8 Fun Facts About Chinese Pinyin

Everyone starts learning Chinese with “b p m f…”, the pinyin system. But how much do you really know about Pinyin? Here are eight fun facts about Pinyin.

1. Pinyin was Created in the 1950s 

Yes, that’s right, pinyin are not as old as Chinese characters, and are actually quite new. In 1954, China's Ministry of Education created a Committee for the Reform of the Chinese Written Language and decided to adopt 25 Roman alphabetical letters (except “v”) for hanzi transliteration. A first draft of hanyu pinyin was then published on February 12, 1956.

2. Pinyin is used in Mainland China, Singapore and Malaysia, but not in Taiwan

The governments of Singapore and Malaysia began to accept Hanyu pinyin in the 1970s. By contrast, the Taiwanese use the Zhuyin system, which was introduced in China by the Republican Government in the 1910s. Instead of using roman letters, Zhuyin consists of 37 characters and four tone marks.

3. Pinyin Dominates Computer Text input in Mainland China

Since the 1980s, a huge market has been created for Chinese text entry into computers. Out of the hundreds of text entry methods available, pinyin has emerged as the dominont method.

4. Pinyin Fluency can be Reached Very Quickly 

Pinyin helps encourage people to start learning Chinese when it might seem to be a daunting proposition. Pinyin helps make Chinese less intimidating by simplifying Chinese and making it seem more familiar by using roman characters. There are only totally 21 initial consonants and 36 simple or compound vowels. You can acquire all this knowledge about pinyin within one or two lessons.

5. Pinyin has Fewer Syllables than English

There are, in total, more than 12 000 syllables in English. In contrast, the number of valid Chinese syllables (without tones) is a bit over 400. 

6. “i” Sometimes can be Fake

The letter “i” after “z, c, s” and “zhi, chi, shi , r” is not a real and complete “i” sound. It represents two other sounds, which are softer and shorter than “i”.

7. Tones are Mostly Ignored in Songs

Some students wonder whether or not singing is possible in Chinese since it is a tonal language. However, we usually ignore tones when we sing and that’s why there are a lot of confusing Chinese song lyrics. 

8. Pinyin is not a Pidgin for Chinese

Pinyin is a system to transliterate Chinese into roman characters, rather than the Chinese writing system of Chinese. So if one only knows pinyin, he or she can not be regarded literate in Chinese. 

Wang Rong (Emily) is a cofounder of GoEast and writes columns for the GoEast Blog on Chinese language learning, Chinese culture, and life in China as a language specialist. She holds a BA degree in Teaching Chinese as a Second Language and a MA in Comparative Literature. She has been teaching Chinese to foreigners since 2007 as a tutor and a professor in Universities.