Revising Spelling of Classical Titles in Pinyin
Based on much thought and some very helpful information shared with me by the librarian at Stanford University, I have decided to implement a major (and pretty painful) change in how I format classical Chinese titles in pinyin for Happy Goat Productions. Note that this post is very nerdy and probably irrelevant to many innocent readers. In the past, I have followed the academic tradition that I was trained in during my graduate school and doctoral work and that the vast majority of my colleagues at university followed for historical Chinese titles in Pinyin spelling: I have consistently Romanized Chinese characters by separating each one from the next and capitalizing them in titles (e.g., Bèi Jí Qiān Jīn Yào Fāng). I have noticed a gradual but consistent trend to a different practice, which previously was only applied to modern Chinese, which is a different language with very different grammar.
Because I finally understood how Pinyin spelling does work in a way that is consistent and logical even as applied to classical Chinese, I have decided from here on out that I will follow modern Pinyin conventions for classical titles as well. As such, I will group characters into units of meanings and only capitalize the first word of a title, unless it is a proper noun of course (e.g., Bèijí qiānjīn yàofāng). This will require some painful revising and getting used to but it sure seems to be where current academic practice is heading. Like the transition from Wade-Giles to Pinyin when I was in graduate school 20 years ago, it's time…If you have questions, this Chinese page on Pinyin rules is fantastic and will answer them!
The key lightbulb moment for me came when I became of these two rules for proper Pinyin spelling:
pair characters by "unit of meaning" not just by "words" (“表示一个整体概念的双音节和三音节结构，连写。”)!
two-character titles should be written in one word (for example Shījīng....).
As long as there are rules that are consistently applied, I am happy to oblige. I had never seen these rules spelled out before because the standard explanations of Pinyin spelling in English still tell you to combine Chinese characters by WORD, which is very different, especially in the context of literary Chinese. If you can read Chinese and follow the instructions on the page above carefully, the whole thing actually does make sense. What a relief! It only gets confusing when you try and follow the English instructions from places like “Wikipedia,” which directs you to this page as the authoritative site on Hanyu Pinyin rules. All the sites I have found in English mistakenly tell you to spell Pinyin by “WORD,” which would mean that the way people spell titles in classical Chinese is plainly wrong, if you are a grammar nerd like me and give this careful thought. And this is also, I believe the cause for all these inconsistencies in the way people spell titles, not just in the Wild West of Chinese medicine publications but even in “serious” academia. But the Chinese rules do make perfect sense, I am so happy to report, and thus I am now happy to be converted and to follow them. What a relief, but also a lot of work now to revise my bibliographies, my ongoing translation projects, and slowly my existing books as I go through revisions. So in case you are wondering about this change in my habit, I do have my reasons and it is not done inconsistently or casually. Thank you for reading this and bearing with me.