Zhou Youguang
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Zhou Youguang

Zhou Youguang
Zhou Youguang 1920s.jpg
Zhou in the 1920s
Native name
Chou Yao-ping

(1906-01-13)13 January 1906
Died(2017-01-14)14 January 2017
(aged 111 years, 1 day)
Alma materSt. John's University
Guanghua University
Known forDevelopment of Pinyin; supercentenarian
Notable work
The Historical Evolution of Chinese Languages and Scripts
Political partyChina Democratic National Construction Association
Zhang Yunhe
(m. 1933; her death 2002)
Chinese name
Birth name

Zhou Youguang (13 January 1906 - 14 January 2017), also known as Chou Yu-kuang or Chou Yao-ping was a Chinese economist, banker, linguist, sinologist, publisher, and supercentenarian, known as the "father of Pinyin",[1][2][3] a system for the writing of Mandarin Chinese in Roman script, or romanization, which was officially adopted by the government of the People's Republic of China in 1958, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in 1982, and the United Nations in 1986.[3][4]

Early life and career

Zhou Youguang and wife Zhang Yunhe in 1938

Zhou was born Zhou Yaoping in Changzhou, Jiangsu Province, on 13 January 1906 to a Qing Dynasty official.[1][5] At the age of ten, he and his family moved to Suzhou, Jiangsu Province. In 1918, he entered Changzhou High School, during which time he first took an interest in linguistics. He graduated in 1923 with honours.[6]

Zhou enrolled that same year in St. John's University, Shanghai where he majored in economics and took supplementary coursework in linguistics.[5] He was almost unable to attend due to his family's poverty, but friends and relatives raised 200 yuan for the admission fee, and also helped him pay for tuition.[6] He left during the May Thirtieth Movement of 1925 and transferred to Guanghua University, from which he graduated in 1927.[5]

On 30 April 1933, Zhou married Zhang Yunhe (). The couple went to Japan for Zhou's studies.[5] Zhou started as an exchange student at the University of Tokyo, later transferring to Kyoto University due to his admiration of the Japanese Marxist economist Hajime Kawakami, who was a professor there at the time. Kawakami's arrest for joining the outlawed Japanese Communist Party in January 1933 meant that Zhou could not be his student. Zhou's son, Zhou Xiaoping (), was born in 1934. The couple also had a daughter, Zhou Xiaohe ().[6]

In 1937, due to the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War, Zhou and his family moved to the wartime capital Chongqing, and his daughter died.[3] He worked for Sin Hua Bank before entering public service as a deputy director at the National Government's Ministry of Economic Affairs, agricultural policy bureau (). After the 1945 Japanese defeat in World War II, Zhou went back to work for Sin Hua where he was stationed overseas: first in New York City and then in London. During his time in the United States, he met Albert Einstein[5] twice.[4]

Zhou participated for a time in the China Democratic National Construction Association,[] but when the People's Republic was established in 1949 he returned to Shanghai,[5][1][2] where he taught economics at Fudan University for several years.[3]

Designing Pinyin

Because of his friendship with Zhou Enlai who recalled the economist's fascination with linguistics and Esperanto, he summoned Zhou to Beijing in 1955 and tasked him with developing a new alphabet for China.[7] The Chinese government placed Zhou at the head of a committee to reform the Chinese language to increase literacy.

While other committees oversaw the tasks of promulgating Mandarin Chinese as the national language and creating simplified Chinese characters, Zhou's committee was charged with developing a romanization to represent the pronunciation of Chinese characters.[1] Zhou said the task took about three years, and was a full-time job.[1] Pinyin was made the official romanization in 1958, although (as now) it was only a pronunciation guide, not a substitute writing system.[8] Zhou based Pinyin on several preexisting systems: the phonemes were inspired by Gwoyeu Romatzyh of 1928 and Latinxua Sin Wenz of 1931, while the diacritic markings representing tones were inspired by zhuyin.[9]

In April 1979, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in Warsaw held a technology conference. Speaking on behalf of the People's Republic of China, Zhou proposed the use of the "Hanyu Pinyin System" as the international standard for the spelling of Chinese. Following a vote in 1982 the scheme became ISO 7098.

