I first learned about Pinyin.info years ago when someone linked to the much-circulated essay by David Moser hosted on the site, Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard. When I first read it, probably when I was still struggling through my second year of learning Mandarin, the essay heartened me. I remember thinking, “Wow, this grad student has been learning Chinese for 5 years and still can’t read a newspaper! Phew, I shouldn’t feel so bad about myself.” But in the end, it was Dr. Moser who would have the last laugh (over me and Chinese) as he’s become probably among China’s most famous Chinese-speaking White Guys,* up there with Da Shan, Jon Huntsman and the guy who plays the British guy in all the Cantonese imperial dramas and HK cop shows.**
I regularly check up on Pinyin.info, and though some of the posts are rather pedantic to someone outside of the pinyin movement or linguistics world (misuse of apostrophes! non-semantic CamelCaps!), I do think pinyin has great value as a teaching tool and for making Chinese a more inclusive language and deserves to be defended by someone as knowledgeable as Mark Swofford against those traditionalists who bemoan the encroachment of English and Romanization into Chinese. I still remember cackling my way through Swofford’s devastating breakdown of an op-ed by author Ruiyan Xu in the NYT about the usage of Baidu vs 百度.
As I was making my way through my twitter feed today (sometimes it can feel like a chore…), I noticed with interest a new post about a similar topic by China Beat contributor Xujun Eberlein’s on her excellent blog Inside-Out China. In it, she notes how the Caixin website (which I could have sworn Bruce Humes had done regularly pieces about, but now I can’t find them–#googlefail) has included an English word in the headline of an article, the first instance she can think of where a reputable national publication did this. It’s a short little commentary which touches on the debate between those who pushed China to further reform its writing system even more than it had and instead fully adopt alphabetization, and she mentions the Peter Hessler article from the New Yorker which served as the basis for his 2006 book Oracle Bones. Continue reading