Thomas Francis Wade

Sir Thomas Francis Wade, GCMG, KCB (25 August, 181831 July, 1895) was a London-born British diplomat and sinologist who produced a syllabary in 1859 that was later amended, extended and converted into the Wade-Giles Romanization for Mandarin Chinese by Herbert Giles in 1892. His Chinese name was Wei Tuoma (威妥瑪).


Born in London, the son of Major Wade of the Black Watch, by his wife Anne Smythe (daughter of William Smythe) of Barbavilla, County Westmeath, Ireland. In 1838, his father purchased for him a commission in the 81st Foot. Exchanging (1839) into the 42nd Highlanders, he served with his regiment in the Ionian Islands, devoting his leisure to the congenial study of Italian and modern Greek.

On receiving his commission as lieutenant in 1841 be exchanged into the 98th Foot, then under orders for Qing China, and landed in Hong Kong in June 1842. The scene of the First Opium War had at that time been transferred to the Yangtze River, and thither Wade was ordered with his regiment. There he took part in the attack on Zhenjiang and in the advance on Nanking.

In 1845, he was appointed interpreter in Cantonese to the Supreme Court of Hong Kong, and in 1846 assistant Chinese secretary to the superintendent of trade, Sir John Francis Davis. In 1852 he was appointed vice-consul at Shanghai. The Taiping Rebellion had so disorganized the administration in the neighborhood of Shanghai that it was considered advisable to put the collection of the foreign customs duties into commission, a committee of three, of whom Wade was the chief, being entrusted with the administration of the customs. This formed the beginning of the imperial maritime customs service.

In 1855, Wade was appointed Chinese secretary to Sir John Bowring, who had succeeded Sir J. Davis at Hong Kong. On the declaration of the Second Opium War in 1857, he was attached to Lord Elgin's staff as Chinese secretary, and with the assistance of Horatio Nelson Lay he conducted the negotiations which led up to the Treaty of Tientsin (1858). In the following year he accompanied Sir Frederick Bruce in his attempt to exchange the ratification of the treaty, and was present at Taku when the force attending the mission was attacked and driven back from the Pei Ho (Hai River).

On Lord Elgin's return to China in 1860, he resumed his former post of Chinese secretary, and was mainly instrumental in arranging for the advance of the special envoys and the British and French forces to Tientsin (Tianjin), and subsequently towards Peking. For the purpose of arranging for a camping ground in the neighborhood of Tongzhou he accompanied Mr (afterwards Sir) Harry Parkes on his first visit to that city.

As early as 1866, Wade urged Chinese officials to discontinue their method of execution known as "slicing", which was made notorious via tales (perhaps exaggerated or inaccurate) of the death by a thousand cuts.

Thomas Francis Wade was knighted in 1875, and participated in the Chefoo Convention (1876).

After retiring from working over forty years in the British embassies in China, he returned to England in 1883, and donated 4,304 volumes of Chinese literature to the Cambridge University Library's Oriental Collection three years later. He was then elected to be the first professor the Chinese language in Cambridge University in 1888. He had the position as a professor until his death in Cambridge at 77.

Thomas Francis Wade was married to Amelia Herschel (1841-1926), daughter of John Herschel, the astronomer


In addition to diplomatic duties, Wade published books teaching or advancing non-Chinese's knowledge in the language:
* "The Peking Syllabary; being a collection of the characters representing the dialect of Peking; arranged after a new orthography in syllabic classes, according to the four tones. Designed to accompany the Hsin Ching Lu, or Book of Experiments", (Hong Kong), 1859.
* 语言自迩集 "Yu-yen tzu-erh chi: a progressive course designed to assist the student of colloquial Chinese", London, 1867.
* 文件自迩集 "Wen-chien tzu-erh chi: a series of papers selected as specimens of documentary Chinese", London, 1867.
* 汉字习写法 "Han-tzu hsi-hsien fa: a set of writing exercises, designed to accompany the collquial series of the tzu-erh chi", London, 1867.

In these books, Wade produced an outstandingly innovative system of transliteration of the Chinese pronunciation into the Latin alphabet (i.e., "romanization"), based on the pronunciation conventions of the Beijing dialect.

Wade's system was later substantially modified by Herbert Giles (Giles succeeded Wade as professor of Chinese at Cambridge University), into the "Wade system as modified by Giles": the system now more generally known as the Wade-Giles system.

ee also

*Anglo-Chinese relations

External links

* [ Cambridge Oriental Collections intro]


*Cooley, James C., Jr. "T.F. Wade in China: Pioneer in Global Diplomacy 1842-1882." Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1981.

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