one thing wonderful about the books of riordanverse is the representation it offers. however, even though, i respect rick riordan for including representation in his books, it doesn’t pertain to the fact that i particularly fancy the way rick riordan has shown representation in the books for it is, more often than not, unfortunately inaccurate.
such inaccuracies can be seen in some, if not most, of the asian characters representing their respective backgrounds in the books. and one culture, whose representation has been inaccurate is chinese culture.
for the sake of this post, we’ll be taking a look at frank zhang—his chinese name and grandma zhang—why her mandarin wasn’t even mandarin in the first place to begin with.
frank zhang. discernible mistakes occurring due to lack of research can be found clearly in the name itself; more specifically, his chinese name fai.
“No one called him Fai except his grandmother.”
“What sort of name is Frank? She would scold. That is not a Chinese name.”
~son of neptune, page 74
fai is indeed a chinese name and there is not something quite exactly wrong with grandma zhang calling her grandson fai, for from what i know, it isn’t particularly uncommon for chinese people to have two names—a western name and a chinese name.
however, the problem arises when we learn that the zhang family speaks mandarin.
the name fai isn’t even mandarin; in the hanyu pinyin system—which is the official romanization system for standard mandarin chinese—fai doesn't create one word and i doubt that 'tis even pronounceable in mandarin.
on the other hand, arguments can be risen that fai is a variant spelling from the wades-giles system—which is the romanization system for mandarin chinese produced by thomas francis wade—but when we look at all the instances where grandma zhang has been implied to take pride in her ethnicity/nationality as a chinese and i highly doubt that she’d use a foreigner’s romanization system even though assumptions should never be made.
Grandmother scowled. “Yes, clean your ears, Fai Zhang!”
~son of neptune, page 77
grandma zhang calls frank 'fai zhang'. this isn't necessarily wrong but as far as i know, people from the three east asian countries namely south korea, japan and china, call themselves with their last names first and assuming the pride she takes in her ethnicity, she should've called frank 'zhang fai'.
taking the last point into consideration, and keeping in mind that grandma zhang takes pride in her chinese ethnicity, we reach our next point, which is the inaccurate use of chinese languages.
“‘A woman appeared at the fire,’ she continued. ‘She was a white woman—a gwai poh—dressed in blue silk, with a strange cloak like the skin of a goat.’”
~son of neptune, page 77
the term gwai poh is a chinese slang, yes, but it is cantonese, not mandarin. and the latter is the language that grandma zhang speaks.
if you wanted to say “foreigner” in chinese slang, the cantonese version gwai poh (cantonese romanization) isn’t even valid in mandarin which is the language grandma zhang speaks. the closest thing to gwai poh in mandarin would be lao wai—which is the pinyin transliteration for 老外 which is an informal slang for ‘foreigner’ as well.
with a tad bit more research similar to how rick riordan used the knowledge of seven being an unlucky number due to july being the ghost month and how ‘zhang’ (张) means ‘master of bows’, he could’ve avoided making these simple mistakes, and given our beloved character frank zhang’s culture a much better representation.
i hope you all enjoyed reading the post and comment on your thoughts down below but please be respectful, and i hope you have a nice day!! <33