Taiwan Railways Administration logo

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Anthony Clayden wonders whether there is "some visual pun going on with the Chinese characters" in the design of the symbol of the TRA, which "features a rail profile inscribed within two semi-circles."

One thing stands out very clearly for me:  the vertical rail.  After that, I see what looks like parallel horizontal tracks.  Superimposed on those two elements, I can't help but picking out a stylized version of the character Tái 台, which would stand for "Taiwan".  In addition, Tái 台 could also convey the idea of "station; platform".  Some people also interpret the rail profile element as simultaneously conveying the notion of "gōng 工" ("work").


Brief article in Chinese about the logo, which corroborates my view that the character Tái 台 is present in the design of the logo.

"Tones and the alphabet" (4/27/16) — latter part of the o.p., where, in the last three paragraphs, I describe how, on a train ride from Hualien to Taichung, Taiwan, the announcer read the names of the successive stations along the route in four languages:  Mandarin, Taiwanese, Japanese, and English.

On the name "Taiwan", its derivation, and how to write it in Sinographs:

I haven't lived in Taiwan continuously for a long period of time since 1970-72, but I still go back occasionally.  I can attest that almost no one except an obsessive compulsive like myself writes 臺灣 for Taiwan.  Nearly everybody writes 台灣 or 台湾.  It really doesn't matter, because the name does not mean "Terrace Bay" as the characters seem to indicate.  They are simply being used to transcribe the sounds of a non-Sinitic term, as I explained here:

"How to Forget Your Mother Tongue and Remember Your National Language"

The very name "Taiwan" is perhaps the best example to begin with. Superficially (according to the surface signification of the two characters with which the name is customarily written), "Taiwan" means "Terrace Bay." That sounds nice, even poetic, but it is an inauthentic etymology and has nothing whatsoever to do with the actual origins of the name. (This is a typical instance of the common fallacy of wàngwénshēngyì 望文生義, whereby the semantic qualities of Chinese characters interfere with the real meanings of the terms that they are being used to transcribe phonetically.) The true derivation of the name "Taiwan" is actually from the ethnonym of a tribe in the southwest part of the island in the area around Ping'an.4 As early as 1636, a Dutch missionary referred to this group as Taiouwang. From the name of the tribe, the Portuguese called the area around Ping'an as Tayowan, Taiyowan, Tyovon, Teijoan, Toyouan, and so forth. Indeed, already in his ship's log of 1622, the Dutchman Cornelis Reijersen referred to the area as Teijoan and Taiyowan. Ming and later visitors to the island employed a plethora of sinographic transcriptions to refer to the area (superficially meaning "Terrace Nest Bay" [Taiwowan 臺窝灣], "Big Bay" [Dawan 大灣], "Terrace Officer" [Taiyuan 臺員], "Big Officer" [Dayuan 大員], "Big Circle" [Dayuan 大圓], "Ladder Nest Bay" [Tiwowan 梯窝灣], and so forth). Some of these transcriptions are clever, others are fantastic, but none of them should be taken seriously for their meanings.



  1. AntC said,

    December 30, 2018 @ 9:02 am

    on a train ride from Hualien to Taichung, Taiwan, the announcer read the names of the successive stations along the route in four languages:

    Yesterday on the run from Hualien to Pingtung (just before Kaohsiung) we got announcements in Mandarin, Hokkien (Taiwanese), English, Hakka.

    I have nothing but praise for Taiwan's rail service. Obviously rail should be kept in public ownership.

  2. AntC said,

    December 30, 2018 @ 9:17 am

    Continuing the theme of names beginning Tai-, and of visiting Hualien …

    Taipei, Taichung, Tainan, Taitung have obvious geographic associations — after we accept Tai- purely for its sound.

    But I'm confused about Tai'lugu (my approximation for what I'm hearing, with stress on the first syllable). The English spelling/romanisation is usually Taroko or Truku, which is trying to capture a Taiwanese aboriginal people's name.

    Its first character in Chinese is not the Tai of Taiwan etc — neither compulsively-written like a wedding-cake nor simplified. What's going on?

    (Taroko gorge is just as stunning as all the tourist guides claim — and I speak as a habitué of the New Zealand Alps.)

  3. Victor Mair said,

    December 30, 2018 @ 11:03 am

    The name, Taroko (formally as Truku), means "human being" in the Truku language of the Truku indigenous tribe.

    From Wikipedia:


  4. BZ said,

    December 31, 2018 @ 11:46 am

    It took me forever to figure out what the symbol in the center was supposed to be even after the explanation. It just isn't what comes to mind when picturing rails. Is that a cultural difference?

  5. hwu said,

    December 31, 2018 @ 1:05 pm

    That is the cross section of a single iron railway track. Railway workers also call it "工字钢". See the picture here:
    You can also find the same symbol used to represent railway in mainland China:
    In my view the latter logo looks better than that used in Taiwan :)

  6. Mark S. said,

    December 31, 2018 @ 11:27 pm

    @AntC: What you were hearing for Taroko as "Tai'lugu" was the Mandarin "Tàilǔgé." The government gives lip service to a few place names in local languages but continues to write them with Chinese characters, and so the dominant names continue to be the Mandarin forms (i.e., Tailuge rather than Taroko).

    And on the train from Hualien to Pingtung (Hualian to Pingdong, in Pinyin), I suspect that it wasn't Hakka that you were hearing but a language of one of Taiwan's tribes in the area. At least that's what I heard on a train around there about seven years ago.

  7. AntC said,

    December 31, 2018 @ 11:31 pm

    @BZ if there's a cultural difference, it's between rail nerds vs those who think trains are merely a form of transport. Like @hwu, it was immediately obvious to me that's a rail profile.

  8. AntC said,

    December 31, 2018 @ 11:50 pm

    @Mark yes it was the Putonghua pronunciation I was hearing. (The history of naming is more complex: the Putonghua is a transcription of the Japanese form, hence the 'l' in place or 'r'. The Japanese were particularly brutal against the Truku.)

    A romanisation of Truku suggests that's an opening consonant cluster. I understand Putonghua doesn't do that, so I'd expect 3 syllables. What I didn't expect (which was my q to Victor) is stress on the first syllable, which makes it sound like it follows a pattern of Taiwan, Taipei, Taichung, etc. But the first Chinese character for Tailugu is not Tai in the sense terrace.

    So thank you Victor, but I'm still not getting why not.

    No the fourth language in the train announcements was defiitely Sinitic (from the sound pattern I could hear — eg no consonant clusters, all open syllables) and definitely Hakka (syllable-initial ng-, for example), according to my informant, who is Taiwanese. The numbers of people who speak aboriginal languages are tiny (sadly). It plain wouldn't be worth announcing to such a tiny audience. Contrast that on the tourist railway to Alishan, there were aboriginal language announcements; but Alishan is strongly a culutral centre.

    I did notice in Taitung airport there were signs in Putonghua, English and an aboriginal language (in romanisation — lots of consonant clusters), which would correspond to your link.

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