Three Kingdoms History: Wade-Giles

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Wade-Giles Romanization, a Reading Guide

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If you read older translations of Chinese texts, you would find that they use a different way of representing the Chinese sounds with the Latin alphabet. Zhao Zilong becomes Chao Tzu-lung, Sima Zhongda becomes Ssu-ma Chung-ta, Dong Zhuo becomes Tung Cho.

Chances are, you’re reading something written in the Wade-Giles Romanization system, which was highly popular with scholars before Pinyin was widely acknowledged, and still is within some academic circles. Figuring out the correspondences isn’t always easy (I found that out by the hard way), so here’s some help to translate the Wade-Giles system into Pinyin. Read on to learn how to read Wade-Giles Romanization.

The Consonants

Pinyin – Wade-Giles (the ones that are different are in bold)

b - p
p - p’

m - m
f - f
d - t
t - t’

n - n
l - l
g - k
k - k’

h - h
j - ch

q - ch’
x - hs
z - ts / tz
c - ts’
s - ss
zh - ch
ch - ch’

sh - sh
r - j
y - y
w - w

You may have noticed that j/q and zh/ch are the same. This is not a problem as you can always tell what is what. More on that later.

Note for the linguistically-minded: the apostrophes on the consonants denote “aspiration”, which is the little puff of air that accompanies a consonant when you say it. So compare the p’s in the English words “pot” and “spot” – if you put your hand in front of your mouth when you say them, you would feel that there is a little explosive puff of air when you say the “p” of “pot”, but not in “spot”. The Chinese pinyin “p” is pronounced like the “explosive, breathy” “p” in “pot”, and the pinyin “b” is like the “p” in “spot”. Thus in Wade-Giles, the first one is written p’ and the second p.


For words that start with a consonant from the series b-p-m-f, d-t-n-l, g-k-h, and y-w, the vowels are pretty similar in pinyin as in Wade-Giles, with the following differences:

Pinyin – Wade-Giles
ian - ien
ie - ieh
ong - ung
iong - iung
ue - üeh
ui - uei

Since the j-q-x, z-c-s, and zh-ch-sh-r series don’t really match up nicely with Wade-Giles, I’ll just list all the correspondences:

ch in Wade-Giles
Wade-Giles – Pinyin

chai - zhai
chan - zhan
chang - zhang
chao - zhao
che - zhe
chen - zhen
cheng - zheng
chi - ji
chia - jia
chiang - jiang
chiao - jiao
chieh - jie
chien - jian
chih - zhi
chin - jin
ching - jing
chiu – jiu
cho - zhuo
chou - zhou
chu - zhu
chuang - zhuang
chung - zhong
chü - ju
chüeh - jue
chün - jun

ch’ in Wade-Giles
Wade-Giles – Pinyin

ch’an - chan
ch’ang - chang
ch’ao - chao
ch’en - chen
ch’eng - cheng
ch’i - qi
ch’ien - qian
ch’ih - chi
ch’in - qin
ch’ing - qing
ch’iu - qiu
ch’ou - chou
ch’u - chu
ch’uang - chuang
ch’ung - chong
ch’ü - qu
ch’üan - quan

See? There is no source of confusion! (Note: for those of you linguists out there, j and q in Mandarin only occur before the high front vowels i and ü, and ch and zh only occur with the other vowels (except for i, but if you compare the i in ji and the one in chi you’ll find that they are very different in quality). Thus we can get by with using just ch for j/zh, and ch’ for q/ch.)

Other Weirdoes

You just have to memorize these, unless you happen to be a phonologist in which case they all make sense:

ho - he
hsü - xu
ko - ge
k’o - ke
shih - shi

ssu - si
tso - zuo
tsu - zu
tzu - zi
tz’u - ci

For Practice

See if you can figure out who these famous Rot3K people are!

[*]Chao Yün
[*]Chia Hsü
[*]Chiang Wei
[*]Chu-ko Liang
[*]Fa Cheng
[*]Ho Chin
[*]Hsia-hou Tun
[*]K’ung Jung

[*]Ling Ts’ao
[*]Liu Shan
[*]Ssu-ma Yi
[*]Sun Ch’üan
[*]T’ai-shih Tz’u
[*]Ts’ao Hsiung
[*]Yen Yen
[*]Yüeh Chin

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