was added here at [Sun May 17, 2020 21:56:14 pm] by new
Stampboarder Alec13 = Alessio, and a followup comment was
added by kuikka. It's great to have you on Stampboards Alec13,
and thanks to you and kuikka for posting in this thread.
The later part of Alec13's post reminded me of a relevant post that
I made in the Happy Day thread on [Tue Apr 14, 2020 03:28:51 am],
well before I decided to start a Stamps and Languages thread.
That post was motivated by this image, posted by Ubobo.R.O.:
Republic of China stamp, 7 July 1945, 2 yuan, Sc 594
RogerE wrote:Thanks Ubobo.R.O. for your image [Mon Apr 13, 2020 00:05:27 am] of the
1945 Chinese stamp showing Chiang Kai-shek, a map of China, and the flags
of Britain, the Republic of China, and the USA. Thanks also to Panterra for
the very informative follow-up on that stamp.
A stamp can be the motivation for thoughts and study and follow-up reading
in many different directions — philatelic, of course, but not only that: also
historical, geographic, artistic, cultural, political, scientific, thematic, and so on.
It is this kind of follow-up which makes philately intellectually satisfying and a
pursuit not simply for children (though it can be both entertaining and educational
for children as well, as many of us know from an early introduction to stamps).
Here, motivated by Ubobo.R.O.'s Chinese stamp, I want to take up the linguistic
direction this stamp suggests. If we can learn to read and understand some of the
language on a stamp, we are likely to better understand the stamp itself, and the
culture which produced it, and probably also better understand some of the other
stamps from the issuing country.
Here are the two lines of text from the base of the stamp:
Looking at the first line, I give a transcription (in traditional characters, as appear on
the stamp), then a pinyin rendition (a pronunciation guide), then an English translation,
and finally a transcription in simplified characters:
(a) The inscriptions on the stamp read from right to left. I have transcribed in the
more familiar left to right order, frequently used for modern written Chinese. Note
that because each Chinese character is a "word", in fact a fluent reader of Chinese
can quite easily read a string of characters regardless of the format direction, be it
right to left, left to right, or even vertically top to bottom (a common format, especially
in classical contexts).
(b) Pinyin ia the official Romanised version of Chinese, as a pronuciation guide. Each
character is pronounced as a single syllable, in one of four tones, referred to as first,
second, third and fourth tone. A single syllable pronounced in different tones usually
has entirely different meanings. In pinyin the tone of a syllable is indicated over a
vowel in the syllable, for example: (1) zhōng; (2) huá; (3) wǔ; (4) zhèng.
(c) The simplified characters have been promoted by Beijing, whereas the traditional
characters have been retained by Taiwan, so the two styles have political connotations.
Now the second line of text at the base of the stamp: first transcribed (left to right)
in traditional characters, then in pinyin, and then an English translation.
(a) The characters 中華 zhōnghuá are "understood". They appear explicitly (in the
right to left order 華中) on modern stamps issued by Taiwan, whereas 中国 zhōngguó
appears explicitly on stamps issued by Beijing. This is the most obvious way in which
to recognise and distinguish the two.
(b) Remember that the text on the stamp reads from right to left. Therefore the
number is thirty-two (3x10 + 2), not twenty-three (2x10 + 3).
(c) Following the Xinhai Revolution, a Chinese Republic was formally announced
on 1 Jan 1912, ending over 2,000 years of imperial rule. Thus 1912 was the first
year of the Republic, on a counting convention that counts the current year. Thus,
the thirty-second year of the Republic is 1911 + 32 =1943.
With apologies for the image quality, here is the numeral in the top right corner
of the stamp:
(a) There are "formal" numerals and "common" numerals, with the same pronunciation.
The numeral on the stamp is the formal character for two. The formal characters
are reserved for official uses, such as on coins, banknotes and stamps. They carry an
implicit official "weight". On the other hand, the "common" numerals are simpler and
more convenient for everyday use. The "common" numeral for two appears in the
date at the base of the stamp.
(b) The first five numeral pairs are as follows — "common" first, then "formal" in brackets,
with the pinyin for each pair added. (Examples of other formal numerals appear on other
stamps of the same period).
Wikipedia contains a nice discussion about Chinese numerals at
Finally, the currency character in the top left corner of the stamp (again, apologies for
the quality of the image):
The traditional character, the pinyin version, and the simplified character:
(a) The currency is the yuán, sometimes translated as the "dollar", but
better simply called the yuán. The word essentially refers to a round
object, from the time when a yuán was a round silver coin.
(b) A recent character for the currency looks like a Greek pi π with a bar
on top. It is also pronounced yuán. Note how it has been derived from the
previous version of the character by just taking the internal components and
Wikipedia has a discussion about the yuán at
Republic of China stamps (full set), 7 July 1945, Sc593–598