For instance, I would like to write the following sentence about China:

"Many songs were written to praise the Chinese Communist Party and the 'Motherland' ".

By "Motherland", I mean 祖国 ( zuguo / zŭguó).

This is an academic article, and I would like to include both the Chinese characters and the pinyin. What style should I use?

2 Answers 2


If I'm writing a scholarly article I normally put the Chinese first (Pinyin italicized and before characters) like this:

Many songs were written to praise the Chinese Communist Party and the zǔguó 祖国 ‘Motherland’.

The reason is that for a linguistically inclined and Chinese-reading audience I'd give primacy to Chinese term. But if it's intended for ordinary readers, I'd make the English the primary focus, this way:

Many songs were written to praise the Chinese Communist Party and the ‘Motherland’ (zǔguó 祖国).

  • By the way — somewhat off-topic, so I relegate it to a comment — I think "motherland" is a poor translation for zǔguó — I'd prefer "ancestral land" or Fatherland, myself. Commented Nov 8, 2015 at 21:31
  • 'Fatherland' makes me think of Nazi Germany, while 'Motherland' reminds of 'Mother Russia'. 'Ancestral land' doesn't sound like native English Commented Nov 8, 2015 at 21:40
  • 1
    "Fatherland" is close to what is used in most European languages, quite apart from the German case. Ancestral land is certainly good, standard English — and it matches the internal sense of the Chinese — so even if it's unfamiliar in this particular case I'd prefer it. One could also try "homeland", not quite as good. Commented Nov 8, 2015 at 22:00
  • "homeland" usually translate to 家园
    – thinwa
    Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 5:19
  • I don't understand why "motherland" is inappropriate for 祖国. If that's what it should be in English, then we will have no reason to deny it. Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 9:30
  • Use normal vernacular, make it readable
  • Omit tone marks in pinyin
  • Do not reverse names in translation (as the Japanese do)
  • 1
    Omitting tone marks in Pinyin seems to me a serious error except in the case of familiar proper nouns. Tones are an integral part of the Chinese language and should be used regularly in Pinyin. Commented Nov 8, 2015 at 22:01
  • If you do not want people to know how the Chinese is pronounced, then omit pinyin altogether. If you do want them to know, then use the tones. @brannerchinese is right, the only exception is Chinese names so common that they have been absorbed into English. Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 20:09
  • Those who can read Chinese characters will know how to pronounce them. Those who cannot read Chinese do not understand how to pronounce tones. Therefore, tones do not provide any useful information in this context.
    – user4452
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 21:03

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.