Zhou Youguang

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This is a Chinese name; the family name is Zhou.
Zhou Youguang
Zhou Youguang 1920s.jpg
Zhou Youguang in the 1920s
Native name
Born Zhou Yaoping
(1906-01-13) 13 January 1906 (age 110)
Changzhou, Jiangsu, Qing Empire
Residence Beijing
Nationality Chinese
Alma mater Saint John's University; Guanghua University
Known for "Father of Pinyin"; supercentenarian
Notable work The Historical Evolution of Chinese Languages and Scripts
Political party China Democratic National Construction Association
Spouse(s) Zhang Yunhe (m. 1933–2002)
Children Zhou Xiaoping (1934–2015)[1]
Zhou Xiaohe (1935–1941)
Relatives Granddaughter: Zhou Hexin (b. 1959)
Great grandson: Andy Zhou (b. 1993)
Chinese name
Chinese 周有光
Birth name
Chinese 周耀平

Zhou Youguang (Chinese: 周有光; born Zhou Yaoping, 13 January 1906) is a Chinese linguist, sinologist, and supercentenarian, often credited as the "father of (Hanyu) Pinyin",[2][3] the official romanization for Mandarin in the People's Republic of China.

Education and early career[edit]

Zhou was born in Changzhou, Jiangsu Province on 13 January 1906.[2][4] Zhou enrolled in St. John's University, Shanghai, in 1923, where he majored in economics and took supplementary coursework in linguistics.[4] He left during the May Thirtieth Movement of 1925 and transferred to Guanghua University, from which he graduated in 1927.[4] Zhou spent time as an exchange student in Japan,[4] and spent his early career working as a banker and economist overseas (mainly in New York City), but returned to Shanghai[4] in 1949 when the People's Republic was established.[2][3]

Designing Pinyin[edit]

In 1955, the government placed Zhou at the head of a committee to reform the Chinese language in order 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.[2] Zhou says the task took about three years, and was a full-time job.[2] Pinyin was made the official romanization in 1958, although then (as now) it was only a pronunciation guide, not a substitute writing system.[5]

Later activities[edit]

During the Cultural Revolution Zhou was sent to live in the countryside and be "re-educated", like many intellectuals at that time.[2][3] He spent two years in a labour camp.[6]

After 1980, Zhou worked with Liu Zunqi and Chien Wei-zang on translating the Encyclopædia Britannica into Chinese, earning him the nickname "Encyclopedia Zhou".[4] Zhou has continued writing and publishing since the creation of Pinyin; for example, his book Zhongguo Yuwen de Shidai Yanjin 中國語文的時代演進, translated into English by Zhang Liqing, was published in 2003 as The Historical Evolution of Chinese Languages and Scripts.[7] In total he wrote ten books since 2000, some of which have been banned in China. In his old age he has become an advocate for political reform, and was critical of the Communist Party of China's attacks on traditional Chinese culture when it came into power.[6]

Zhou became a supercentenarian on 13 January 2016 when he reached the age of 110.[8]

Personal life[edit]

Zhou Youguang at home in Beijing in 2012

Zhou was married to Zhang Yunhe from 30 April 1933 to her death on 14 August 2002; the couple were married for 69 years, 106 days and had two children: a daughter Zhou Xiaohe (born 1935) who died in 1941 at the age of 6, and a son Zhou Xiaoping (born 1934)[2] who died at the age of 80 on 26 January 2015.[1]

In early 2013, Zhou and his son were interviewed by Dr. Adeline Yen Mah at their residence in Beijing. Dr. Mah documented the visit in a video and presented Zhou with a Pinyin game she created on iPad.[9]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ a b 偉坤, 牛; 宋宇晟 (26 January 2015). 周有光之子、氣象學家周曉平遺體告別式舉行 (in Chinese). China: Beijing Evening News. Retrieved 23 February 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Father of pinyin". China Daily. 26 March 2009. Retrieved 12 July 2009.  Reprinted in part as Simon, Alan (21–27 Jan 2011). "Father of Pinyin". China Daily Asia Weekly. Hong Kong. Xinhua. p. 20. 
  3. ^ a b c Branigan, Tania (21 February 2008). "Sound Principles". The Guardian. UK. Retrieved 12 July 2009. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f 李怀宇 (Li Huaining) (8 December 2005). 周有光:与时俱进文章里 百年风云笑谈中 (in Chinese). 南方网 (Southcn.com). Retrieved 12 July 2009. 
  5. ^ Ramsey, S. Robert (1989). The Languages of China. Princeton University Press. p. 145. ISBN 978-0-691-01468-5. 
  6. ^ a b Lim, Louisa (19 October 2011). "At 105, Chinese Linguist Now A Government Critic". National Public Radio. Retrieved 19 October 2011. 
  7. ^ Zhou Youguang 周有光. The Historical Evolution of Chinese Languages and Scripts; 中國語文的時代演進, translated by Zhang Liqing 張立青. Ohio State University National East Asian Language Resource Center. 2003.
  8. ^ Lai, Kitty (15 January 2016). "Zhu ni shengri kuaile! Father of Pinyin turns 110 years old, celebrates with a strawberry-topped cake". Shanghaiist. Retrieved 16 January 2016. 
  9. ^ "Dr. Adeline Yen Mah meets the founder of Pin Yin Zhou Youguang". chinesecharacteraday.com. 2013. Retrieved 2013.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)

External links[edit]