netizen

    I don’t know the Chinese equivalent of this phrase, but in English we’d say you’re “painting with too broad of a brush.”

    Your expat/foreign reporter distinction is too simplistic; i personally don’t think it accurately describes the foreign community in China. It assumes too much about the motives of foreign reporters, and assumes incorrectly about the relationship between Western media and Western national interests. Reporters, students, and other expats can all have lots of different purposes for coming to China. We can’t assume too much about their intentions just because of their job.

    Da Shan seems a little goofy to many foreigners, though of course we envy his Chinese ability.

  54. FOARP Says:

    @Netizen – Do you think that the man who wrote this:

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/07/28/080728fa_fact_osnos/?printable=true

    Is someone working in American interests, or just a journalist writing about something newsworthy?

  55. jen Says:

    @Netizen –
    Everyone else has basically responded how I would – Hessler spent two years teaching in rural Sichuan (the basis for one of those books) and his time as a journalist in China was mostly spent as a freelancer. I also recommend that you read his stuff (books and/or articles) before judging. I think he presents a pretty balanced perspective.

  56. Buxi Says:

    I am actually a big fan of Peter Hessler’s writings, so I’ll defend his reputation overall.

    But he’s never pretended to write from a “Chinese perspective” (whatever that might mean). The vast majority of Chinese love Da Shan and the time he’s put into mastering Chinese. And you know, few Chinese would dismissively call Jackie Chan a “trained monkey”, even though he’s silly enough in all of his English films.

  57. oldson Says:

    Da Shan is universally loved by Chinese and universally despised by the China expat community. His Chinese pronunciation is amazing, as is his knowledge, but he is considered a trained media monkey. I am disturbed that foreigners, who try to learn Chinese, are rated according to the ‘Da Shan Scale’ – if you can sing, dance, perform er ren zhuan and entertain Chinese people then someone you have the ultimate value, skill and knowledge. Da Shan is very skilled but he is basically a Jim Carrey (exaggerated facial expressions) like performer who is a linguistic master of Chinese.

    Chinese people often tell me that my Chinese is great but the only true ‘zhong guo tong’ is Da Shan. I always point out that cultural/language competency goes well beyond mere pronunciation and performing ability. Each individual has unique skills and knowledge. Da Shan is very talented in certain areas where I am not, but on the other hand I am sure he has no ability with regards to what I can do.

    I think that individuality matters – just like with the name. I do not have a Chinese name and I never will because I am an American and that is my core identity. Chinese people still try to convince me to get a Chinese name but I am who I am – the same goes for Chinese people. Why should they get an English name? I think it’s a part of preserving one’s identity and individuality. If you are truly multicultural and educated then you can learn how to pronounce foreign names/places. It shows respect and an effort to understand each other.

  58. Netizen Says:

    @FOARP,

    I only suggested denouncing and rejecting Peter Hessler’s characterization of Dashan. I didn’t suggest denouncing and rejecting him personally.

    Now you’re making a new accusation against Dashan, saying him having some websites blocked. I would be impressed if Dashan could do that. You need to offer evidence to back your claim up.

    I haven’t read Hessler’s work but will read his recent article you linked.

  59. Buxi Says:

    @FOARP,

    I’m confused, the link that you provided.. that’s not by Peter Hessler, is it?

    The first Peter Hessler article I ever read, and one which was often passed around this year, is his excellent “Tibet Through Chinese Eyes”:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/99feb/tibet.htm

    That’s the one I’d recommend, Netizen.

  60. Netizen Says:

    @Joel,

    I think the distinction between foreign reporters and expats should be made. It’s sociology 101 that your job determines the role you play in that aspect of your life.

    If you work in FOX News, you cheer for Republicans. If you don’t, you can survive there. If you work in CNN, you cheer for America. Rebecca Mackinnon wanted to report refuge problem in Afghanistan after the US invasion, but couldn’t. She was overruled by higher ups. In any case, she was gone in no time.

  61. Netizen Says:

    Correction: If you work in FOX News, you cheer for Republicans. If you don’t, you CAN’T survive there.

  62. FOARP Says:

    @FOARP – No it’s not, but he also writes for the New Yorker, and I wouldn’t say that he is working to ‘promote the interests of [his] home country’. Netizen does not seem to have read much of what foreign journalists in China actually write.

