Friday, January 18, 2008


I think the translation of the Taiwanese currency should be "yuan", not "dollar". The symbol should be ¥ and not $.

Why is "圓" (yuan) sometimes translated as "dollar" (e.g. Hong Kong dollar), "dollar" translated as "圓" (United States dollar in Chinese)? It is not without reasons. In late 19th century and early 20th century, the world was divided into a handful of monetary regions. The dollar, peso, yuan, won, yen regions can be considered as one because one of such unit was defined as approximately 27 grams of 90% pure silver. These countries gradually became unable to sustain silver standard or gold standard, and abandoned the standards around World War I. But the names of the currency units remained unchanged, for the most part. It was a chaotic period between 1911–1949 in Mainland China in terms of monetary history. Warlords were everywhere, and new banknotes were issued almost every year. When the character "圓" was printed on the front side, sometimes English translation with "yuan" was printed on the back, sometimes with "dollar". Yuan was more frequent than dollar. Therefore, I've proven that 圓 = yuan = dollar.

yuan ↑ ↓dollar

Then why do I still advocate the use of yuan? Right now the currency unit of Mainland China, South Korea, and Japan are all cognates of the character 圓 (yuan). And they are respectively transliterated as "yuan", "won", and "yen", spelled as they are spoken. The fact that Hong Kong's 圓 is translated as dollar is because it was a British colony. However, Macau's 圓 is not translated yuan or dollar. It is "pataca" because pataca is the Portuguese word for peso. Taiwan was never colonized by an English speaking country in modern time. There is no reason to use the word "dollar". So we should use "yuan".

In addition, English has almost never been printed on banknotes since the issuance of the Taiwanese (old) "dollar" in 1946. But the first two series of the new Taiwanese "dollar" after 1949, the vertical series, had English translation with "YUAN" on the back. What else can be more official than banknotes? So my proposal is not without precedent.

If we were to use "yuan", then the symbol should be ¥.

Unfortunately, the ROC government in Taiwan, in recent decades, disregards the precedent of yuan. English documents and web pages use "dollar". Even the folder of the 1999 commemorative banknote for the 50th anniversary of the issuance of the new Taiwanese "dollar/yuan" had the word "dollar". This also exposes the ignorance of standardization in the Taiwanese society.

Taiwanese yuan, TW¥.