In the modern era Pinyin has largely replaced older romanization systems such as Wade-Giles.[3]

Later activities

Zhou Youguang in 2012

During the Cultural Revolution, Zhou was sent to live in the countryside and to be "re-educated", as were many other intellectuals at that time.[1][2] He spent two years at a labour camp.[10]

After 1980, Zhou worked with Liu Zunqi and Chien Wei-zang on translating the Encyclopædia Britannica into Chinese, earning him the nickname "Encyclopedia Zhou".[5] Zhou continued writing and publishing after the creation of Pinyin; for example, his book (Zh?ngguó y?wén de shídài y?njìn), translated into English by Zhang Liqing, was published in 2003 as The Historical Evolution of Chinese Languages and Scripts.[11] Beyond the age of 100, he published ten books, some of which have been banned in China.[10]

In 2011, during an interview with NPR, Zhou said that he hoped to see the day China changed its position on the Tiananmen Square killings in 1989, an event he said had ruined Deng Xiaoping's reputation as a reformer.[10] He became an advocate of political reform and democracy in China, and was critical of the Communist Party of China's attacks on traditional Chinese culture when it came into power.[10]

In early 2013, both Zhou and his son were interviewed by Dr. Adeline Yen Mah at their residence in Beijing. Mah documented the visit in a video and presented Zhou with a Pinyin game she created for the iPad.[12] Zhou became a supercentenarian on 13 January 2016 when he reached the age of 110.[13] He was one of the few supercentenarians, along with Herman Smith-Johannsen and Leopold Vietoris, known for reasons other than their longevity.

Zhou died on 14 January 2017 at his home in Beijing, the day after his 111th birthday; no cause was given.[3] His wife had died in 2002, and his son had died in 2015.[3] At the time, he was the seventh-oldest known living man and the oldest known living person in China. He is one of the 100 world's verified oldest men in history.

Google honored what would have been his 112th birthday with an animated version of its logo in Mandarin.[14]


Zhou was the author of more than 40 books, some of them banned in China and over 10 of them published after he turned 100 in 2005.[3]

Title (Simplified Chinese) Pinyin English title Publication year
X?n zh?ngguó de j?nróng wèntí New China's financial problems 1949
Hàny? p?ny?n cíhuì Chinese phonetic alphabet glossary 1950
Zh?ngguó p?ny?n wénzì yánji? A study of Chinese phonetic alphabets 1953
? Z?b?n de yuánsh? j?l?i Primitive accumulation of capital 1954
Zìm? de gùshi The alphabet's story 1954
Hànzì g?igé gài lùn On the reform of Chinese characters 1961
Diànbào p?ny?n huà Telegraph romanization 1965
Hàny? sh?uzh? zìm? lùn jí Essays on Chinese Sign Language 1965
Hànzì Sh?ngpáng dúy?n Biànchá A handy guide to the pronunciation of phonetics in Chinese characters[15] 1980
P?ny?n huà wèntí Problems with Pinyin 1980
? Y?wén f?ngyún The tempest of language 1981
Zh?ngguó y?wén de xiàndàihuà Modernization of the Chinese language 1986
Shìjiè zìm? ji?n sh? A brief history of the world's alphabets 1990
X?n y?wén de jiànshè Constructing new languages 1992
? Zh?ngguó y?wén zònghéng tán Features of the Chinese language 1992
? Hàny? P?ny?n F?ng'àn j?ch? zh?shì Fundamentals of Pinyin 1993
? Y?wén xiántán Language Chat 1995
Wénhuà chàngxi?ng q? Capriccio on culture or Cultural fantasia 1997
? Shìjiè wénzì f?zh?n sh? History of the worldwide development of writing 1997
Zh?ngguó y?wén de shídài y?njìn The historical evolution of Chinese languages and scripts 1997
? B?jiào wénzì xué ch?tàn A tentative study of comparative philology 1998
Du? qíngrén bùl?o Passionate people don't age 1998
? Hànzì hé wénhuà wèntí Chinese characters and the question of culture 1999
? X?n shídài de x?n y?wén The new language of the new era 1999
Rénlèi wénzì qi?nshu? An introduction to human (written) language 2000
Xiàndài wénhuà de ch?ngjíb? The shock wave of modern culture 2000
21 21 Shìjì de huáy? hé huáwén Written and spoken Chinese of 21st century 2002
? Zh?u Y?ugu?ng y?wén lùn jí Collection of essays by Zhou Youguang on the Chinese language 2002
? B?i suì x?n g?o Centenarian's essay 2005
? Zh?o wén dào jí Essay collection 2010
Shi bèi jí Selected essays 2011
? J?nrì hu? k?i yòu y? nián Today a new year blooms 2011
W? de rénsh?ng gùshi My life story 2013
? - ? Shì nián rúshu? - Zh?u Y?ugu?ng b?inián k?ushù "The years passed like water" - Zhou Youguang's oral recounting of his life 2015


