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.

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.

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.

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.

Support our Journalism with a Contribution

Many people might not know this, but despite our large and loyal following which we are immensely grateful for, NextShark is still a small bootstrapped startup that runs on no outside funding or loans.

Everything you see today is built on the backs of warriors who have sacrificed opportunities to help give Asians all over the world a bigger voice.

However, we still face many trials and tribulations in our industry, from figuring out the most sustainable business model for independent media companies to facing the current COVID-19 pandemic decimating advertising revenues across the board.

We hope you consider making a contribution so we can continue to provide you with quality content that informs, educates and inspires the Asian community. Even a $1 contribution goes a long way. Thank you for everyone’s support. We love you all and can’t appreciate you guys enough.

NextShark is a leading source covering Asian American News and Asian News including business, culture, entertainment, politics, tech and lifestyle.

For advertising and inquiries: