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Terminology and Translations

Studying Taiji inevitably exposes one to Chinese language. Different versions of transliterations of Taiji terms can be confusing to non-Chinese speakers. For example, I have more than once met Taiji practitioners who thought the “Chi” in “Tai Chi” and “Chi Kung” are the same word. Many are also not familiar with newer spellings such as “taiji” or “taijiquan” (Tai Chi Chuan).

These confusions are mostly due to historical shifts in the way Mandarin Chinese pronunciations are transcribed using roman letters. Spellings such as “Tai Chi” and “kungfu” are from the Wade-Giles romanization system, devised in the late 19th century and used throughout the world during most of the 20th century. The Wade-Giles system was replaced by the pinyin system in mainland China after the founding of the People’s Republic, and only recently in Taiwan as well.

The following chart lists some common Taiji terms with corresponding Chinese, pronunciation/spelling, and English translations. The left column shows the characters in simplified Chinese and their pinyin; the middle column shows traditional Chinese writing of the characters (if different from simplified) and their Wade-Giles romanization. For a more comprehensive list of the pinyin and Wade-Giles correspondence, please refer to‘s comparison page.

(Click on the image to see it in full size.)

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