Zhou Youguang, 1906-2017

Zhou Youguang

Zhou Youguang, who is often called the “father of Hanyu Pinyin,” died earlier today.

He lived to the age of 111. He was “the man God forgot,” he liked to joke. And he did like to laugh. His sense of humor, which he kept despite some of the trials he suffered, no doubt helped him flourish so long.

He was most remarkable, however, not for his longevity but for his monumental contribution to literacy, his dedication to helping others, and his sense of justice.

I’ll add more information later.


How to find Chinese characters in an MS Word document

Recently someone wrote me with a problem. She had a book-length manuscript, most of which was in English. It also had some Chinese characters interspersed throughout the text. She needed to make some alterations to just the parts in Chinese characters and was hoping to avoid going through the entire Microsoft Word document line by line and changing the Chinese characters phrase by phrase. That could have taken hours or even days.

Fortunately, there’s a much easier and much faster way. So here’s how to search for Chinese characters inside a Microsoft Word document.

First, the simplest and easiest way. Copy the following line:

In Microsoft Word, use Ctrl+H to bring up the Find and Replace box.

  1. Paste the text you just copied in the Find what box.
  2. Click on the More >> button to reveal additional options.
  3. Select Use wildcards.



Then Find away. That’s all there is to it. You can alter all the Chinese characters you find at the same time if you so desire.

Pro tip: If you want to change something about the Chinese characters, you might be better off in the long run making a new Word style and changing all the relevant characters to that style and then adjusting the style to meet your needs. Use ReplaceFormatStyle....


Now comes a longer explanation, which you can safely ignore if the above worked fine for you.

But in case the special code above didn’t work for you or if you’d like to understand this a little better, here’s some more information on how to enter [⺀-■]{1,} yourself and why it works.

Basically, what you’re searching for is a range of characters, such as everything from A to Z. But in this case you’re going to be looking for everything from the start to the finish of Unicode’s set of graphs related to Chinese characters. Word calls this a wildcard search. Others refer to the use of wildcards as “regular expressions,” or “regex” for short.

Searches for ranges go in square brackets, with a hyphen between the first character and the last one, e.g. [A-Z].

The part at the end, {1,}, just tells Microsoft Word to look for one or more of the previous expression, so it will locate entire sections in Chinese characters, not just one character at a time. That will save you a lot of time and trouble.

OK, to get those special characters in a Word document, use

  1. Insert
  2. Symbol
  3. More Symbols



  1. Under Font, select (Asian text).
  2. Under Subset, scroll down until you can select the CJK Radicals Supplement.
  3. Word should have already selected ⺀ (CJK Radical Repeat) for you. If not, you can click on it.
  4. Click the Insert button.


If needed, repeat Insert → Symbol → More Symbols.


This time, with Font, still set at (Asian text):

  1. Under Subset, scroll all the way down until you can select the Halfwidth and Fullwidth Forms.
  2. Scroll all the way down the selection of glyphs and select the very last one.
  3. Click the Insert button.


On my system at the moment that final character is a “halfwidth black square.” But as Unicode — and fonts — expand, the final character may be something else. Just use whatever is last and you should be fine. Just be sure to type in the square brackets, the hyphen, and the {1,} to complete the expression:

In case anyone’s wondering, no, you can’t just enter Unicode code numbers, because searches for those (u^ +number) won’t work when “Use wildcards” is on. So you have to enter the characters themselves.

This method can be easily adapted to suit searches for Greek letters, Cyrillic, etc.

I hope you find it useful.

Taipei to spend NT$300 million making MRT signage worse

Taipei MRT station
Commonwealth Magazine (Tiānxià zázhì) recently interviewed me for a Mandarin-language piece related to the signage on Taipei’s MRT system.

As anyone who has looked at Pinyin News more than a couple of times over the years should be able to guess, I had a lot to say about that — most of which understandably didn’t make it into the article. For example, I recall making liberal use of the word “bèn” (“stupid”) to describe the situation and the city’s approach. But the reporter — Yen Pei-hua (Yán Pèihuá / 嚴珮華), who is perhaps Taiwan’s top business journalist — diplomatically omitted that.

