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Is 张弼士 pronounced as Thio Thiaw Siat in Penang Hokkien?

Mark Knight

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Hi there,


The name of the Chinese Businessman, 张弼士, is often transliterated today as Cheong Fatt Tze, following Cantonese pronunciation. The house he built in George Town Penang, is thus known today as the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion.


However, there are many variations in the way this name is pronounced and so transliterated! These include: Tjong Tjen Hsoen (as in the park in Jakarta), Chang Chao-Hsieh, Chang Pi-Shih, Chang Chen-Hsun. It is often said that in Penang, he was known by the presumably Hokkien name of Thio Thiaw Siat. There is, accordingly, another building in George Town built by this figure, which is called the Thio Thiaw Siat Building, and which is emblazoned with the monogram TTS.


My question is, is Thio Thiaw Siat the transliterated pronunciation of 张弼士? Is that how you would pronounce these characters? Or, is this another name entirely?


I am aware that 弼 is a relatively rare character, which is why friends are struggling to guide me with this. So far, people don't think it's likely that 弼 would be pronounced as "Thiaw" – more likely "Biat". Added to this, "Thio" and "Thiaw" are rather similar, leaving room for confusion. Are these in fact just two ways of saying the same word? I note other transliterations like "Chang" and "Chao" and "Chang" and "Chen" are also quite similar, so perhaps these really are two different words.


Finally, the context of this question. We are a family with Malaysian roots, and our children have Hokkien names. The Cheong Fatt Tze mansion is one of our favourite places in the world, and we would love to use this name, but would prefer to use the Hokkien name, and would naturally want to know what it meant before using it! So, if someone can help solve the mystery of how 张弼士 ends up as Thio Thiaw Siat, and what the meaning of Thiaw Siat might be, that person would be doing us a great service in aiding us in the naming of our soon-to-be born son.


Thanks in advance,





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On 12/14/2018 at 5:09 PM, Mark Knight said:

So far, people don't think it's likely that 弼 would be pronounced as "Thiaw" – more likely "Biat". 


You are correct. 


When it comes to historic figures like Mr Cheong, one must remember that he had more than one name.


Tjong Tjen Hsoen comes from his 名 (official name): 張振勳 , probably through Mandarin and 19th century Indonesian-Dutch transcription practices.

Chang Chao-Hsieh comes from the original birth name (原名), 張肇燮, through Mandarin and Wade-Giles romanisation.

Chang Pi-Shih comes from his 字 (courtesy name /style name), 張弼士, through Mandarin and Wade-Giles romanisation.

Thio Thiaw Siat comes from his original birth name (the Chinese Wikipedia mentions it as his rural epithet), 張兆燮, presumably through Hokkien, although I don't know why it's Thio Thiaw Siat as opposed to Tio Tiaw Siat - the initial plosives are not aspirated. Can only blame it on Indonesian-Dutch bureaucracy (tj- has a weird idiosyncratic pronunciation in Dutch). 肇 is a homonym of 兆.


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Many thanks indeed, Michaelyus! I was just this morning reading about “courtesy names” and had wondered whether this might play into the conundrum, but this is extremely helpful in parsing out the various different names, and telling the difference between a distinct name and the distinct romanisation of a name. There are fascinating complexities  here both linguistic and conceptual and I'm grateful to you for taking the time to set some of them out for a neophyte like me.


My next challenge, I suppose, is the meaning of the various names. Would I be right in thinking that Chao-Hsieh/Tiaw Siat (燮) means something like "sign of harmony"? And that Fatt-Tze/Pi-Shih (弼士) means something like "advisor/counsellor"? I’d be grateful for any insights here!

(I’d also be keen to know how one might pronounce Fatt-Tze/Pi-Shih in Penang Hokkien. But I suspect, given its primarily spoken nature, that this is no simple request, even for a speaker of that dialect!)


Thanks once again,





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Hmmmm... "meanings of names". Honestly, most names are difficult to translate into English in a satisfactory way (my own Chinese name is an example), and some names are chosen for their euphony (i.e. sound, much like many Western parents).


"Sign of Harmony" 兆燮 is a possible translation, although others may disagree ("Sign of Adjustment", "Portenting Regulating"...) 

弼士 is easier: "Advisor/ Counsellor" is good.


As for the Penang Hokkien pronunciation... 張弼士 would be Tiong Pi̍t-sū (Tiong1 Pit8-su7) in mainstream Taiwanese Hokkien. (弼 is a super rare character, and I can't even find its occurrence in a mainstream Hokkien dictionary; I've just found a source here on GitHub, which corresponds to its fanqie reading [derived from the ancient rime tables of the Tang dynasty, mapping in onto the way modern Hokkien would work]). For Penang Hokkien, I expect the vowels to be the same, with just a slight difference in tone sandhi. 

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