Zhou Youguang, 109 and going strong

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A year ago, I wrote "Zhou Youguang, Father of Pinyin" (1/14/14) to celebrate Zhou xiansheng's 108th birthday and his many accomplishments in language reform and applied linguistics.  Included in that post were a portrait of ZYG in his study and numerous links concerning the man and his works.

Today I wish to honor my ageless friend for his indomitable courage and brilliant acumen in confronting China's social and political challenges as resolutely and rationally as he tackled China's language issues over sixty years ago.

"China's 109-Year-Old Dissenter Is Still Fighting For Democracy" (1/13/15)

Zhou xiansheng's mind is still sharp as a tack, and every day he sits at his little desk to write articles and books on the tiny Sharp typewriter that he helped design (the first workable electronic Chinese typewriter; pinyin inputting, of course, and using floppy disks for storage).  All of this is quite remarkable for a man who was born while the Manchus still ruled China.  Even more astonishing for a man of his great age, Zhou xiansheng is arguably the most outspoken proponent of democracy and freedom of speech in China at a moment when such topics have become increasingly dangerous to broach.

Happy Birthday, Zhou xiansheng!  May you continue to enlighten and inspire us with your good sense and bright spirit!

[Hat tip Brendan O'Kane]


  1. Victor Mair said,

    January 14, 2015 @ 8:50 am

    “God Forgot About Me”: Father of Pinyin Turns 109


  2. Victor Mair said,

    January 14, 2015 @ 9:00 am

    A China specialist who was a student at Penn in the 80s asked:


    Was Zhou among the group who visited Penn in the early 80s? I remember asking one of them if their plan in the 50s had been to move to Romanization instead of Chinese characters. They denied it.


    I replied:


    Yes, Zhou Youguang and some other language reformers came to stay with me in the 80s. They would have been very careful not to admit wanting to replace characters with pinyin. In fact, that would have been up to Mao Zedong, who almost did it — as described in John DeFrancis's work. People like Zhou Youguang and Yin Binyong were applied linguists tasked by the government with devising and implementing specific language and script reform initiatives (e.g., pinyin, simplified characters, orthographical rules, etc.). Only top leaders like Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, especially Mao, could make decisions concerning major policy shifts, such as replacing characters with pinyin would have been.


  3. Victor Mair said,

    January 14, 2015 @ 2:14 pm

    "Zhou Youguang’s 109th Birthday Wish: Democracy"


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