• pinyin - or hanyu pinyin. The system in use in the People's Republic of China and its territories since 1958. Modern scholarship and journalism of China tends to use pinyin exclusively, though many card catalogs and unrevised older works still use the Wade-Giles system. In pinyin, the capital city of China is written as Beijing.
  • Wade-Giles - developed by Sir Thomas Wade and Herbert Giles while they were consular officials in China. Was the preferred Western method for romanization until fairly recently, and is still in current use in Taiwan/the Republic of China. In Wade-Giles, the capital of China is rendered as Pei-ching, though it was normally written as Peking in a holdover from the Post Office System.
  • Post Office System - the system used for the names of provinces and large cities in addressing letters and in official atlases before the reformation to Pinyin. Probably the least logical Romanization system of them all; it was responsible for such non-intuititive renderings as Tsingtao for Qingdao and Peking for Beijing. The Postal System was really more a simple compilation of traditional spellings than any kind of a regular system, which is the reason for some of its more egregiously odd romanizations.
  • Ecole Française de l'Extreme Orient - developed by French diplomats in China around the turn of the century, and now fallen into almost totally into disuse, though one still encounters it in early records. I believe the capital of China would be written as Peiping, though here my memory grows a bit hazy.
  • Yale - the Yale system was developed, appropriately enough, at Yale, during the Second World War, as part of an intensive effort to teach American servicemen phonetic Chinese, and has the advantage of corresponding closely to standard American pronounciations. It is still used, occasionally, in courses designed to teach Chinese to native English speakers.
  • Gwoyeu Romatzyh - was a system developed by two Chinese scholars, and used sporadically in Taiwan until Wade-Giles was decided on as the official romanization. It was unique in that it indicated the tone of a word in its spelling, which sounds good on paper, but actually proved to be remarkably confusing.
  • Lessing - originally the preferred German system of romanization, and the direct precursor of pinyin. I'm not really sure in what ways, if at all, it differs from pinyin.

Thanks go out to Gorgonzola for reminding me to include the Post Office System, and schist for explaining to me that it was really more a compendium of traditional spellings than a regularized system, and that the Wade-Giles sytem was invented in China, and not at Cambridge.

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