The Romanized Chinese writing was introduced in 1958

Zhou Youguang, the creator of China’s Pinyin Romanized system has died at the age of 111.

According to state broadcaster Chinese Central Television, Zhou was born in 1906 during China’s last imperial dynasty, the Qing. The linguist passed away at his home in Beijing one day after celebrating his 111th birthday.

Zhou had received a western-style education at Shanghai’s St John’s University before moving to the United States to work as a banker on Wall Street. Upon his return to China after the communist victory in 1949, Zhou was in charge of a committee working on a new linguistic system that converted Chinese characters into Roman script.

Pinyin was adopted in 1958 by the People’s Republic and has since become the global standard of learning Mandarin in the west due to its simplicity and consistency. Whilst Taiwan and Hong Kong use alternatives, Pinyin has become even more ubiquitous in the smartphone era.


‘The five pinyin tones marks’ by LiliCharlie


Zhou also worked on an official translation of the Encyclopedia Britannica and wrote on topics including the evolution of Chinese historical languages and scripts.

As he continued to write, he gradually became a critic of the ruling Communist party and an ardent advocate for political reform. Zhou even earned a persona non grata status at official events. A number of his books were banned and the government censored online discussions about his work.

In an interview in 2011, Zhou told America’s National Public Radio that he hoped to live long enough to see the Chinese government acknowledge that Tiananmen Square was a mistake. “Ordinary people no longer believe in the Communist Party anymore,” Zhou said in the interview. “The vast majority of Chinese intellectuals advocate democracy.”

 

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