The things you learn in school

The Olympics reminded me of some long-forgotten nugget of totally useless trivia that I learned while studying for my A Level in Contemporary History.

My teacher for World History 1945- the present day was Robert Swann – a bearded chap who was obscenely intelligent. His knowledge was quite remarkable and he’d wander into the lesson without any notes and just talk to us about a subject for 45 minutes and expect us to make the relevant notes.

A bit like a University lecture, except that even at university many lecturers give you print-outs of the most salient points at the end.

Anyway, I digress. One of the things I remember being taught was how the modern Chinese Mandarin came to be written in Western (roman) script.

For most of the 20th century, Chinese words and names, such as Mao were transliterated using something called Wade-Giles. Thus for years, everyone knew the capital of China as Peking.

Then in around 1979/1980, it was decided – I know not by whom – to revert to something called Pinyin, the system developed within China to romanize the Chinese characters.

So now we know the capital as Beijing, although I’m not sure if we call the dish Beijing Duck any more.

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