Tens of thousands of characters. Countless homonyms. Mutually unintelligible dialects across an entire country. This is what faced the Chinese thinkers, inventors and technicians who had to figure out how to standardize, translate, and adapt the Chinese language for a new country, and for new technologies.
Professor Jing Tsu’s Kingdom of Characters: The Language Revolution that Made China Modern tells the stories of those who worked to transform Chinese for the 20th century.
In this interview, Jing and I talk about thinkers and technicians: those who toiled to make the Chinese language work for typewriters, telegraphs, and other important technologies.
Jing Tsu is the John M Schiff Professor of East Asian Languages and Literatures and Comparative Literature and Chair of the Council on East Asian Studies at Yale. She specializes in Chinese literature, history, and culture from the nineteenth century to the present, and received her doctorate in Chinese studies from Harvard. A Guggenheim Fellow, she has held fellowships and distinctions from Harvard, Stanford, and Princeton institutes.