Since the article discusses the nicknumbering system Taipei is determined to implement “for the foreigners,” even though most foreigners are at best indifferent to this, but doesn’t include my remarks on it, I’ll refer you to my post on this from last year: Taipei MRT moves to adopt nicknumbering system. Back then, though, I didn’t know the staggering amount of money the city is going to spend on screwing up the MRT system’s signs: NT$300 million (about US$10 million)! The main reason given for this is the sports event Taipei will host next summer. That’s supposed to last for about ten days, which would put the cost for the signs alone at about US$1 million per day.

On the other hand, the city does not plan to fix the real problems with the Taipei MRT’s station names, specifically the lack of apostrophes in what should be written Qili’an (not Qilian), Da’an (not Daan) (twice!), Jing’an (not Jingan), and Yong’an (not Yongan) — in Chinese characters: 唭哩岸, 大安, 景安, and 永安, respectively. And then there’s the problem of wordy English names.

Well, take a look and comment — here, or better still, on the Facebook page. (Links below.) I’m grateful to Ms. Yen and Commonwealth for discussing the issue.


Aiyo! OED fails to use Pinyin for some new entries

The Oxford English Dictionary has just added some new entries, including several from Sinitic languages.

A lot of these come by way of Singapore and so reflect the Hokkien language. For example, among the new entries is “ang pow,” which is Hokkien’s equivalent of Mandarin’s “hongbao,” which also made the list.

A few of the entries, however, come from Mandarin, for example two common interjections for surprise. Oddly, though, the OED uses “aiyoh” and “aiyah” instead of their proper Pinyin spellings of “aiyo” and “aiya.”

“Ah,” you say, “but maybe the aiyoh and aiyah spellings are more common in English.”


Even in Singapore domains (.sg), the Pinyin spellings are more common than those the OED calls for. As the tables below show, in every instance the Pinyin spellings are also more common in Hong Kong, China, and Taiwan. Throughout the world, the Pinyin spellings are more common — the vast majority of the time by a factor of at least two.

Google search results for “aiyo” (Pinyin) and “aiyoh” (spelling used in the OED)

  aiyo aiyoh
.sg 12,200 5,680
.hk 2,570 187
.cn 6,040 984
.tw 4,690 196
all domains 1,250,000 137,000
all domains  + “chinese” 97,700 77,100
all domains  + “mandarin” 51,800 14,100

Google search results for “aiya” (Pinyin) and “aiyah” (spelling used in the OED)

  aiya aiyah
.sg 17,600 8,310
.hk 6,400 2,360
.cn 13,200 1,860
.tw 5,910 1,710
all domains 3,370,000 332,000
all domains  + “chinese” 238,000 63,200
all domains  + “mandarin” 36,500 22,800

Searching Google Books also reveals that the Pinyin forms are more common.

In short, I do not see any good reason for the OED to have adopted ad hoc spellings rather than the Pinyin standard. They must have their reasons, but it looks like they botched this.

Biscriptal butt texting

Now there’s a headline you don’t see every day.

I’ve had mobile phones for years but never butt-dialed or butt-texted anyone … until a couple of months ago, when I seemed to make up for lost time by sending off a series of messages and Line calls to one of my wife’s relatives. To make matters worse, this relative is in the States, where it was then after midnight.

Anyway, the messages start off in nonsense English and then switch mainly to nonsense Mandarin.

