How to Pronounce 'Xi Jinping's' Name

It's important to know how to say the name of the Chinese leader

Xi Jinping
Public domain

China has been growing as a world power, and Xi Jinping, the country's leader since 2012, is ever-present in the news and on the world stage. It's important, therefore, for students of Chinese—and indeed for anyone keeping up with current events—to be able to pronounce the Chinese leader's name.

But saying his name correctly is not simple; it requires understanding the Chinese alphabet as well as the tones you must use when pronouncing Chinese letters and words.

Basic Pronunciation

The alphabetical letters used to write sounds in Mandarin Chinese (called Hanyu Pinyin) don't often match sounds they describe in English, so simply trying to read a Chinese name and guess its pronunciation is not sufficient. (Mandarin Chinese is the official language of Mainland China and Taiwan.)

The simplest way to pronounce the name of the president of China is to say Shee Jin Ping. But you also must account for the Chinese tones.

The Four Tones

In Mandarin Chinese, many characters have the same sounds, so tones are necessary when speaking to help differentiate words from each other. The four tones are:

  • First: a level and higher pitch
  • Second: a rising tone that starts from a lower pitch and ends at a slightly higher pitch
  • Third: a falling-rising tone that begins at a neutral tone then dips to a lower pitch before ending at a higher pitch
  • Fourth: a falling tone that starts the syllable at a slightly higher-than-neutral pitch then goes quickly and strongly downward

You can listen to a recording of a native speaker pronouncing the name and mimic the pronunciation. The BBC notes that the name is pronounced -sh as in ship, -j as in Jack, -i as in sit, -ng as in sing.

Breaking Down the Name

The president's name is 习近平 (or 習近平 written in traditional form). His name, as do most Chinese names, consists of three syllables. The first syllable is his family name and the two remaining are his personal name.

Xi, the first part of the name, can be difficult for non-native Chinese speakers to pronounce because the hard x sound does not exist in English. It is alveolo-palatal, meaning that it's produced by placing the body of the tongue against the front part of the hard palate. The tongue position is similar to the first sound in "yes" in English. Try producing a hissing sound and you'll get pretty close. The i is like the "y" in "city" but longer. The tone rises when pronouncing this part of the name, so it takes on the second tone.

Jin is also tricky, but if you know how to pronounce the hard x in Chinese, it becomes a lot easier. J is pronounced like the sound but has a stop in front of it. Think of it as a very light t, or tx. Take care not to breathe out too hard when pronouncing the t because it will turn into a Chinese Pinyin q. The i in jin should sound similar to the i in xi but shorter. The tone falls in this part of the name, so it takes on the fourth tone.

Ping is fairly straightforward; it is pronounced much as it looks in English written form. One minor difference is that the ng is pronounced farther back and is more prominent than in English. The tone rises in this part of the name so it takes on the second tone.