Introduction to MPS II

Ever since the last decades of the Ming Dynasty, China has opened its door to the rest of the world. People from the Western world, such as missionaries, traders, and diplomats flocked to China for various purposes. The use of a Roman alphabet (e.g., a, b, c, d, etc.) to transcribe the pronunciation of Mandarin Chinese has thus become a natural necessity.

Early efforts to devise transcription systems dated as far back as the 16th and 17th centuries when Matteo Ricci and Nicolas Trigault respectively designed and then published their transcription systems.

After the Ching Dynasty, the British diplomat Sir Thomas Wade designed his Romanization system. It was widely adopted by the missionary establishments, the diplomatic corps, the postal service, the customs, and the schools for Westerners. Even up to this day and for most people the Wade System (also called the Wade-Giles System after subsequent revision by H.A. Giles) remains a common transcription system for names of people and places.

After the establishment of the Republic of China, the Ministry of Education, being aware of the significance of a unified pronunciation of Mandarin, our national language, announced the first system of Mandarin Phonetic Symbols (i.e., symbols such asㄅ, ㄆ, ㄇ, ㄈ, etc.) in November 1918. This system is still in use and is referred to as MPS I. As communication between the East and the West became more frequent, the use of Romanized transcription symbols for Mandarin Chinese words also became an urgent necessity. In September 1928, the Minister of Education Mr. Ts'ài Yuán-péi announced a Romanization Alphabet (originally called Kwoyeu Romatzyh) which was designed by Chián Shiuán-túng, Y.R. Chao, Lín Yǔ-táng, Lí Jǐn-shī, Lióu Fù, Wāng Yí, and Jōu Biàn-míng, etc. In October 1940, however, the Ministry of Education Committee for the Promotion and Propagation of the National Language (CPPNL) passed a resolution and officially called the Romanization Alphabet "Transliteration Symbols".

The Transliteration Symbols incorporate the four tones into the system and the rules for the representation of the tones are extremely complicated. The symbols for some of the finals are also not in keeping with the commonly used spelling systems of Western languages. These complications have resulted in difficulties both in the teaching of Mandarin to non-Chinese speakers and the learning of Mandarin by non-Chinese speakers.

In order to find a solution to such problems, the Ministry of Education held a meeting in January 1984. Representatives from the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Academia Sinica, the CPPNL, the Language Center, and linguistic scholars and experts from universities were invited to participate and to express their views on relevant aspects of these problems. A resolution was reached that the Transliteration Symbols (i.e. MPS II) should be revised and a working committee called the Research Unit for the Revision of MPS II should be established. The committee included as members linguistics scholars Jāng Shī-wén, Lǐ Shiǎn, Lǐ Rén-guěi, Wáng Tiān-chāng, Jāng Shiàu-yù, Hé Jǐng-shián, Lǐ Jèn-chīng, Wú Guó-shián, Chén Jìn-chéng, Lióu Sēn, Lióu Shīng-hàn, and Lù Jèn-lái. The purpose of the Research Unit was to do the necessary research that might lead to a satisfactory revised system of MPS II. Prof. Lǐ Shiǎn and Prof. Wáng Tiān-chāng were appointed chairman and minutes keeper of the Unit respectively.

After extensive and intensive study and comparison of the existing transcription systems for Mandarin (e.g. the Wade-Giles system, the Yale System, the Lin Yu-tang system, and the original Transliteration Symbols), the Research Unit reached the following resolutions:

  1. That the revision should be based on the original system of initials and finals of the Transliteration Symbols;
  2. That the four tones should be expressed by the diacritic marks used in MPS I;
  3. That the revised system should henceforth be officially called Mandarin Phonetic Symbols II (MPS II).

On May 10, 1984, the Ministry of Education announced, according to the tentative revision proposed by the Research Unit, a system of MPS II for trial use for a period of one year. Viewpoints and feedback from the general public on the appropriateness and practicality of MPS II would be collected and evaluated carefully to serve as reference for further revision during that one-year period. On January 28, 1986, upon completion of all relevant revisions after the trial use period, the Ministry of Education finally and formally announced the official version of MPS II.

This text on Mandarin Phonetic Symbols II (MPS II), Taiwan's former official romanization system for Mandarin Chinese, is from a July 1986 book by Taiwan's Ministry of Education.