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Opportunity: Chinese Name for Seoul, Korea

Home < Newsletters < Summer 2006

Shou'er - Seoul

Shou'er - Hand Ear
In January 2005 Seoul Mayor Lee Myung-Bak asked China, Taiwan, and Singapore to adopt Shou'er as the new official transliterated Chinese name for Seoul instead of Hancheng, the historical name of the city from 1394 to 1910. The Korean King Yi Seonggye had named the city Hancheng, meaning "the fortress city on the Han River." The initial reactions from the governments and people to the request were mostly cold, indifference, and even irritation. Then in October 2005, Xinhua news agency reported that China officially adopted Shou'er as the Chinese name for Seoul. Today most Chinese communities have adopted this new name.

The main complaints about the name change were, first of all, that Shou'er, roughly implying "the head" or "the capital city," just doesn't sound as strong or as brave as Hancheng. Second, people wondered if the real motivation behind the change was the longstanding effort of Koreans to remove their historical ties to the Chinese. The character Han in Hancheng was inspired by the Han River, but it also means man, hero, or the Chinese Han race and dynasty. For some, that would make Hancheng mean "The Chinese City."

From the Korean point of view, the present name Seoul has been used since the end of WW II, and continuing to call Seoul Hancheng would cause confusion. And Koreans feel that the Chinese should respect their request for using the newly coined Chinese name for Seoul.

For me, the first thought that comes to my mind when I hear Shou'er is of the words hand and ear, also pronounced shou er, instead of Seoul. Hopefully years from now I'll have the new vocabulary in mind instead.

Take control of your Chinese name and image. Seoul has done it.

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