Most of the Chinese characters are isolated and have no semantic relationship to those around them. Predictably, most of the characters are for few simple sounds

  • 凹 [āo] — concave
  • 鞥 [ēng] — quite rare: leading rein (of a horse)

But there are a few instances of at least two characters working together:

  • 偶爾 ǒu’ěr (“occasionally”)
  • 怨偶 yuàn’ǒu (“unhappy couple”)
  • 鱷魚 èyú (“crocodile”)
  • So just in case anyone has ever wondered what butt texting in Chinese characters looks like, here you go. People whose phones have different methods for inputting Chinese characters will likely see somewhat different results.

    composite screenshot of a series of text messages sent in garbage English and garbage Mandarin Chinese (in Chinese characters)

I took several screenshots and stitched them together in Photoshop.

Shanghai considers deleting Pinyin from street signs

The Shanghai Road Administration Bureau is considering removing Hanyu Pinyin from street signs in the city.

Typically, the bureau’s division chief, Wang Weifeng, seems to be confused about the difference between Pinyin and English. He also justifies the move by claiming that larger Chinese characters would benefit Chinese citizens, ignoring the high number of people in China who are largely illiterate.

“Of course we will keep the English-Chinese traffic signs around some special areas, such as the tourism spots, CBD areas and some transport hubs,” Wang said.

A German newspaper article notes:

Ob sie die Umschrift wortwörtlich „aus dem Verkehr“ zieht, will Schanghai angeblich von einer „Umfrage“ unter „Anwohnern“ abhängig machen, ebenso vom Urteil nicht näher genannter „Experten“. Dies ist eine gängige Formulierung, wenn chinesische Regierungsstellen ihren einsamen Entscheidungen einen basisdemokratischen Anstrich geben wollen.

[Google Translate: Whether they literally “out of circulation” pulls the inscription, Shanghai will supposedly make a “survey” of “residents” depends, as of indeterminate sentence from “experts”. This is a common formulation, when Chinese authorities want to give their lonely decisions a grassroots paint.]

This is a situation all too common in Taiwan as well, such as in Taipei’s misguided move to apply nicknumbering to subway stops. “Experts” — ha!

Shanghai’s survey on Pinyin use and signage is of course in Mandarin only, with no English. The poll ends on August 30 (next week!), so add your views to that soon.

So far, public opinion seems to be largely against removing Hanyu Pinyin from signs. But that doesn’t mean this might not happen anyway. After all: Shanghai has its “experts” on the case. Heh.

If Shanghai really wanted to help the legibility of its signs, it should consider using word parsing even with text in Chinese characters. For example:

  • use 陕西 南路, not 陕西南路
  • use 斜土 路, not 斜土路
  • use 建国 西路, not 建国西路

That would also permit the use of superscript on the generic parts of names (e.g., “南路”) to save space. This could also be done with the Pinyin/English, with the Pinyin in large letters and the English “Rd” etc. in superscript.

Thanks to Michael Cannings for the tip.


Pinyin writing contest — cash prizes

This is big news. I am thrilled to help announce the Li-ching Chang Memorial Pinyin Literature Contest.

A total of more than US$13,000 will be awarded to the winners. Prizes will be given to the top three winners in each of the following categories:

  • novella
  • short story
  • essay
  • poem

You need not be a native speaker of Mandarin to enter. But keep in mind that this is a literature contest: Entries should be aimed at an audience of adult, fluent speakers of Mandarin. Entries should not be written at a level for children or those learning Mandarin.

Furthermore, entries should be composed in Hanyu Pinyin, not in Chinese characters and then converted. This is crucial, as the style associated with Chinese characters is often not compatible with Mandarin as it is spoken. So here’s a chance to let the real Mandarin language shine through in writing — and for writers to win some money.

Please spread the word around.

For further details, see the contest’s FAQ.

Pinyin.info in the Wall Street Journal

Victor Mair’s terrific essay “Danger + Opportunity ≠ Crisis: How a misunderstanding about Chinese characters has led many astray,” which was written for this site, is featured this week in the Wall Street Journal‘s Notable & Quotable section.

Mair has done more than anyone else to help drive a stake through the heart of this myth. I’m glad the WSJ is helping spread the word.

source: “Notable & Quotable: Lost in Mistranslation“, Wall Street Journal, February 25, 2016