    To be honest, Peter Hessler’s writings are not always to my taste, but I have never known him to distort, lie, or “promote his home country’s interests” – far from it.

  63. FOARP Says:

    @Netizen – Judging the entirety of the western media on the basis of two US 24-hour news channels is a bit of a stretch don’t you think? For the record, the BBC and Sky TV most definitely covered the refugee crisis in Afghanistan following the invasion, and not everything that CNN does is simple America-boosting. Fox news is basically tabloid TV – they even ran a story alleging that gangs of lesbians carrying pink 9 millimetre pistols were terrorising America – a complete fabrication. I’m not so familiar with American journalists, but here in the UK there are journalists both on the right and on the left who are very scathing about Britain and America’s foreign policies. The most famous amongst these probably being Robert Fisk.

    BTW: the last one was @Buxi – I’m not speaking to myself yet!

  64. Netizen Says:

    @Buxi,

    Thank you for the Atlantic link. I remember having read that article of Peter Hessler’s a long while ago.

    It seems he was quick to charge cultural imperialism on the part of the Chinese.

    What about the Peace Corp? Or the USAID? Are those agencies practicing cultural imperialism too? He didn’t say. How convenient.

    Then what about the whole business to make the world to be like America so that Americans can feel safe in the world. Isn’t it cultural imperialism?

    His whole approach is biased, in my view.

  65. Buxi Says:

    @Netizen,

    I don’t think he makes the charge of cultural imperialism. He talks that being the common “Western view”, but then goes on to talk to the Western audience of the Chinese view. I really think if you read that article in full, it’s pretty good.

    But yea, I understand you weren’t really criticizing Peter Hessler’s work, just his comment on Da Shan.

  66. MutantJedi Says:

    @oldson “… you can learn how to pronounce foreign names/places. It shows respect and an effort to understand each other.”

    Which is why I keep coaching my kids on how to say Běijīng right. (There’s a youtube video on how to say it… but the great corporate firewall has it blocked.)

    However, unfamiliar pronunciation can be very hard accomplish. So, effort goes a long way in showing respect. Mutual respect is also served by not being too brittle about such mistakes.

    Core identity in a name is also interesting. My actor friend who changed her name faced that sort of issue. Nobody in her family will accept the new name – even though she’s had it for over a decade. Ironic too since nobody in her family goes by their given names but always with nicknames. Personally, I have never looked at adopting an additional name as being unfaithful to my national identity. I know lots of Canadians with Chinese names… so I think 梅天乐 is also a Canadian name, in a way. A Chinese-Canadian name. Just another facet of my identity.

    I think it is unfortunate when people feel that they are losing something when they adopt a localized name. (cf. Americanized) The choice to or not to do so is a personal matter and it is perhaps reaching a bit to infer a nationalist color to the choice.

  67. Netizen Says:

    @FOPRP,

    I haven’t finished the New Yorker article yet. It’s a long one. But one article can’t disprove my obseration. I didn’t say all western media.

    Just like when the US or UK say the International community condemn this or that, did they mean every country condemn this or that? No way. When there are three or four countries that do that, they proclaim international support. CNN is quilty of that too.

  68. FOARP Says:

    @Netizen – You mean like the recent elections in Zimbabwe?

    My point was that I simply cannot see any reasonable grounds for your claim that foreign journalists ‘serve their country’s interests’, this does not make sense to me based on any of the articles I have read in serious newspapers.

    As for Peter Hessler making charges of ‘cultural imperialism’ – I don’t see it. All he does is quote differing sources.

  69. Netizen Says:

    @FOARP,

    I’ll quote Peter Hessler here:

    “Many Chinese working in Tibet regard themselves as idealistic missionaries of progress, rejecting the Western idea of them as agents of cultural imperialism. In truth, they are inescapably both.”

    It’s the subtitle. Do you see “cultural imperialism” in there? He said “both”.

  70. FOARP Says:

    All he is saying there is that their work inevitably results in some of the culture of Tibet disappearing – there is nothing very complex about that.

  71. MutantJedi Says:

    Oh… back on names… One pet peeve… It bugs me to read a Chinese name in the wrong order.

