Deng Mng-Dao, The living

On Romanization

Is it Tao or Dao? Taoism or Daoism? Yijing or I Ching? Throughout this site, you will find both spellings.
Chinese is not an alphabetical language. Instead it is written using ideograms or characters. The spoken language is based on memorizing the sound that goes with a particular symbol. Writing Chinese using an alphabet depends on approximating those sounds through some selected way of spelling them.

The predominant romanization through most of the twentieth century was the Wade-Giles system. Thomas Francis Wade, a British ambassador in China and the first professor of Chinese at Cambridge University, published the first Chinese textbook in English in 1867.

The British diplomat Herbert Allen Giles refined the system in 1912. In the Wade-Giles system, a “t” is pronounced with a hard “d” sound. That led to the spellings of Tao and Taoism, though the words are actually pronounced something like “dow” and “dowism.” The Wade-Giles system also calls for the spelling I Ching.

After the People’s Republic of China was established in 1949, a new system of romanization called Hanyu Pinyin was created. In this system, we write Dao, Daoism, and Yijing. For much of the second half of the twentieth century, there was resistance to changing to the pinyin system, especially since it did not provide a perfect or intuitive transliteration of Chinese. Although the Wade-Giles system had confusing features, such as “t” being pronounced like a hard “d” and “t’”

(with an apostrophe) pronounced like a hard “t,” Pinyin also has its share of strange letter pronunciations. For example, “x” is pronounced with a “sh” sound, “q” with a “ch” sound.

When I began writing in 1983, I chose to use the Wade-Giles spelling of Tao since it seemed to be taking on its own independent identity.

The word Tao appears in many dictionaries and has entered into the popular lexicon, with people saying the Tao of this or that (like the Tao of Programming or the Tao of Poker)—and it is the name of a Las Vegas nightclub frequented by celebrities. I chose the spelling that most people could identify. Even when The Living I Ching was titled, I agreed to the Wade-Giles system instead of calling it The Living Yijing because it would be the spelling more people might recognize (however, most of the rest of my wording has always been pinyin).

It’s apparent now that many authorities are finally accepting pinyin as the primary form of transliteration. The Library of Congress decided it would adopt pinyin in 1997 and the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition, urges the use of pinyin. In short, we are in the midst of a transition from Wade-Giles to pinyin. In the future, this will undoubtedly work itself out, but for now, we have to manage the changeover.
Accordingly, this site uses pinyin except for Tao, Taoism, and I Ching. Most importantly, Tao with a “t” predominates in search engines over Dao. In cases where there may still be problems with recognition, alternate spellings will follow a term in parentheses.