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Editing a manuscript

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I’m helping an elderly Chinese lady (in her mid-90’s) proofread and edit her memoirs. She has an interesting story to tell about growing up in Qing China and migrating to Hawaii and later to the US mainland. She is still in possession of her faculties but knows she cannot live forever and wants to set her story down on paper.

 

The manuscript is written in pretty decent English, clear most of the time, though not always flowing. The woman is intelligent and educated but is not an experienced writer.

 

One of the early problem I’m running into is that the majority of the place names are Wade-Giles as are many other proper nouns. She writes Ching Dynasty and Mao-Tse Tung and ChungKing and so on.

 

There are also some mysterious forms of address that might even be Cantonese or Shanghainese. She lived both places as well as Beijing while growing up. I cannot visualize what Hanzi characters are meant by her Romanizations sometimes.

 

For example, she talks at some length about her father’s consort or mistress who became her de facto mother when her birth mother was forced to live in another city during the war.  She calls her Wong Sia Chia, which she explains means “Miss Wong.” I’m guessing Wong is but am stuck on the rest. Anyone know what Chinese characters that probably stands for?

 

Any thoughts on how to handle the Wade-Giles place names? My inclination is to leave them alone, perhaps placing the Pinyin equivalent in parentheses if they are not likely to be "guessable." I would prefer to leave the burden of decoding Peking on the reader instead of being pedantic about it and insisting on Beijing. 

 

This can't be a unique situation and I’m sure there must be conventions that an editor can follow. It's late at night and posting this here is my first stop; apologies for not having already researched the problem on-line.

 

Thanks.

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Jim

The first thing that springs to mind is 王小姐 though her romanisation would not be standard Wade Giles if that's the case. Then again, Wong isn't Wang in Wade Giles either so could well be her own idiosyncrasies based on accent etc.

There's various conversion tables about online that may be of help, though I wonder if some of the place names will be an eclectic mix of various romanisation systems as can often be the case? Here's a table https://www.library.ucla.edu/pinyin-wade-giles-zhuyin-conversion-table and this has a list of common place names https://www.chinasage.info/wade-giles.htm I agree with you about maybe just leaving them alone though unless you think it's really material to the story that the reader understands she has e.g. arrived in Shanghai or wherever.

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7 hours ago, Jim said:

The first thing that springs to mind is 王小姐 though her romanisation would not be standard Wade Giles if that's the case. Then again, Wong isn't Wang in Wade Giles either so could well be her own idiosyncrasies based on accent etc.

 

Agree -- I was trying to hear Wong Sia Chia as Wong Xiaojie, but found it a stretch. I have known this lady casually for several years. Was introduced by mutual friends. I have visited at her home as a guest, met her sister and husband and so on. She speaks pretty standard Mandarin, for whatever that's worth. But she's rusty and must pause to recall the best way to say things. Her memory is also not always sharp. Her immediate family contains no other Chinese speakers, so her language skills are never needed, never used. 

 

Quote

Then again, Wong isn't Wang in Wade Giles either so could well be her own idiosyncrasies based on accent etc.

 

Isn't Wong the way 王 is rendered in Hong Kong? (Instead of Wang.) Jyutping instead of Pinyin.

  

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Moshen

I've read a number of historical novels or nonfiction works about pre-Mao China that use all the old-fashioned names. All you need to do is to have a note in the beginning that that's what you are doing.

Incidentally, Chinese isn't alone in having this issue. People who write about Russia not only have transliteration differences to settle but also decisions to make about what to call, for example, St. Petersburg since during certain periods it was called Leningrad or Petrograd.

And where my ancestors came from in Eastern Europe, the borders changed so often that there can be 3 or 4 very different names for the same city or region.

The most important thing is consistency. Make a decision and stick with it.

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1 hour ago, Moshen said:

The most important thing is consistency. Make a decision and stick with it.

 

That sounds like excellent advice. Thank you.

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