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Thursday, January 27, 2005

Seoul's new Chinese name for itself: Shouer (首尔/首爾)

Update, Nov 20, 2009
Other entries on the topic in this blog:
Making a new Chinese character name for Seoul (March 05, 2004)
Renaming "Seoul" in Chinese; the final nominees (July 20, 2004)
Shouer 首尔 gaining acceptance in China? (February 28, 2005)
China to use 'Shouer' instead of 'Hancheng' for Seoul (October 24, 2005)

Judging from the number of people searching info on the Chinese language name of Seoul, there has been some new developments in the quest the get Seoul renamed in Chinese (my earlier entries from last March and from last July). Basically the issue was to get a Chinese name to correspond the pronunciation of Korean Seoul (서울, Sôul) instead of the Chinese Hancheng (漢城/汉城), which is actually the old Chosôn(Joseon) era Korean name of its capital.

Of the two final nominees 首爾 (Shŏuĕr/Shou3Er3) and 首午爾 (shŏwŭĕr/shou3wu3er3) [note the non-simplified characters], 首爾 has been declared the winner (from Yonhap).
The new Chinese name "Shouer" was decided to be a proper name for the capital, as it is close to the pronunciation of sôul, gives a comfortable feeling, has two syllables, and can be rendered to mean "first-rate city" (ûttûmkanûn tosi).
I better not make any judgements for the meaning of "Shouer" , as I'm not familiar at all with the second character (爾/尔), so let's quote Charles Muller's CJKV-English Dictionary:

radical 爻
[Variant(s)] 尓尒尔

• He, it, this, that. Here.
• You, your. [汝]
• So, like that, like this, thus. [然如]
• -like. [然如]
• Merely.
• That, him, her, it.
• Near. [近]
• Sometimes used like 耳 "and that's all."
首爾 = "first-rate city", 으뜸가는 도시? Well...

The municipal government of Seoul is going to start using 首爾 in its Chinese-language presentations like in the homepage, and is going to make an official request to the Chinese government for the use of the new name.

Searching a bit from the KINDS database about Chinese responses for Seoul's plans for a new Chinese name, it seems that it hasn't been very receptive. Last August, the Chinese embassy in Seoul had only told the Seoul officials to wait, without actually doing anything. The Chinese newspaper Guangmin Ribao (光明日報) had also criticized the Seoul propositions (Seoul Sinmun, Sep 8, 2004) as not compatible with general Chinese character naming practices. Hankuk(?) Ilbo told last November that there hadn't still been any official response from the Chinese. And now the final official decision has been made.

The Seoul officials are surely aware that in mainland China the proper form in simplified characters would be 首尔, not 首爾, aren't they?

It has not been appropriate to question if the Seoul officials have been aware of the simplified character form of the proposal for a new Chinese name for Seoul: it's that we don't get to see simplified characters in the Korean-language documents.
The metropolitan government has not wasted time in changing 汉城 (Hancheng) to 首尔 (Shouer) in its Chinese language homepage.
This is the banner to click to enter the Seoul Municipal administration:
And this is the banner behind which is the introduction of the theme of "Hi Seoul" campaign, sung by Boa. (The text behind the banner has not been changed yet: "Light of Seoul" is still 汉城之光)

Yonhap reports (via Naver News) of the diverse response of the Chinese press. Xinhua had reported the proposed change in detail (a Xinhua piece in English), with maps and all and pics of the mayor Lee Myung-bak, but without commentary. On the other hand, a paper called 中國靑年報 (in Chinese?) released a critical commentary, maintaining that the change will be inconveninent for the 1.5 billion users of Chinese characters and that not even all Koreans support the change, adding also that the change originates in the Koreans' disapproval of Chinese calling the Korean capital 漢城 (Hancheng).

In another piece (Seoul Sinmun via Naver) the mayor Lee Myung-bak says that "in foreign diplomacy, the practice (kwallye) has been to use the original pronunciations of city names." Mayor Lee should tell this immediately to European diplomats and others who use all kinds of weird pronunciations and forms of each other's cities.

When the Seoul administration has managed to persuade Chinese to use 首尔/Shouer for Seoul, the next tasks should be to order the Finnish Foreign Ministry not to pronounce Seoul söul (쇠울) - perhaps a remnant of attempts to follow the Korean pronunciation and from some older maps in which "Seoul" was printed as "Söul" - but to use a pronunciation comfortable for the Finns' speaking organs, soul (소울). (The official Finnish spelling is "Soul".)

Update 2.
A Chinese blogger's note (Wangjianshuo's blog) about the name change; wonder why he has the new name in the form 首儿 (which produces the same pronunciation). He doesn't think the new name has a better feel than the old one, but says that others should respect the choice of the Koreans.
Seems there both is understanding and unacceptance towards the change among the commenters. One says that the change reveals the strong national pride of Koreans (汉城改名启示韩国强大民族自尊心 - and the same in Korean: 한성 개명 계시 한국 강대 민족 자존심) .

Update 3.
China Daily presents some Chinese response to the 漢城(汉城) --> 首尔(首爾) change.
It could take a while for the new Chinese name for the capital of the Republic of Korea (ROK) to catch on among common Chinese.
The nation has known the Korean city of Seoul as "Hancheng" (or Hanseong in Korean) for centuries, and it will not be easy for Chinese to adopt the use of "Shouer" as its new name, said Zhao Rixin, a Beijing Language and Culture University professor said Thursday.
However, Zhao felt it "unusual" when he pronounced the new name in Chinese after learning of the news from the local media.
"I feel the pronunciation is very bizarre, as if I'm talking about an unfamiliar city," Zhang said.
Chen Jian, an employee in a state-owned enterprise in Beijing, feels similarly.
Chen said it's hard for him to match "Shouer" with the capital city since Hancheng has become deeply engraved in his mind.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs gave no comment about the change, saying it has not received any official request from the ROK.
Han Jaeheuk, a press official from the ROK's Embassy in Beijing, said his embassy was not officially informed of the change.
"Generally, a name should follow its bearer, but it is rare that a country asks its counterpart to change translations of its city's name," Zhang said.
It might need a generation or more for Chinese speakers to accept the new name, Zhang said.

Update 4, January 27
Ohmynews article covers the Chinese response widely; according to it, there have been voices understanding the Korean decision, but the response has been mainly reserved, also negative.

Update, February 28
Ohmynews reports that 首尔 (Shouer) has begun to appear in the official Chinese media. My blog entry about the topic.

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Comments to note "Seoul's new Chinese name for itself: Shouer (首尔/首爾)" (Comments to posts older than 14 days are moderated)

<Anonymous Anonymous> said on 26.1.05 : 

"Shouer" has become somewhat of a running gag among us Chinese literates here at SNU.
I guess, the new name will generate a lot of bad feeling against Koreans. It's hard to explain, but combined with the already existing image of Koreans as a bunch of (somehow cute) loonies, "Shouer" might well become a symbol for the trouble Koreans seem to cause all the time in China. (Just ask taxi drivers in Beijing what they think about Korean expats...)

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