Man Who Made Learning Chinese Easier Dies at 111

Linguist Zhou Youguang, recognized as the father of Pinyin, died at the age of 111 in Beijing on Saturday.

Pinyin is the official writing system that translates standard Chinese characters into Roman alphabets. For this, Zhou, who also lived as a banker, economist and publisher, will not be forgotten.

Zhou and his colleagues spent three years developing the system, which was adopted by China in 1958. It was later adopted by the International Organization for Standardization and the United Nations in 1982 and 1986, respectively, The New York Times wrote.

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Zhou, originally named Zhou Yaoping, was born to a prominent family in Changzhou, a prefecture-level city in the province of Jiangsu, on January 6, 1906 during the Qing Dynasty.

He graduated from Guanghua University in 1927 with a degree in economics. He then moved to Chongqing and worked for the Sin Hua Trust and Savings Bank.

By 1946, he flew to New York as Sin Hua’s representative at the Wall Street headquarters of Irving Trust, its United States agent, where he worked as a banker.

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Zhou returned to China in 1949 and that’s when he started developing Pinyin. He told The Guardian in 2008:

“Pinyin is not to replace Chinese characters; it is a help to Chinese characters. Without an alphabet you had to learn mouth to mouth, ear to ear.”

[Collaged Above, Resized] Image: Fong C / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Image via Fong C / Wikimedia Commons
Up to 85% of Chinese people could not read before Pinyin came to existence, but now, nearly everyone can. The system is also widely used in today’s computers and mobile devices, making some worry about it taking over Chinese characters altogether, BBC said.

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However, contributions in literacy are not everything about Zhou — he was also known to criticize Chinese authorities, writing books that were eventually banned. He supported democracy.

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