Saturday, July 23, 2011

Me Old China

Seeing the clue {Sixth-century Chinese dynasty} (answer: Liang) the other day alerted me to the need for this post: I don't think I managed to remember any new dynasty names since starting to see more of them in American crosswords, still relying on crossings to confirm the answers. Time to change that.

After doing the research, I'm still somewhat confused, particularly about the different transliterations of certain dynasty names. The Xia Dynasty invariably appears in crosswords as Hsia, for example; you'd have thought that a three-letter sequence like XIA (not cluable any other way) would show up more often.

I gather that Hsia appears in older reference books that use a Western-inspired romanization system known as Wade-Giles. Wade-Giles has mostly been replaced by the Hanyu Pinyin system developed by the Chinese government and approved in 1958. But not in crosswords apparently?
Here are the most common Chinese dynasty names in crosswords, from the commonest at the top to the least likely at the bottom. Corrections and insights into this unfamiliar (to me) area are very welcome.

Han (206 BCE – 220 CE). Confucianism became dominant during this dynasty. The Han Chinese (the largest single ethnic group in the world) are named for the dynasty. The Han River is a tributary of the Yangtze.

Chou (1046 – 256 BCE). Spelled Zhōu in the pinyin system. The Chinese philosophers Confucius, founder of Confucianism, and Lǎozǐ (Lao Tzu in Wade-Giles) founder of Taoism, lived in this dynasty.

Hsia (ca. 2070 – ca. 1600 BCE). Spelled Xia in the pinyin system. The earliest recorded Chinese dynasty.

Wei. There are two dynasties with this name: the Northern Wei (386 – 534) and the Cao Wei (220 – 265).

Liao (907 – 1125).

Ming (1368 – 1644). Trade with Portugal began in the Ming Dynasty.

Sung (960 – 1279). Spelled Song in the pinyin system. The Sung Dynasty was overthrown by the Mongols under Genghis Khan.

Chen (557 – 589)

Liang (502 – 587). The Chinese ounce or tael is pronounced liǎng in Mandarin Chinese and so liang is sometimes clued as {Chinese weight unit}.

Qing (1644 – 1912).  Empress Dowager Longyu abdicated on behalf of Puyi (portrayed in the movie The Last Emperor) in 1912, ending China's final dynasty.

Tong (618 – 907). Spelled Tang in the pinyin system. A tong (literally "hall" or "gathering place") is also a Chinese secret society in the U.S. and Canada, and is more often clued as such.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The odd thing is that, although both Wade and Giles were British, the Wade-Giles transliterateion makes sense only if you speak it as if it were French.