The History of the Seemingly Impossible Chinese Typewriter

The Chi­nese lan­guage has tens of thou­sands of char­ac­ters, and many have con­sid­ered it near­ly impos­si­ble to fit these char­ac­ters onto a sin­gle work­able type­writer. But that has­n’t stopped inven­tors from try­ing … and, to a cer­tain degree, suc­ceed­ing. Stan­ford his­to­ri­an Thomas Mul­laney is now writ­ing the first his­to­ry of the Chi­nese type­writer, and he has found evi­dence for numer­ous patents and pro­to­types that incor­po­rate the most com­mon­ly used char­ac­ters. In addi­tion to mak­ing a polit­i­cal impact in Chi­na, these machines have also poten­tial­ly influ­enced inno­va­tions in mod­ern com­put­ing. You can read more about Mul­laney’s work on Stan­ford’s Human Expe­ri­ence web­site, and also watch him dis­cuss his work in this YouTube clip.

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  • Hehe, of course the tra­di­tion­al method of writ­ing Chi­nese can­not be repro­duced with­in a type­writer. Chi­nese used in the mashine is writ­ten with sim­pli­fied char­ac­ters in “Bai­hua” style, which basi­cal­ly cor­re­sponds to writ­ing the spo­ken Man­darin lan­guage with char­ac­ters.

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