See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Father of pinyin". China Daily. 26 March 2009. Archived from the original on 21 July 2012. Retrieved 2009. Reprinted in part as Simon, Alan (21-27 January 2011). "Father of Pinyin". China Daily Asia Weekly. Hong Kong. Xinhua News Agency. p. 20.
  2. ^ a b c Branigan, Tania (21 February 2008). "Sound Principles". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 21 November 2016. Retrieved 2009.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Margalit Fox (14 January 2017). "Zhou Youguang, Who Made Writing Chinese as Simple as ABC, Dies at 111". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 20 January 2017.
  4. ^ a b Bristow, Michael (22 March 2012). "The man who helped 'simplify' Chinese". BBC News. Archived from the original on 22 January 2015. Retrieved 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g (8 December 2005). :? ?·?· [Zhou Youguang: A lifetime of unstable situations and being laughed at]. (in Chinese). Retrieved 2017.
  6. ^ a b c (2003). ?2003?2?- [Zhou Youguang's Time as a Student]. Journal of Suzhou University (in Chinese). Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 2016.
  7. ^ Harrison Smith, Zhou Youguang, whose Pinyin writing system helped modernize China, dies at 111, The Washington Post, 1. January 2017.
  8. ^ Ramsey, S. Robert (1989). The Languages of China. Princeton University Press. p. 145. ISBN 978-0-691-01468-5.
  9. ^ Rohsenow, John S. 1989. Fifty years of script and written language reform in the PRC: the genesis of the language law of 2001. In Zhou Minglang and Sun Hongkai, eds. Language Policy In The People's Republic Of China: Theory And Practice Since 1949, p. 23
  10. ^ a b c d Lim, Louisa (19 October 2011). "At 105, Chinese Linguist Now A Government Critic". NPR. Retrieved 2011.
  11. ^ Youguang Zhou . The Historical Evolution of Chinese Languages and Scripts; , translated by Zhang Liqing . Ohio State University National East Asian Language Resource Center. 2003.
  12. ^ "Dr. Adeline Yen Mah meets the founder of Pin Yin Youguang Zhou". chinesecharacteraday.com. 14 March 2013.
  13. ^ Lai, Kitty (15 January 2016). "Zhu ni shengri kuaile! Father of Pinyin turns 110 years old, celebrates with a strawberry-topped cake". Shanghaiist. Retrieved 2016.
  14. ^ "Zhou Youguang: Why Google honours him today". Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera Media Network. Retrieved 2018.
  15. ^ The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. 1984. p. 315. ISBN 0-8248-0866-5. ------. 1980f. Hanzi Shengpang duyin Biancha [A handy guide to the pronunciation of phonetics in Chinese characters]. Kirin.

Further reading

External links

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