From the late 1910s through the 1940s, a group of linguists, philologists, and librarians kicked off a heated race to turn the Chinese writing system into a technology that could compete with the western alphabet. They were problem solvers who thought like engineers, despite their deep commitment to the preservation of the Chinese humanistic tradition, and took the May Fourth call for Reorganizing National Learning (zhenli guogu) literally. Their efforts would change the course of how Chinese would enter the digital age. This talk discusses their inventions and how it touched off a global quest to computerize the Chinese script.
Jing TSU is John M. Schiff Professor of East Asian Languages and Literatures & Comparative Literature at Yale University. Her new book, Kingdom of Characters: The Language Revolution that Made China Modern, will appear with Riverhead Penguin Random House in 2021.