161. Editorial Note

On December 1, 1978, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China informed the Liaison Office in Beijing that “As from January 1, 1979, the Chinese Phonetic Scheme will be adopted as the standard in Romanizing names of Chinese persons and places in the translation of diplomatic documents.” The Foreign Ministry added that the validity of past diplomatic documents would not be affected by this change and that “The United States Liaison Office is hereby requested to take note of this reform and render the necessary coopera[Page 618]tion.” (Translation of note from the Chinese Foreign Ministry to the Liaison Office; Department of State, American Embassy Beijing 1978 Subject Files: Lot 81 F 197, Pol 1, General Policy Background, 1978)

Telegram 4009 from Beijing, December 7, reported this Chinese announcement to the Department of State: “This change in Romanization was rumored about three years ago, but was then postponed for reasons which are not clear. The fact that it has now been ordered by the State Council (the PRC’s Cabinet), however, implies that it is not likely to be reversed.” The Liaison Office recommended that although the transition from Wade-Giles, the previous system, to Hanyu pinyin, the new system, would produce annoyance and confusion, “Our present inclination is that, rather than postponing the inevitable, we should adopt the Pinyin system as of January 1 for Romanization of PRC personal names,” but that the new words should be supplemented for a few months after the conversion by the addition of the Wade-Giles equivalent in parentheses. The telegram also recommended that the spelling of well-known PRC place names (e.g., Canton, Peking, Amoy), many of which were based on Southern Chinese dialects rather than Wade-Giles or Pinyin, should be retained. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780506–0608)

The Department of State responded in telegram 2621 to Beijing, January 5, announcing that the Department of State “has decided to follow the Chinese lead and adopt the Pinyin system after January 1, both for official publications and internal communications.” It added, “we will continue to use Wade-Giles and conventional forms for materials related to Taiwan.” Despite possible misunderstandings, the Department declared, “we feel that it will create fewer problems in the long run to keep our system consistent with that of the Chinese.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790006–0733)

At about the same time, the Embassy in Taipei “decided, effective immediately, to refer to the governmental authorities on Taiwan, formerly referred to as the Government of the Republic of China (GROC), in all internal and public documents as the ‘Government on Taiwan (GONT)’ or Taiwan Government.” The Embassy noted, “This term was selected after a review of several alternatives as being the most exact and least pejorative locally.” In addition, the Embassy urged addressees “to avoid use of terms such as ‘Taiwanese authorities’ which are offensive to Peking as well as Taipei.” (Telegram 31 from Taipei, January 3, 1979; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790002–1274)