Chinese typewriter redux

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We have looked at the Chinese typewriter again and again:

"Chinese Typewriter" (6/30/09)

"Chinese typewriter, part 2" (4/17/11)

"Chinese character inputting" (10/17/15)

By now we are thoroughly familiar with this unwieldy contraption.  Given that it has long since been consigned to the museum, where it properly belongs, it is strange that some folks continue to tout it as the wave of the future in information processing.

"Chinese Characters Are Futuristic and the Alphabet Is Old News" (Sarah Zhang, The Atlantic, 11/1/16)

Meanwhile, the vast majority of Chinese are busily inputting characters via the alphabet (Hanyu Pinyin).

The Chinese typewriter (pictured triumphantly and [in]gloriously at the top of the Atlantic article), is the clumsiest, clunkiest device for composing text that is imaginable.  Essentially, it is a small, highly inadequate, and terribly inefficient type case with mechanical means for picking up the individual sorts and banging them against a piece of paper on the platen.  Ironically, movable type was invented in China around 1040 AD, but it never caught on for the simple fact that the massive (and ever expanding) number of glyphs that constitute the Chinese writing system were too hard to manage and maintain.

As several astute observers (e.g., William C. Hannas, David Moser) have noted, it is the alphabet — in combination with electronic text processing — that is rescuing Chinese characters from the oblivion to which they would have been assigned if they had had to rely on the mechanical Chinese typewriter for their preservation and dissemination in the modern world.

With regard to the number of characters that literate Chinese need to command to be able to read and write, it is nowhere near 10,000, much less 100,000.  See, among others, the following posts:

"How many more Chinese characters are needed?" (10/25/16)

"The future of Chinese language learning is now" (4/5/14)

Despite what pipe dreaming hanziphiles may fantasize, the proliferation of Chinese characters is not a blessing but a curse.  The Japanese have wisely and rather severely restricted the number of kanji for education and in daily use.

[h.t. Geoff Wade, Bob Ramsey, and many others who called the Atlantic article to my attention]


  1. Jim Breen said,

    November 5, 2016 @ 8:08 pm

    The Atlantic article is at:

    Her article is rather skeptical. As she says: "Mullaney’s rhetoric can sometimes be jarring.."

  2. David Marjanović said,

    November 5, 2016 @ 9:49 pm

    ^ Thanks for the link; the article is much ado about not very much – it says "predictive typing is the future, and isn't it neat that it was invented in China for needs exacerbated by Chinese characters", and apparently that's it.

  3. James Dew said,

    November 7, 2016 @ 9:16 am

    Shame on The Atlantic. It used to be a respectable, often even exciting, magazine.

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