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In the last year I sent several letters to China from the US with PinYin-addressed envelopes. The addressee section was written as follows:
All mail was received in time. China's post office did not complain about the PinYin address. Some mail carriers told the receivers that they felt quite comfortable with reading the PinYin. After examining the above format, I propose the following improvement to have the Chinese envelope comply with the international convention:
As the addresser and addressee sections are in same structure, the following discussion will concentrate on the addressee section, i.e., the central part of above envelope. First, the 'XSh.' on the first line is abbreviation of xian1sheng1 which means 'Mr.'. Several popular Chinese courtesy titles and their abbreviations are listed in following table:
Some Chinese titles are equivalent to English, such as those for Mr., Miss, Mrs. and Professor. But 'teacher' and 'comrade' are only in Chinese, but not in English. Furthermore, opposite to the English order, the Chinese title follows the person's name. For instance, in Chinese it is said Wang2 Tao1 xian1 sheng1(Wang Tao Mr.), Zhang1 tong2 zhi4 (Zhang Comrade), Li3 Yue4 hua2 jiao4 shou4 (Li Yuehua Professor), Liu2 lao3 shi1 (Liu Teacher), and so forth.
On the second line of the addressee, the 'h' in '3625-h' is abbreviation of 'hao4' which means 'number'. Please note that here the Chinese order again reverses the English order. It is said in English that 'number 3625', but the Chinese order is '3625 hao4', literally '3625 number'.
On the last line, the first item is the city name, followed by a comma. After that is the two-letter provincial code and post office number. There are 29 provinces in China. Administratively, their status equals that of state in the US. Names of several provinces and their capitals are listed below:
It's worth mentioning that BeiJing is the national capital, and ShangHai is the country's largest city, both being designated special status. They are under the direct jurisdiction of the national government, rather than of any province. Their status is like that of Washington DC in the US. Therefore, they are coded with two letters. The other cities in the table are coded with three letters. The city code can help further simplify the envelope. Following is a simpler format:
In above envelope, the city's full name is replaced by three-letter city code at the last line. Please note that the city's name in the addresser's section is coded, too. But if full name is preferred, the tone marks should not be dropped off the spelling, because different tonal syllables represent different words. For instance, Shan1xi1 and Shan3xi1 are two different provinces. Bei3jing1 is a place name, but Bei4jing1 is the transcription of 'Begin', a foreign personal name. Mr. Begin was the prime minister of Israel in 1970s. Guang3zhou1 is a city in China, but Guang1zhou1 is the transcription of 'Kwangju', a city in South Korea. Spelling place names without marking tones causes ambiguity.
There are two sets of names for the four tones in Mandarin. The first set is yin1ping2 , yang2ping2 , shang4sheng1 , and qu4sheng1 . The second set is the first through fourth tones. Nowadays the second set is becomingmore popular, because in inputting Chinese characters at the computer with PinYin, the numerals 1 through 4 are used as code for the tones. Except for character inputting on computer, the PinYin is rarely used by native Chinese speakers. Therefore, the superscript numerals are natural and acceptable tone marks, though not the best.
For anyone intending to write envelope in PinYin, please try not use the capital letters too much. At least one mail carrier told a receiver of my letter that he didn't recognize a spelling at first glance, because the first letter of it was in uppercase. People in China are not used to reading PinYin. They need to read more, and start from the basics.
Copyright © 2001-2008 by Zhang1Ju1Li3
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