    What is the best way of writing a Chinese name in an English context? …
    These variations seem okay for a guy with a Chinese name of 梅天乐 but also an English name Mark… (I’ll pick on myself for this example)

    Mark Mei, Mark Mei (Tianle), or Mark Tianle Mei
    Mei Tianle, or Mei Tianle (Mark)

  72. Joel Says:

    @MutantJedi
    I agree. I wish the whole world could just hurry up and figure out that Chinese family names comes first. But the lack of consistency makes it hard for English speakers, even language students, who have to guess “Did they flip their names around for English or leave them in the Chinese order?”

    @Netizen
    “I think the distinction between foreign reporters and expats should be made. It’s sociology 101 that your job determines the role you play in that aspect of your life.” (#60)

    Your job determines the role you play at your job (making hamburgers, writing articles, fixing cars, etc.); it does not determine your personal motives, or how fervently your express your patriotism/nationalism, or whether or not you even are very patriotic – at least in North America. More likely to be the other way around: your motives and politics might influence your career choice (though of course there is influence both ways, but being influenced and being determined are not the same).

    Maybe Mainland reporters and other overseas Chinese think “protect China” is part of their job description, I don’t know. Westerners don’t do patriotism the same way Mainlanders do; their intellectual and emotional relationship to their country is different. Western reporters in China, like most expats, are in China to make money, and maybe have a little cultural adventure. They have way too much in common with one another (culturally, politically) to legitimize your stark, albeit convenient distinction. When you see a foreigner having a certain opinion about China, that opinion is more shaped by the fact that she’s a foreigner, much more than by whatever her job happens to be.

    Are you perhaps projecting what’s commonly understood as normal for Mainlanders onto foreigners? Interpreting/assuming the situation in the West according to what is safe to assume about the situation in China? That would be a mistake.

    (Also, please notice that I’m not claiming to be an expert on international media. I’m actually commenting on what I think are significant cultural differences: how individuals think & feel about and relate to their jobs, how individuals think & feel about and relate to their country, etc. Your assumptions, to me at least, don’t seem to fit Westerners. That’s why I’m wondering if maybe you’re using assumptions that work well in China, and mistakenly placing them on Westerners. I can’t know that, of course, I’m just wondering.)

  73. chorasmian Says:

    @MutantJedi

    I think the best way to write your Chinese name in English context would be Mark M (梅天乐), assuming your English family name is M:-). In the case of English name in Chinese context, it should be 梅天乐 (Mark M). For me, my name in Pinyin is just a serial number I need to put in that blank, it is NOT my Chinese name.

  74. MutantJedi Says:

    Thanks chorasmian. :)

    The Pinyin vs Character issue… At first, I thought 章子怡’s family name was 张! I can see how you would not look at the Pinyin as your name.

  75. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To MJ and Joel:
    I would say that, when it comes to how a name is written, it should respect the societal norms native to the language in question. So it’s fine that in Chinese, our family name comes first. But if you’re gonna write it in English, do as English speaking folk do, and put the family name last. On the other hand, if you’re going to pinying an English name, then put the family name first as Chinese would do.
    People do that now anyhow. In English, it’s Prime Minister Harper and President Bush, but in Chinese, it’s literally Bush President and Harper PM.
    So in MJ’s example, I would say Mark Mei (unless you wanted the Tianle as an middle name in English).

  76. pmw Says:

    @Buxi,

    What’s so difficult about pronouncing ‘bushy’?

    j/k

  77. Therese Says:

    Foreign actors are more marketable abroad when they have a “foreign” name. If it were any other way, Ms Zhang would have changed her name a good while ago.

    I generally refuse to refer to people by their “English” names or nicknames in general.

  78. Pete Briquette Says:

    The order of Chinese names is a pet peeve of mine, too.

    Let me explain.

    I understand the order of names in the English speaking world. No problems there. I can get my head around Spanish names, Russian names and Indian names, and how to use them. No problems there. I can fully understand the order of Chinese names, too. It’s not exactly rocket science: family name, generational name, given name. I don’t think there is anything special in possessing this skill: few native English speakers find themselves compelled to refer to Zedong Mao, or Chairman Zedong, from my experience.

    But what really gets up my nose is when people change the order of Chinese names, be it in ill-informed English language publications or by well-meaning, but misguided, Chinese people. If I am introduced to Zhang Ziyi (should I be so lucky), all is well with the world: I’m familiar enough with Chinese culture to be able to address her as Miss Zhang. But if she introduces herself as Ziyi Zhang, I will curse her from a height; she has added another variable to the equation, and now I’m left scratching my head wondering whether her family name is Zhang or Ziyi.

