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'Seoul' morphs into Chinese 'Shouer'
By Cao Desheng (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-01-20 23:52

It could take a while for the new Chinese name for the capital of the Republic of Korea (ROK) to catch on among common Chinese.

The nation has known the Korean city of Seoul as "Hancheng" (or Hanseong in Korean) for centuries, and it will not be easy for Chinese to adopt the use of "Shouer" as its new name, said Zhao Rixin, a Beijing Language and Culture University professor said Thursday.

The Seoul city government announced Wednesday it has decided to change the city's Chinese name from "Hancheng" -- which can be interpreted as "Chinese city" -- to avoid confusion.

The new name combines two Chinese characters that produce the sound "Shouer," similar in pronunciation to "Seoul," AFP quoted a Korean official as saying.

"It is a general perception in the world community and an international practice to call the capital city Seoul, not Hanseong," Mayor Lee Myung-Bak said at a news conference in Seoul on Wednesday.

"Shouer" is closer to the actual name as well as the Chinese meaning of "first city," which makes it more suitable for the capital, Lee was quoted as saying.

However, Zhao felt it "unusual" when he pronounced the new name in Chinese after learning of the news from the local media.

"I feel the pronunciation is very bizarre, as if I'm talking about an unfamiliar city," Zhang said.

Chen Jian, an employee in a state-owned enterprise in Beijing, feels similarly.

Chen said it's hard for him to match "Shouer" with the capital city since Hancheng has become deeply engraved in his mind.

Last January, the city of Seoul formed a special committee of Chinese-language experts to prepare for the change.

A survey by the city last year of 1,440 Chinese living in Seoul showed that 44 per cent were against changing the Chinese name, with 32 per cent in favour.

The city plans to use the new name in translations of official city documents, on its Chinese web page, promotion materials and road signs.

It also asked the Chinese Government to adopt the new name.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs gave no comment about the change, saying it has not received any official request from the ROK.

Han Jaeheuk, a press official from the ROK's Embassy in Beijing, said his embassy was not officially informed of the change.

"Generally, a name should follow its bearer, but it is rare that a country asks its counterpart to change translations of its city's name," Zhang said.

It might need a generation or more for Chinese speakers to accept the new name, Zhang said.

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