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The Chinese Typewriter

A History

Thomas S. Mullaney



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Massachusetts Inst of Tec
09 October 2018
Series: The MIT Press
How Chinese characters triumphed over the QWERTY keyboard and laid the foundation for China's information technology successes today.

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.

A Study of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute Columbia University
Imprint:   Massachusetts Inst of Tec
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 229mm,  Width: 152mm,  Spine: 32mm
ISBN:   9780262536103
ISBN 10:   0262536102
Series:   The MIT Press
Pages:   504
Publication Date:  
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Paperback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Reviews for The Chinese Typewriter: A History

...a surprisingly engaging read. * The New Yorker * His theme -- the preservation of characters, a basic element of Chinese culture, and how they entered, and became part of, the modern informational world -- is well worth our attention. * Times Higher Education * ...this gives us a fresh view of the issues... * New Scientist *

  • Winner of <PrizeName>Winner of the AHA's John K. Fairbank Prize in the East Asian history category.</PrizeName> 2018
  • Winner of <PrizeName>Winner of the CHOICE Outstanding Academic Titles for 2018</PrizeName> 2018

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