Beijing subway to standardize English translations

If you’re heading to Beijing you may have to put up with conflicting subway station names — at least for a while. According to news site China Daily, the city has “adopted a new set of English translation methods for the capital’s rail transit stations.” Basically what this means is that the municipal transport commission authority is gradually changing the way stop names are localized into English — both on maps and signs. Trick is, the changes aren’t happening across all materials at once: “Different English translations for a same station may exist over a period of time as the replacement of the signs will be carried out gradually and orderly,” China Daily reports. Early maps with the new names are already available. Distribution began late last year. The signage translation work will start in 2021.

The city’s goal is to provide new stop names that not only reflect the geographic location of a place but its cultural implications — and in a way that enlightens foreign travelers. Subway stop names that previously used pinyin — an adaptation method that uses letters from the Roman alphabet to spell out Chinese words based on sound — will be changed to new names that use the Chinese phonetic alphabet. The first word of each stop name will also be capitalized now with all subsequent letters in lower case. Locations will also be marked by compass direction, using abbreviations like “(N)” for north or “(W)” for west. Well-known subway stops — such as those named after places of historic interest — will not change. For example, 颐和园 and 国家图书馆 will remain Summer Palace and National Library — their already globally-accepted English language translations.


In 2014, a revamp of Hong Kong’s subway translations resulted in The Wall Street Journal mocking Beijing’s by using Baidu’s free online translation portal to derive the paper’s own localization of stop names.

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