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Dialects & accents

The Chinese written language is pronounced differently by different people within China. e.g. my background is Hakka/Hokien whereas Hong Kong Chinese tend to be Cantonese.
This is akin to a Geordi accent relative to a Scouser?

Different alphabet

With Chinese certain problems occur when attempting to make it accessible to the West. The brushstrokes for tai chi are rendered in the Chinese language. They are not written using the Western alphabet.

Romanised Chinese

There is a Romanised version of Chinese created by Wade-Giles. Then there is the official Chinese version called Pinyin.

Tai chi or taijiquan?

The Wade-Giles spelling of 'tai chi' is rendered as t'ai chi ch'üan. Often simplified to tai chi or tai chi chuan.
The Pinyin (People's Republic) spelling is 'taijiquan'.


The Wade-Giles spelling causes some confusion. Technically speaking 'tai chi' refers to the yin/yang diagram not a martial art.
Also, they spell 'chi' in tai chi the exact same way as they spell qi energy e.g. chi kung (qigong).

People's Republic

Mainland Chinese people call everything tai chi 'taijiquan'. So, there are numbered forms and gymnastic dance fighting forms all called 'taijiquan' despite having no martial component whatsoever.
The term does not indicate a style of kung fu.

Tai chi - common usage

The Western general public are used to calling tai chi 'tai chi'... They have certain associations with that name - right or wrong - but commonplace.
By contrast, the word 'taijiquan' has not in any way reached public consciousness and would be largely meaningless to most people.
Like it or not, 'tai chi' (and its various mispronunciations) is what people are familiar with.

Qigong - common usage

Unlike tai chi, 'qigong' - the Pinyin spelling - is more widely known than the Wade-Giles spelling. Most people don't know 'chi kung' (Wade-Giles). They may have heard of qigong.
The same goes for the word 'qi'...

The older Wade-Giles system of romanization is more suited to the ancient names than the the official Chinese system, Pinyin.

(Tom Riseman)

What is the correct way to pronounce...?

Loosely correct:

Qi - "chee"
Qigong - "chee gung"
Tai chi - "tie jee"
Tai chi chuan - "tie jee chwan"
Kung fu - "gung fu"

The problem is that you have conflict between the Pinyin pronunciation method and the Wade-Giles, relative to what the general public recognise.
And you also have the issue of how to pronounce Chinese syllables correctly. This is not easy and you need to have an ear for it.

The recognisable way to pronounce...

These pronunciations are readily recognised by Western people:

Qi - "chee"
Qigong - "chee gung"
Tai chi - "tie chee"
Tai chi chuan - "tie chee chwan"
Kung fu - "kung fu"

School name

So, why do we call ourselves Newcastle Tai Chi? Simple. It is the most common spelling/usage in the UK. It's a business decision/name.
In terms of Pinyin, it isn't accurate but it is recognisable.
And, if we called ourselves 'taijiquan', would anyone know what that was? If they looked taijiquan up on YouTube, they'd encounter footage of wushu and dance fighting performances.
Not an appealing association...

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Page created 13 February 2020
Last updated 21 June 2023