“You know that beer you order at Sunsun’s with the Cantonese chow-mein, T-SING TAOW? Well it’s a place and you won’t like how it’s pronounced..”
Many Chinese restaurants in the US and UK have tabletop promo placards that tell us to “Just say ‘Cheeng-dow’ ” when ordering Tsingtao Beer, and that’s pretty much how it is pronounced. Having trouble with figuring out how to say Chinese words when you can’t read characters? Enter pinyin. During the freshly liberated honeymoon halo of early 50’s China, Zhou Youguang led the pinyin project which created a writing and reading system that provided a needed update on the alphabetic representation of hanzi, or Chinese characters. Pinyin is still in use today – in textbooks, on road signs, even on the currency in China, the renminbi yuan (RMB). In pinyin, the characters 青岛 are written as Qingdao.
Tsingtao is the older version still being used on bottles, kegs (and plastic bags) around the world.
Many Chinese learners agree that pinyin is a more sensible and accurate Romanization system compared to older versions like gwoyeu romatzyh and Wade-Giles. What it all translates to is quite a few different ways to write out the name for the Olympic city (the 29th Sailing Regatta of the 2008 Summer Olympics was in Qingdao). Tsingtao is the older drunken version still being used on bottles, kegs (and plastic bags) around the world, and for good measure, the Germans called it Tsingtau when they were brewing out of Qingdao. For more info on Qingdao’s many names, check out Qingdao By Any Other Name.