The founder of Hanyu Pinyin has passed away. Here’s what you might want to know

By January 15, 2017Current

TL;DR – Can you imagine sending Chinese characters via WhatsApp without Hanyu Pinyin? 

Linguist and creator of modern China’s Hanyu Pinyin romanisation system, Zhou Youguang, passed away in his home in Beijing on Saturday (Jan 14), one day after celebrating his birthday.

He was 111.

Here’s some cool stuff we uncovered about the guy who made our Chinese education a lot more bearable:

1) He was born in 1906 during China’s Qing dynasty. Yup, during the period of Empress Dowager Cixi, the “Late Qing Reform” alongside the creation of a national education system and the 1905 abolition of the imperial examinations in 1905.

2) Born in Changzhou, he later moved to Suzhou at aged 10 where he had studied at Changzhou High School and St. John’s University in Shanghai where he majored in economics and took supplementary coursework in linguistics.

Zhou Youguang and his family, c. 1930. (Wikipedia)

3) He was stationed overseas twice, first in New York, and then in London. In New York, he had worked as a banker on Wall Street.

4) During his time in the United States, he twice met Albert Einstein. 

5) After the communist victory in 1949, Zhou returned to Shanghai and the government made him head of a committee to reform the Chinese language in order to increase literacy. He hence developed the Hanyu Pinyin romanisation system to represent the pronunciation of Chinese characters, taking him three years to do so.

6) During the Cultural Revolution,  he was sent to live in the countryside where he spent two years in a labour camp to be “re-educated”, like many intellectuals at that time.

7) Today, some Chinese communities in Taiwan and Hong Kong still continue to use alternatives such as Zhuyin/ Bopomofo instead of Hanyu Pinyin.


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Flora Isabelle Lim

Author Flora Isabelle Lim

On a constant quest to be a really professional internet person.

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