The 115th Anniversary of the Birth of Zhou Youguang


January 13, 2021 witnessed the 115th anniversary of the birth of Mr. Zhou Youguang, a famous linguist in China and alumni of St. John’s University and Guanghua University. Three years ago, Google translated its page Logo into Pinyin – GǔGē – in order to commemorate his outstanding contribution in internationalizing the Chinese language.

Zhou Youguang (January 13, 1906-January 14, 2017) studied economics in his early years. He joined the Chinese Characters Reform Committee in 1955, engaging fully in language research. For all he had done, he is known as “Father of Chinese Pinyin”.

At the age of 17, Zhou Youguang was admitted into St. John’s University in Shanghai. After that, he came into contact with Latin and, out of interest, independently learned alphabetical writing systems, which laid a sound foundation for his future career as a linguist. In 1955, he was nominated by Premier Zhou Enlai to participate in the National Conference on Writing Reform. Before that, the Chinese Pinyin plan had been under discussion for two or three years with no achievement. Six plans were proposed and heatedly discussed at the conference, including one Slavonic alphabet plan, four ethnic alphabet plans, and one Latin alphabet plan. By then, Zhou Youguang, who was proficient in several foreign languages, had published many papers related to pinyin and character reform, attracting wide attention in society. When the People’s Republic of China was founded, Zhou wrote a book named The Story of Alphabets. Chairman Mao Zedong, after reading the book, made the final decision to use the Latin alphabet.

The Story of Alphabets by Zhou Youguang

On February 11, 1958, the First National People’s Congress discussed and approved the Chinese Pinyin plan.

An excerpt from the Chinese Pinyin plan

Since then, the first thing to learn for elementary school students across the country has become Chinese Pinyin, which has not only helped the public learn to speak Mandarin, but also increased the reading ability of school-age children by at least two years. In 1958 alone, the number of phonetic books nationwide reached 10 million, making significant contributions to eradicating illiteracy and promoting cultural construction in China.

Zhou’s contribution to Pinyin goes beyond this. He was also one of the pioneers of the Chinese Pinyin input program. Under the guidance of Zhou Youguang, the renowned computer expert Lin Caisong made a major breakthrough in the field of Chinese information in 1984 and successfully worked out the first Chinese word processor in China and in the world as well.

On January 12, 2016, Zhou received representatives from ECNU a second time at his home in Beijing and expressed his thanks for the birthday wishes sent by his alma mater.

Source: Social Sciences Weekly, Shanghai Observer and other websites

Copy editor: Philip Nash

Editor: Yuan Yiwei


East China Normal University