    I’ve noticed that a significant minority of people I meet in China are starting to reverse the order of their name, and I really wish they wouldn’t. It makes things too confusing, and also sets a precedent I have no intention of following: in any language, I am Pete Briquette, and will never refer to myself as Briquette Pete.

    I can understand the reason why some Chinese do change the order of their names: it’s an attempt to make their names more accessible and understandable to English speakers. But it just makes matters more confusing, and I really wish they wouldn’t.

  79. EugeneZ Says:

    Pete,

    The order of Chinese names will be a source of confusion, there is no way out of it. It is much worse for those with a one-character given name, for example, Liu Yang.
    Some people can avoid the confusion:

    (1.) I have a friend whose name is Yan Yan. No confusion there.
    (2.) Pick an English name, because most English first names are just first names; but extrapolation Ms. Christine Liu’s last name must be Liu, for instance.

    Other than that, I do not see a good way to enforce the ordering of Chinese names. Some people will reverse it just to avoid being called Mr. Liu while his last name is Mr. Yang (in Liu Yang’s case). But how do I know that he has reversed it?

  80. FOARP Says:

    @Pete Briquette – How is it said on Chinese websites? 上楼同意?

  81. Pete Briquette Says:

    @EugeneZ

    I agree: the order of Chinese names is a source of confusion. Better for all if all stick to using Chinese names the same way i.e. the traditional way, family name first.

    ‘But how do I know that he has reversed it?’

    That’s exactly my point. So that’s why I say I wish people would stop messing with the order of names. It’s not an issue to set the world on fire, perhaps, but I do find it irritating.

    Using an English name is one possible way around the problem, I suppose, but it doesn’t really solve the problem; and will I get a better feel for Chinese culture by addressing Zhong Ling with her Chinese name or by addressing her (at her request) as Sunny Zhong?

    @FOARP

    It is said with deep respect and admiration.

  82. pmw Says:

    Or introduce yourself Hong Kong style: Tony Leung Chiu Wai
    that should help

    LOL

  83. Nimrod Says:

    I wanted to respond to two issues raised in the comments above.

    On the transliteration of English (or other foreign) place and personal names into Chinese, it helps to know that the initial schemes were done by missionaries or early overseas Chinese, both of whom used Cantonese sounds. Mandarin itself doesn’t reproduce many foreign sounds well, but Cantonese or another southern dialect will usually do the trick… at least gets you a much closer pronunciation. The scheme continues to get used because at least it will sound right in some dialect, even if it doesn’t sound right in Mandarin. As for personal names like “John”, the Chinese version is pretty much rendered like “Johann”, which I believe was the name John back when the transliteration first happened.

    With confusion resulting from surname placement, a simple trick used frequently is to capitalize the surname, like this: Liu YANG.

  84. Chops Says:

    “Chinese compound surname (pinyin: fùxìng; literally “double surname”) is a Chinese surname using more than one character. Many of these surnames derive from noble and official titles, professions, place names and other areas, to serve for a purpose. Some are originally non-Chinese, while others were created by joining two one-character family names. Only a few of these names (e.g. Ouyang, Shangguan, Sima, Situ) survive in modern times. Many clans eventually took on a single-character surname for various reasons.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_compound_surname

  85. Benjamin Edge Says:

    Ziyi Zhang’s name in Wade-Giles would come out reading “Tsi-yi Chang,” for all those used to this old Chinese romanization system.

  86. evan Says:

    Wow, this actually turned into an interesting discussion. I actually learned somethings (except for how one actually should pronounce her name lol). How many celebrity blog posts lead to that? Not many I’d wager.

  87. Sophie Says:

    I think all actors should keep their original names. Why should they adopt Western names just because people are too ignorant or lazy to learn how to pronounce them? Another bug bear of mine is when they print east Aisian names with the surname last. As most of us know, the surname is first in that area of the world. I get really annoyed when I see a DVD cover with Ziyi Zhang instead of Zhang Ziyi. Even worse was when I saw the HUa Mulan cover with Vicky Zhao, because it should actually bee Zhao Wei Wei (I think that’s how you spell Zhao)

    Having to pronounce foreign names isn’t an inconvenience- it’s a cultural learning curve. Get over it! I am English and proud to say that I can sing in Mandarin. And pronounce the names..

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