The Chinese Typewriter: A History

The Chinese Typewriter: A History Review

Chinese writing is character based, the one major world script that is neither alphabetic nor syllabic. Through the years, the Chinese written language encountered presumed alphabetic universalism in the form of Morse Code, Braille, stenography, Linotype, punch cards, word processing, and other systems developed with the Latin alphabet in mind. This book is about those encounters -- in particular thousands of Chinese characters versus the typewriter and its QWERTY keyboard. Thomas Mullaney describes a fascinating series of experiments, prototypes, failures, and successes in the century-long quest for a workable Chinese typewriter.

The earliest Chinese typewriters, Mullaney tells us, were figments of popular imagination, sensational accounts of twelve-foot keyboards with 5,000 keys. One of the first Chinese typewriters actually constructed was invented by a Christian missionary, who organized characters by common usage (but promoted the less-common characters for "Jesus" to the common usage level). Later came typewriters manufactured for use in Chinese offices, and typewriting schools that turned out trained "typewriter girls" and "typewriter boys." Still later was the "Double Pigeon" typewriter produced by the Shanghai Calculator and Typewriter Factory, the typewriter of choice under Mao. Clerks and secretaries in this era experimented with alternative ways of organizing characters on their tray beds, inventing an input method that was the first instance of "predictive text."

Today, after more than a century of resistance against the alphabetic, not only have Chinese characters prevailed, they form the linguistic substrate of the vibrant world of Chinese information technology. The Chinese Typewriter, not just an "object history" but grappling with broad questions of technological change and global communication, shows how this happened.

Title:The Chinese Typewriter: A History
Edition Language:English

Enjoy the book review !

    The Chinese Typewriter: A History Reviews

  • Kam Yung Soh

    A fascinating book that looks at the history of typing Chinese characters. In the modern computer era, we are all used to seeing a standard computer keyboard that is able to produce various characters...

  • E. Kahn

    A very broad treatment that ranges from from Western perceptions of Chinese backwardness to the details of various methods for generation Chinese characters on a smartphone, the book covers the concep...

  • Tim Robinson

    As is usual in such books, the author wastes far too much time debunking the myths and berating Western prejudices. (And may I say, Chinese ignorance of the West was at least as great as Western ignor...

  • Sorin Hadârc?

    For someone who isn’t pursuing Chinese linguistics in particular, the book seems to be meticulously researched and, frankly speaking, rather boring. However, the facts incite curiosity, propel readi...

  • D?nnis

    Quite interesting. Yet it's not a definitive wrap up of the question. The author planned...a sequel, taking us all the way from the XIXth century to the brink of new era and a typewriter shape we all ...

  • Craig Rowland

    The Chinese Typewriter: A History by Thomas S. Mullaney was perhaps the most exhaustive research of its kind. An academic book of 321 pages printed in a tiny typeface with 64 pages of endnotes, The Ch...

  • Kurt

    An interesting dive into the twisting story of the development of the Chinese typewriter. Overall, there was a lot of info, although it's written from an academic point of view, so it could be a bit d...

  • Greg

    A fascinating discussion about means of organizing and accessing Chinese characters for retrieval and re-production. The difficulties of producing a typewriter that could type all Chinese characters -...

  • Andrew Donnellan

    The Chinese Typewriter: A History is a comprehensive study of the evolution of Chinese typewriters and, more broadly, the "technolinguistic" politics of Chinese information technologies during the 19t...

  • Peter Blok

    In his fascinating and scholarly study Stanford professor Thomas Mullaney reveals the hidden history of the Chinese typewriter. This history is exemplary for the relations between the western world an...