Chinese Law Prof Blog

Editor: Donald C. Clarke
George Washington University Law School

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Citation of Chinese sources in English (again)

Almost three years ago I blogged here on the ever-vexing subject of citation of Chinese sources in English. That sparked a good discussion in the comments section. The other day, another commenter (Stian Håklev) happened across this post and added some very helpful remarks, which I reproduce below.

I absolutely agree with you, this is a huge problem. The absolutely worst is articles that only have translated versions, there is not even anything to tell you that the original is not in English (The Journal of Higher Education in China could be an English language journal - but it isn't, how are we to know though?). Pinyin is better, but still not ideal. And especially with the atrocious preference in APA for only using the autors initials. If I see a person cited as 李生桥, I might say "Oh, that's the person whose paper I was reading the other day", but if I see a reference to "Li, X.", it's quite useless. [Comment from DC: Bravo!]

I struggled with this when I was writing my MA thesis about China, and I did quite a bit of research (weird that nobody have really addressed this problem). I finally found that Chicago allowed me to include both the characters, the pinyin and the English translation, which to me was ideal. I wrote about this solution here:

I used this in my MA thesis, which is available for download from here: This practice also served me well when I had the thesis translated to Chinese (I will release it on that blog in a few days) - I could just take out the pinyin and English, and I had a Chinese source list.

Thank you for raising this issue. We should try to push for these practices to change. In regular journals that do not specialize in China, we will probably have to settle for Pinyin, but never only English, and ideally the full name rather than just initials. But in journals and monographs dealing specifically with China, written by sinologists, I think we should expect characters as well!

Stian / 侯爽

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This is a very timely post for me as I am preparing to file my dissertation soon. Now I have a reference in case people in the library give me trouble.

That said, I wonder if including English, pinyin and characters isn't an overload of information. English is, of course, helpful to non-Chinese speakers, and Chinese is, of course, helpful to Chinese speakers. But if you have both of those, I'm not sure what would be the purpose of including pinyin as well. What am I missing?

Posted by: G.E. Anderson | Mar 30, 2011 5:12:40 PM

Actually this is a very interesting issue. As a law student, I need to follow the bluebook for citation rules. Thank goodness that the new version bluebook now allows to use characters in journal article title. I am writing my Ph.D. dissertation on Comparative Patent Law and half of my research is in Chinese. You can imangine the workload of making citations by providing English, pinyin and characters! But I'd rather take this burden, b/c a citation only having pinyin and English is diffficult for myself to trace back the reference and I read characters much faster than pinyin.

One more thing I wish the bluebook citation can include is the case number, like [2004]民三他字第4号. For me, the case number is much more helpful than the case title to locate a judicial opinion either by baidu or searching in a database.

Posted by: Amy zhe peng | Mar 31, 2011 12:31:48 AM

A minor addendum: for online sources, and for Party and other websites that contain information that may be taken down, use Like this: (read through that briefly and you'll work out why it may be taken down at some point). Webcitation should be the standard for making online citations; I don't know why it isn't yet. You can add a bookmarklet, and it takes only another 5 seconds to produce a permanent reference. MPR

Posted by: Matthew Robertson | Mar 31, 2011 7:01:43 AM

Bluebook 19th edition has made steps in the right direction, but there are some technological issues that hold us back. Westlaw still does not scan characters. So, even if we keep then in our articles, the characters will not be searchable and will not show up when printed. Bad times.

Posted by: Casey Dubose | Mar 31, 2011 2:53:31 PM

@Greg: I agree that characters, pinyin, and English does seem a bit like overkill. I can only think of one reason for including all three: English for non-Chinese speakers, characters for Chinese speakers, and pinyin for Chinese speakers who have access only through Westlaw (per Casey's comment; does Lexis have the same problem?). I guess the issue becomes how long one thinks it will be before Westlaw and Lexis adopt technology that will allow characters to be read on their materials, and how important Chinese speakers who have access only through Westlaw and Lexis are to you.

Posted by: Don Clarke | Apr 4, 2011 8:56:51 AM

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