A Duck, by Any Other Name ... ?
Mysteries of Chinese romanization

How and why the name Peking changed to Beijing is a source of sleepless nights to many modern, western thinkers. Actually, it didn't change. It is just "spelled" differently. I say "spelled" because Chinese isn't actually alphabetized, but is phonetically rendered into "English" script in a way that represents its sounds.

Okay, if you followed that path (pronounced "dao", by the way, and not "tao") then you can explore the transition from Peking to Beijing. First we need to understand that our early exposure to anything Chinese came to us via western scholars, usually priests or missionaries, who were predominantly English, French, or German. Unfortunately, the same roman letter in these three languages may represent different sounds.

First, let's deal with the initial sound of the capital of China, the B or P. Linguistically, "p" and "b" are the same sounds. "B" is the voiced sound. "P" is aspirated, and a breath takes the place of the humming vocal chords of the "b." To show that these are the same sound, the linguist designates them using the same letter, "p". "P" with an apostrophe (p') equals the aspirated p, and without the voiced p (i.e. the sound of "b" in English).

Now that the initial sound of Peking can be connected to the "Beijing" pronunciation, we have to deal with the "k" and "j" sound variant, but, perhaps, this is best left as inexplicable by the fact that it was the German romanization system that produced "Peking".

Amy McGhee

How to say Beijing?

Chinese is a tonal language. Each word must be spoken with its correct tone. Its not sufficient to pronounce the sound correctly; the word must be said with the right tone. Take the word 'beijing' for example:

The Capital of China, Beijing, is made up with two words Bei3 and jing1.

The Chinese word for 'background', beijing, is made up of two entirely different words bei4 and jing3.

Most of the time, the tonal marks are left out of the pinyin spelling, and one just have to guess.


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