I have noticed certain Chinese names follow the English order, i.e., given name before family name, when occurring in English text, whereas others retain the Chinese order, i.e., family name before given name. The former is illustrated by Chenjun Pan (see this link) and other researchers of Chinese descent who have published in academic journals. The latter is exemplified by Xi Jinping and Tasi Ing-Wen.

Could anyone explain why the difference arises and offer a generalization of when one type of name ordering is preferred over the other?

  • The names of Chinese politicians are usually quoted in the Chinese order by English-speaking media. Ms Pan presumably works for an English-speaking organisation and has chosen to use the English order for convenience. – Kate Bunting Aug 10 at 12:47
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    This is a matter of style and of personal preference; there is no single standard by which one order or the other is preferred. People living or working in Anglophone countries, or publishing in English publications, will use English (Given + Family) naming order, much as a French immigrant to Australia will learn to drive on the left. If you don't do those things and thus aren't "known as" Given + Family, then there's no need to modify the native order, which is Family + Given in East Asia—unless the individual has a preference you want to respect. – choster Aug 10 at 13:21
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    @Apollyon here you go: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/28579032 e.g. GAO JM, XIE YT, XU ZS (Last, middle & first name) follows Chinese format as per style/bibliography guide. – aesking Aug 12 at 3:16
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    @Apollyon I dont know what more you want, I showed you a scientific government journal website asking for what you want. "Real host site", what a silly thing to say. They must then use another style guide. In this do you not deny that Chinese authors name can occur in the chinese format? Why would you say science directs formatting of the name is more correct?....Because it's in the western format? In fact this relates entirely to your question that being "Chinese names" and the formatting in bibliographies is not a separate matter. – aesking Aug 12 at 4:02
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    Because it's in the western format why do you call it "Chinese names in English". How dubious, those example names you cite in your question are not English, but perhaps in the western format. Hence your question is about Chinese names. – aesking Aug 12 at 4:09

(Edit: Added CMoS reference).

Surnames (also called family names) precede.

7.12 Chinese names. In Chinese practice, the family name comes before the given name, which is usually of two elements.... Chinese may be referred to by family name alone: Chaing, Pai. Ancient Chinese names are often of only two elements, which may not be separated: Li Po, Tu Fu, Lao Tzu. The pinyin romanization system, generally used since the late 1970s for Chinese names in the English language, employs no hyphens or apostrophes and spells given names as one word. (Chicago Manual of Style, 13th edition).

(end of edit).

Please see Quick Guide on Citation Style for Chinese, Japanese and Korean Sources from the Yale University Library.

The first entry in the Chicago Manual of Style is a Chinese name.

Bibliography Hao, Chunwen 郝春文. Tang houqi wudai Songchu Dunhuang sengni de shehui shenghuo 唐后期五代宋初敦煌僧尼的社会生活 [The social existence of monks and nuns in Dunhuang during the late Tang, Five Dynasties and early Song]. Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue chubanshe, 1998.

Note the comma between surname and given name in CMoS usage.

Here is a generalization: the order is surname first in Pinyin (and then in Chinese, if possible).

Here is a well known name in an English sentence, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China:

On the morning of July 22, 2019, Premier Li Keqiang met at the Great Hall of the People with Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), who was in China for a state visit. MFA news article

Again, the surname precedes the given name. But note: no comma after the surname.

  • The portion of The Chicago Manual of Style you have quoted says nothing about name order in text. Names in bibliography are represented differently than in an article. – Apollyon Aug 10 at 13:20
  • Agreed, the CMoS citation says nothing about the order. I will add a reference from my battered, hardback CMoS. – rajah9 Aug 10 at 13:29
  • Does your Chicago guide mention the name "Tang Tsou"? – Apollyon Aug 10 at 14:09
  • It seems a bit weird that academic journals don't follow Chicago in this matter. – Apollyon Aug 10 at 14:12
  • Wikipedia follows the convention for Mr. Tsou. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsou_Tang . Opening two lines are: "This is a Chinese name; the family name is Tsou. Tsou Tang (Chinese: 鄒讜; 18 December 1918 – 7 August 1999) was a Chinese-American political scientist. " Looking at scholar.google.com, the author writes his name as "Tang Tsou." (see second reference, journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.2307/2950135?journalCode=tcj) It looks like most of the academic journals skirt the issue by referring to him as "T Tsou" or simply "Tsou" – rajah9 Aug 10 at 14:42

The most plausible explanation has to do with maintaining cultural pride and authenticity.

Presidents represent a country, so they have their names arranged in the Chinese order as a symbol of national identity. This is supported by the observation that many presidents who can speak English themselves are accompanied by an interpreter in meetings with foreign guests. This is done again out of national pride: the presidents are expected to stick to the country's official language and customs.

Anglophone sinologists' works, be they translations of Chinese literature or academic works, also have transliterated names in the Chinese order. It is not that these sinologists don't know the internal order of Chinese names versus English names. They do, but in order to present Chinese names faithfully, they deliberately order the names in the Chinese way.

As an example, consider the following, where Sima is one of the rare disyllabic Chinese surnames:

The Shiji quotes him approvingly more than once,63 and places his biography in the same chapter with Laozi's. There, strikingly, Sima Qian anthologizes almost an entire chapter of the Han Feizi.64 Furthermore, Sima Qian expresses ... See here

On the other hand, academics of Chinese descent who publish internationally keep to the Western name order because their primary concern is to reach as large an audience as possible. Therefore they choose to render names in an order accessible to English speakers.

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