New railway standards published last year now mean that the railway station in southern Beijing south of the main station, which in Chinese is known as 北京南站 (Pinyin: Beijingnan Zhan) is to be known as the rather odd-sounding “Beijingnan” Railway Station instead of the standardised “Beijing South” Railway Station. That’s a little bit like renaming the Zürich Main Station as the Zürich “Zong” (Zong 总 means “main” in Chinese) station for Chinese, or to use transliterated German for Chinese readers — 苏黎世豪普特站 (Sulishi Haopute Zhan in Pinyin, which simply means Zurich “Haupt” station — it doesn’t tell you it really is the main station!). Worse is a Big Apple application: imagine calling Grand Central Station “Zhongyang” Station! (“Zhongyang” in Chinese means “central”.)
However, before you torment the railways in a fit of fury and utter confusion, consider the pros and cons:—
PROS OF USING PINYIN
- Apparently, this would make it easier for taxi drivers and locals not familiar in English to show you where the stations are.
- Train direction signage uses mainly Pinyin (but then again, they were mainly designed in the 20th century — HSR signage on trains still use English; intercity trains to Tianjin say “Beijing South – Tian Jin”, albeit the extra blank in Tianjin).
- Train tickets use Pinyin (but note here that they used to use English, certainly for HSR, especially before the Pinyin standards came out).
- Language neutrality: Beijing’s south station is Peking-Südbahnhof in German, Pékin Gare de Sud in
FranglaisFrench, and so on. Now if everyone just said Bahnhof / Gare Beijingnan, that’d make it supposedly easier.
But then again that’s not all sides of the story told…
WHY WE SHOULD STILL USE ENGLISH INSTEAD
(as in why Pinyin doesn’t work out great)
- First, this goes against a comparatively new (edition 2010) railway signage standard book published by the former Rail Ministry, which mandated the use of English instead of Pinyin for direction indicators (South, North instead of Nan, Bei).
- Second, expats I’ve talked to say that the point that locals not knowing South (in English) is a moot point — if they don’t speak English, and you speak Chinese, then the name issue won’t be an issue anyway (you couldn’t talk to them in the same lingo in the first place!).
- Foreigners in China and overseas also point to the fact that as they are still using the English words for Railway Station, that they’d might want to use the English for the cardinal direction of the station anyway.
- Obviously, sticking in Nan (Pinyin Chinese) in an English description is suspect Chinglish. (But dissecting the Chinese name of the city, too, would be Chinglish!) Also, you now have a case of mixing parts of words that don’t belong in the language you’re using.
- Academics based in Beijing point out that this only goes to do international travellers in China a disservice — train regulars in China also agree, saying that if Beijing South was to be used, people would at least look at the station “the right way” on a map, where as Beijingnan would simply leave them confused.
- I’ve seen ticket sales staff at Beijing South telling international travellers that trains to Guangzhou leave from Beijing West, not Beijingxi Railway Station. They’ve got to get used to a standard that doesn’t sound right.
- Think also about the massive changes required in the city metro signage. Line 9’s station at Beijing West Railway Station, for example, doesn’t say Beijingxi Railway Station! How about giving that money to kids that need it the most? (Corrupt officials might also eye after that bit of cash — for a potential secret purchase of Mao Tai! But I kind of digress.)
- Finally, something has to be said about that massive amount of money that has to be wasted in replacing signage bit-by-bit in China. That’s not really a sustainable way of feeding into GDP growth that lasts!
I’d like to hear from you what you think should be the best translation — Beijing South or Beijingnan — and the best way to do this is if you emailed me (or tweeted me on Twitter, giving your reason). Later I plan to do a much more detailed bit research in this — but because it will involve giving some personal information I have to get the secure form working first!
I look forward to the day when I arrive at the Baoding HSR seeing signs that welcome me to the Baoding East Railway Station, instead of the present-day make-believe “Baodingdong” Railway Station.