The History of Pinyin (Part 1)

That useful little writing system that we all use while trying to wrap our heads round the pronunciation...where did it come from? In 1958, the new People’s Republic of China government embarked on a program of language reform that included replacing the 1918 Zhuyin alphabet with a system that used the Roman alphabet. The Zhuyin system worked perfectly well but they wished to develop a system that used the alphabet symbols used by other nations. Zhou Enlai, the Premier of the PRC from its founding until his death in 1976, was the chief supporter of an alphabetised system. Prior to the 1930s, Chinese people learnt Chinese from characters alone so most were of the view that learning pinyin was a waste of time. At a National Congress meeting, Zhou said "It should be made clear at the outset that the scheme is to annotate the characters phonetically and to popularize the common speech. It is not to replace the Chinese characters. Its first function is to give the pronunciation of these characters.” In 1955, Zhou Enlai asked linguist Zhou Youguang (no relationship) to review Zhuyin and other phonetic schemes for Chinese. Zhou Youguang argued for replacing the Zhuyin alphabet with the Roman alphabet in order to better connect China with other countries since the Roman alphabet was the most commonly used alphabet in the world. Zhou Enlai agreed and Zhou Youguang began work on Hanyu Pinyin in 1955....

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