Zhou Youguang: “I really like people cursing me.”

Zhou Youguang graduated from college a year before Noam Chomsky was born. Like Chomsky, Zhou is a linguist who is now more well-known as a public intellectual.

Still going strong at 105, he’s written 10 books since he turned 100. He was recently profiled on the US radio program All Things Considered, perhaps because he is critical of the Chinese government.

According to Louisa Lim

At 105, Zhou calls it as he sees it without fear or favor. He’s outspoken about what he believes is the need for democracy in China. And he says he hopes to live long enough to see China change its position on the Tiananmen Square killings in 1989. […] Far from shying from controversy, Zhou appears to relish it, chuckling as he admits, “I really like people cursing me.”

A nice phrase (by someone else) in a recollection of his role in the creation of the Pinyin writing system

Zhou decided to return to China after the 1949 revolution to build the country. Originally, he intended to teach economics in Shanghai, but he was called to head a committee to reform the Chinese language.

“I said I was an amateur, a layman, I couldn’t do the job,” he says, laughing. “But they said, it’s a new job, everybody is an amateur. Everybody urged me to change professions, so I did. So from 1955, I abandoned economics and started studying writing systems.”

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