Zhou Youguang who died this month at age 111 embodies a contradiction in China

“After 30 years of economic reform, China still needs to take the path of democracy,” Zhou said

  • Chinese linguist Zhou Youguang, who created the writing system that turns Chinesecharacters into words using letters from the Roman alphabet, has died aged 111.
  • Mr Zhou and a Communist party committee spent three years developing the Pinyin system in the 1950s.
  • It changed the way the language was taught and helped raise literacy rates.
  • Mr Zhou, who was born in 1906 during the Qing Dynasty, later became a fierce critic of China’s communist rulers.
  • He died in Beijing on Saturday a day after his birthday, Chinese media reported.
  • Before Pinyin was developed, 85% of Chinese people could not read, now almost all can.
  • It is also widely used to type Chinese characters on computers and smartphones, leading some to fear it could end up replacing Chinese characters altogether. » The BBC article


  • At 109, Zhou’s health (was) waning and he sleeps a lot, but he is still a voracious reader, according to AFP. Zhou’s son Zhou Xiaoping monitors online reaction to his father’s blog posts, and has noted that any praise on his father’s blog posts on his blog the Centenarian Scholar is quickly censored, leaving behind only the criticisms.
  • Zhou’s latest book due next month ran into some snags with the censors who demanded that references to anti-intellectual movements from Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” – a social and economic reform that caused the Great Chinese Famine – be purged. “I don’t think it’s a problem of individuals,” Zhou told AFP. “It’s a problem with the system. We don’t have freedom of speech in China.” » The IBTimes article – By Shuan Sim – January 13, 2015.

  • “Innovation and invention don’t grow out of the government’s orders”

    • A Chinese Voice of Dissent That Took Its Time.
    • But he is making up for lost time. Chatting recently in his study, filled with overflowing bookshelves, Mr. Zhou declared democracy “the natural form of a modern society.” He rejected the argument that China is not suited to it.
    • Zhou Youguang – born Jan. 13, 1906, when the Qing Dynasty ruled and women bound their feet embodies a contradiction at the heart of a Chinese notion that free thinkers are to be venerated unless and until they challenge the legitimacy of the ruling Communist Party.
    • Mr. Zhou is the inventor of Pinyin, the Romanized spelling system that linked China’s ancient written language to the modern age and helped China all but stamp out illiteracy. He was one of the leaders of the Chinese translation of the Encyclopaedia Britannica in the 1980s.
    • Mr. Zhou says Chinese characters will exist for centuries to come. But to his delight, Pinyin has proven ever more useful. Chinese now rely on Pinyin-to-character programs to send cellphone text messages, post on Internet microblogs and write e-mails. » The full New York Times article – By Sharon LaFraniere – Published March 2, 2012.

    Zhou Youguang

    “You can have democracy no matter what level of development. Just look at the Arab Spring.” – Zhou Youguang – Image source


    • The New York Times – Learning Network – What Will You Do With Your Life?
      Overview | Students consider what it means to live a life well-lived by creating life lists of goals they would like to accomplish and analyzing patterns in the lists of their peers. Go to this Life and Building a Health Society Lesson.
    • The New York Times – Learning Network – The Political is Personal
      Overview | Students explore their own personal political philosophies by identifying events, people and experiences that have helped shape their beliefs and writing an essay. Go to this Building Society and ESL Lesson.

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