So, my real question is: did 瑞 used to be pronounced suì in 官话?

My roundabout way at getting to this is from the transliteration of Switzerland.

Let's look at Chengduese.《现代汉语方言音库 • 成都话音档》records 瑞 with two pronunciations. One being:


which could be roughly written in faux-"pinyin" as rui; which approximately (details aside) matches most MSM pronunciations.



which is essentially (for our purposes here) sui.

Now, the rule of thumb for 老派 Chengduese is that names and places are read sui and not rui. Which would make the pronunciation of 瑞士 something more akin to sui si - which sounds much closer to the actual pronunciation of Switzerland. What makes for an even better case for this pronunciation is a comparison to Japanese. The Japanese pronunciation of Switzerland is Suisu (スイス) and it's Ateji (当て字) is 瑞西.

How was Switzerland transliterated into Chinese? Was it through some topolect -or- did 瑞 originally carry the pronunciation sui?

edit: I supposed 瑞典 (Sweden) might also be an interesting case to look into - with similar sui/swe sounds.

edit #2: Looking at wiktionary Min nan/Hakka/Cantonese all seem to be much closer to sui than rui also.

edit #3: Wiktionary’s entry for 瑞士 does confirm some things:

From French Suisse, borrowed through a southern Chinese dialect (where 瑞 is pronounced with an s- initial). See also 瑞典 (Ruìdiǎn).

But it’s sorely lacking specifics.

edit #4: apparently 山东 topolect also reads 瑞 as sui.

edit #5: Grand Ricci also gives the pronunciation: shuì.

  • zdic has for 瑞: [海陆腔] sui5 sui5 [客语拼音字汇] sui4 [陆丰腔] sui6 [东莞腔] sui3 [台湾四县腔] sui5 [客英字典] sui5 sui5 [宝安腔] sui5 [梅县腔] shui5 [沙头角腔] sui5
    – Pedroski
    Aug 21, 2019 at 10:42

1 Answer 1


Did 瑞 used to be pronounced suì in 官話?

It was pronounced far closer to suì than today’s ruì, and more than enough to warrant the use of 瑞 as a transcription for Switzerland or Sweden.

enter image description here

Excerpt from 元・周德清《中原音韻》, detailing the phonology of 13th Century Central Plains speech, a.k.a. Old Mandarin. The characters 睡, 稅, 說, and 瑞 are pronounced identically. The expected Mandarin reflex of 瑞 is shuì.

enter image description here

Excerpt from the Ming Dynasty publication 《洪武正韻》, which details the speech of Ming-era Mandarin. The dictionary gives the Fanqie of 瑞 as 殊偽切.

Whatever changed the pronunciation to r- must have happened relatively recently...

  • Any idea where the Chinese translations for Switzerland and Sweden came from?
    – Mou某
    Aug 22, 2019 at 6:18
  • @user3306356 the name of Sweden supposedly was made up during the Qing Dynasty (see kina.cc/ac/history/sweden.htm). Of course, I don't know where the webmaster got the source from, so I can't confirm. However, Draft History of Qing says the same thing (see 清史稿)
    – dROOOze
    Aug 22, 2019 at 8:39

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