The Man Who Revolutionized Chinese Writing: Zhou Youguang, Inventor of Pinyin


Pinyin is the Romanisation of Chinese characters It has helped millions if not billions of Chinese and non-Chinese master the basics of Chinese pronunciation.

Before it was created, the methods for Romanisation were next to useless.

The old versions are the reason we still call Beijing Duck Peking Duck and why brands like Qingdao Beer are written Tsingtao.

To say that Pinyin has improved everyone's ability to learn Chinese is an understatement, but . . . . .

that's not why we are here today.

Today, we are going to look at the man behind the Text, the late the great, Mr. Zhou Youguang!

Ok, so Zhou Youguang, also known as the father of Pinyin had probably one of the most interesting lives in modern Chinese History.

Born in the Jiangsu province in 1906, Zhou Youguang came from a respectably wealthy family that . . . .

was until they lost most of their fortune during the fall of the Qing Dynasty.

Despite financial difficulties he managed to get a degree in economics in Shanghai and then moved Japan to continue his studies, that was until war between China and Japan broke out and he was forced to move back to China.

After the war he moved to America and worked on Wall Street and apparently met Albert Einstein twice.

So things were going well for him, that . . . .

was until Mao Zedong unified China in 1949 and ordered all overseas Chinese people to return back home.

Then in 1955 despite being an economist with no professional linguistic experience his was made head of a group in charge of Romanising the Chinese language.

It took his group 3 years to design what we now call Pinyin.

The government were very happy with his work and congratulated him for it that . . . .

was until the Cultural Revolution happened and he was sent to a re-education labour camp for 2 years.

There's something sadly ironic about the fact that a man who is responsible for the increase in educated Chinese being sent for . . . .


After the Cultural Revolution Zhou continued working in linguistics most notably translating the encyclopaedia Britannica that . . . . .

was until the day after his 111th birthday in 2017, Zhou Youguang sadly passed away.

For a man that contributed to increased literacy rates and the spread of Mandarin Chinese internationally, his work has gone largely ignored within China until recently.

This is probably because he was quite vocal about disliking the direction the Chinese government had taken during the 20th Century, but even if he is not so well remembered in China, the fascinating life and influential work of Zhou Youguang is something the rest of the world will never forget.

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I'm Wookong, and goodbye.