Chinese names in Japanese

I noticed on Mao’s Wiki article that his name is as follows:

  • Kanji rendition: 毛沢東
  • Furigana: もう たくとう
  • Transliteration: マオ・ツォートン
  • Chinese characters: 毛泽东

A few things I noted and I am asking myself:

  • The latter two Chinese characters are both not used in mainstream Japanese (at least not mentioned in Jisho). What’s the process of figuring out a kanji name for a chinese name that exists? Who decides what the kanji are for a chinese name? It seems ‘arbitrary’ from the naive outset. The last character (东) seems to mean east, like (東) so maybe it’s some sort of meaning (as much as meanings in names are complicated) that is translated?
  • I might have expected the kanji version to be read in a way that is similar to the original chinese one but it turns out it’s もう たくとう. Do Japanese people really say もう たくとう when they talk about Mao? Or is it more of a scholarly thing? Naively, this seems like if we would call him “Mario Smith” or something, as it seems very different.
  • When I look up Xi Jinping (or other figures), I am confronted with a similar situation, as his Chinese characters are 习近平, whereas the kanji are 習近平, pronouned しゅうきんぺい. Of course there is a transliterated katakana version again, but the question would be the same: do Japanese people refer to him as しゅうきんぺい? (strangely enough, しゅうきんぺい also means something else related to infections).
  • Last example is Fan Bingbing, Chinese 范冰冰, who, according to Japanese Wikipedia, retains her Chinese characters in Japanese and is mainly referred to by her transliteration, ファン・ビンビン.

So somehow some people get their own names inspired by the original meaning and spelling, while others don’t. I’m confused in an interesting way and maybe someone know more!


Well, it’s simplified Chinese not traditional Chinese, so it’s the same characters, just written the way they decided to simplify them.

Same as how 沢 is a simplification of 澤. Japan simplified to 沢 and China simplified to 泽. But all 3 represent the same thing.澤

I think it only makes sense that Japan will use the characters that they always use. Not terribly different from how you wrote all the Chinese people’s names with our alphabet as well, even though that’s not how they write their names.


Can’t give much comment to the question at hand, but for reference to everyone:

  • Traditional characters are the old ones.
  • Simplified are the reformed one’s by the Chinese government.
  • Japanese uses a combination of both as well as one’s that only Japanese has.

对 (simplified)
對 (traditional)
対 (Japanese-only)

A couple of different examples in Japanese:
学 (simplified)
東 (traditional)

My first thoughts as a learner of both languages are that it’s probably very arbitrary, especially when talking about a Chinese person who doesn’t interact with the Japanese community. If they do interact with Japan, then they probably have a chosen name in which no one would disagree with.

I know that in some games like Genshin, character names can vary because of this.

Edit: Chinese people choose between an established Japanese name for their characters, the On’yomi reading of those characters, or just a katakana transcription which may or may just retain the characters originally. Japanese people choosing a Chinese name often just use the Chinese readings of their Kanji.

As far as my experience goes! Someone correct me if I’m wrong please!


What’s arbitrary though? Japanese people aren’t using Japanese kanji for an arbitrary reason, they’re using them because they’re Japanese kanji.


Sorry should’ve specified.
I mean how Japanese people read proper nouns from China is an arbitrary choice between Katakana transcription or on’yomi interpretation of the characters. Edit: And of course whatever gets established just stays that way.

Ah, okay, I didn’t know about simplified Chinese, so that makes a lot of sense. Then, in a way, they are using the ‘same’ characters in various degrees of simplification. The 习 in Xi Jinping’s name is a simplification of 習, etc.

I guess it’s still a puzzle whether Japanese people use this new pronunciation their own on-yomi reading confers and whether there is a method to it or whether it is more or less random/not linguistically determined.

They would have had similar readings at first, but since the kanji was introduced to Japan, both the Chinese reading and the Japanese reading have gradually drifted away from what they were originally.

To be clear, the traditional forms of characters are still commonly used in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and most overseas Chinese communities, so they’re not “old” in the sense of “old and obsolete”.

It’s more accurate to say that Japanese imported the traditional forms (as that’s what was in use at the time), and then performed its own simplifications where it saw fit.


99 times out of 100, in Japanese media, Chinese names will be written using the full Chinese characters (applying Japanese simplification or reverse simplification where appropriate). The names are then read using Japanese on-yomi. This may or may not be anywhere near the actual pronunciation of the person’s name. There’s nothing stopping a Chinese person living in Japan from adopting a katakana version of their name and I’ve seen this a bit when I worked in Japan - but this won’t be reflected on any official documents (they require the characters written in your passport) and there’s no guarantee the media will run with that if you ever get in the newspaper or something.

On the flip side, In Chinese media, Japanese names are ALWAYS written using the Japanese kanji (applying the appropriate Chinese simplification) and read using the Chinese pronunciation of the characters.

The same rules apply to place names (with a handful of exceptions such as the Japanese pronunciations of “Beijing” and “Hong Kong”).

Pretty simple stuff.


This is entirely unrelated to the topic, but any Chinese speakers here that know what this is? This was a letter from US to Japan and for some reason it spent over 2 months in China before reaching its destination but was given this cryptic stamp. The auto-translations say something about epidemic spreading warnings.

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Yeah, just to add, there’s even a name for these simplifications in Japan, just like how there’s a name for simplified characters in Chinese: 新字体 (literally ‘new character forms, new form of writing’) is what they call the current set of characters, including the simplified versions, in Japan. 旧字体 (‘old character forms’) is the Japanese name for traditional characters, though of course, they’re more specifically the characters traditionally used in Japan. You can tell if you compare traditional characters to modern Japanese and Chinese simplifications that Japan simplified things differently in quite a few cases. Here’s one example: (traditional) became 应 (simplified Chinese) and 応 (Japanese simplification). I think the general trend – when there are differences – is that Japanese tends to prioritise maintaining recognisable parts, whereas Chinese tends to prioritise sounds (so certain meaning components get swapped out for sound components) or calligraphic tradition (应 is definitely a 草書 version of the traditional character).

A rough translation with some guessing:

A warm reminder:
Esteemed user,
The present state of the pandemic beyond our borders is serious, and the Chinese Postal Authority has already performed disinfection procedures on the exterior packaging of your imported package. [We] suggest that you perform disinfection procedures on the contents immediately after opening the box, and take care to take proper protective measures.

In essence, it’s probably directed at people who might open the letter in China. Perhaps it had to transit through China, but it still surprises me that China’s postal service needed to process it.


Much appreciated for taking the time translate! :blush:

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Isn’t it basically the same as any other pair of languages?

Most people don’t know how to pronounce other languages, so even if they see Luis, Hanako, Hoyeon, Michael, Gustave, Reinhardt, etc., they might try, but they’re most likely going to pronounce it based on their own language.

This is about the pronunciation and not the writing, of course.

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