Chinese typewriter - anecdote, engineering masterpiece, symbol

    XX century began for the Celestial Empire lousy. Isolationism led to a lag in industry, impoverishment of the population, failure in science and technology. Applied to social, cultural and financial problems was added: technologies from countries with alphabetic writing needed to be adapted to the most complex Chinese language.

    When writing this article, materials and illustrations from the book "The Chinese Typewriter: A History" By Thomas S. Mullaney were used. This is an excellent piece of work that shows the connection between technology, language and society.

    Thousands and Thousands of Hieroglyphs

    Chinese writing is a hieroglyphic recording system, where each sign corresponds not only to sound, but also to a morpheme, word or concept. And the character itself is a combination of several more simple ones.

    For example, the hieroglyph "kindness" consists of the hieroglyphs "speech" and "ram" (we do not laugh, in China it personifies innocence, kindness, and well-being).

    The peculiarity is that the original meaning may change or be lost, and a new sign is created for a word without a graphic correspondence. As a result, over five thousand years there have been a lot of them: the Zhongkhua tsykhai encyclopedia published in 1994 contains 85,568 hieroglyphs.

    Naturally, by the 19th century, most had fallen into disuse and became history, but "only" 10-15 thousand of the rest created difficulties that did not exist in countries with alphabetical writing. In the 1920s, a real war began around Chinese writing: accessible educational programs were required, but it was not possible to arrive at a single set of hieroglyphs. From the side of the Communist Party, this responsible issue was addressed by a young and promising activist, Mao Zedong .

    There was also intense work on new and convenient principles of classification and cataloging, since the Kangxi key system created in the 18th century (hieroglyphs were distributed according to the number of features of the main part - the key ) was hopelessly outdated.

    Relic of the Alphabet World

    In 1871, the world telegraph network reached the Middle Kingdom: the first lines connected Shanghai with Hong Kong and Nagasaki. The capacities of Morse code were not enough, and foreign specialists created additional codebooks for 10,000 entries: 6800 for common hieroglyphs, and the remaining 3000 were left for their own abbreviations between operators.

    Such "pass-through encryption" greatly complicated the work: the search for a huge tome took a lot of time, the telegrams went out longer. In addition, messages in Chinese were considered encrypted, so payment was made at more expensive rates.

    Another serious problem was the poor distribution of books and newspapers. The typewriter allowed us to create texts quickly and conveniently, it was easier to replicate them. In addition, for its time it became a symbol of progress and globalization: modifications for various European alphabets, Hebrew, Arabic appeared.

    Since China turned out to be too tough for European and American engineers, leading manufacturers announced the impossibility of creating a typewriter for a hieroglyphic letter. The device has become the subject of jokes and cartoons, and the expression "Chinese typewriter" has become synonymous with absurd, complex and backward technology.

    Because of all these difficulties, it appeared that Chinese writing was a historical misunderstanding, which it was time to replace. This idea was not supported by all, and in the first place the Children of the Dragon themselves disagreed with it.

    First option

    In 1888, the first version of a typewriter working with Chinese characters was made by Christian preacher Devello Sheffield. He did not give his invention of economic importance, as he created it for personal correspondence. It accelerated the work and eliminated the intermediate link of local secretaries, who sometimes deliberately sabotaged the work and distorted the meaning of the letter.

    Sheffield conducted a frequency analysis and came to the conclusion that it takes from 4 to 6 thousand characters. As a result, he took 4662 characters and arranged them on a disk divided into 30 concentric circles and 4 sectors. In the first three, the symbols were divided according to the frequency of their use: 726, 1386, 2550, and in the last sector, 162 characters were duplicated as needed in missionary work.

    The Sheffield typewriter was discussed in the American media, in 1899 Scientific American wrote about it, but it remained in a single copy and was quickly forgotten.

    First prototypes

    In 1909 in the United States for indemnity received after the Boxer Rebellion , they launched an educational program for Chinese students - Boxer Indemnity Scholarship . One of the students was Joe Hokun. He approached the problem of modernizing Chinese from the technical side and decided to by all means create a Chinese typewriter.

    We will never betray our wonderful language because of those who believe that it is necessary to replace a script that does not support typewriting. This idea is so disgusting that any further comments will put it on a par with other, much more important issues. The engineer is obliged to design under the existing conditions, and it is not in his power to require their change for ready-made devices.

    The prototype was created by May 1914, 3000 letters in it were located on a cylinder 40 cm long and 15 cm in diameter, and a search map was printed on the board in front of the cylinder in accordance with the Kangxi key system. The operator found the desired symbol on it, placed a metal pointer above it, which placed the cylinder in the print position.

    At the same time, Jou was developing his typewriter by another Chinese student, Qi Feng. His device had only three mechanisms: return, space and enter key. To type, the operator rotated the cylinder manually, found the character and pressed the enter key.


    The key difference from Joe’s invention was that to the 4200 hieroglyphs he added 1327 radicals, from which any composite sign could be typed:


    Thus, in Chinese typewriting two directions of development were designated: the printing of a hieroglyph entirely and the separate printing with the help of radicals.

    The first production model

    In 1916, Joe returned to China, successfully presented his invention and entered into a contract with the Shanghai-based Commercial Press Company . But production is still postponed, since the typewriter Jow had a serious drawback: for a full-fledged activity, 3000 characters turned out to be too small, and the cylindrical matrix did not allow to increase their number.

    Ki Fuan was doing even worse: in 1915, at his first presentation to journalists and the Consul General of China, he printed a short note of 100 characters in ... 2 hours. Also, due to the fact that he worked and promoted his invention in the USA, it turned out to be almost unknown in China. In 1918, Commercial Press broke off relations with Joe, and another engineer, Shu Changgun, took over the development of a Chinese typewriter. In 1919 he received a patent.

    The native language is the pulse of the country. If the pulse stopped, then the country is dead.

    An important change was the tray that replaced the cylinder: the letters in it were not fixed, which allowed them to be swapped, to create their own sets. In addition to 2500 hieroglyphs, the bundle included 5,700 interchangeable letters, which were located in the bottom drawer. The tray was divided into three zones: central for the most common, and two side zones for rare hieroglyphs.

    several detailed photos from the patent

    In total, from 1917 to 1934, Commercial Press sold about 2000 devices, thanks to which a new industry began to develop: printing courses began to open, the first Chinese cartoon was the commercial commercial of the Commercial Press typewriters. The typist profession was as prestigious as an artist, athlete, or scientist.

    Japanese version

    In Japanese, three writing systems are used simultaneously: hieroglyphs of Chinese origin, kanji , and two syllabary alphabets ( kana ), hiragana and katakana. The first typewriter for hiragana was patented in 1894, and for katakana - in 1901. The Kans allowed Western manufacturers to enter the Japanese market, and the fate of the kanji was questionable. Refusal from it was considered as a symbolic gap with technological and cultural lag from the countries of the West.

    As in China, not everyone agreed with the rejection of their own language. In 1916, Kyota Sugimoto (No. 6 of the 10 greatest inventors of Japan ) patented his version of a typewriter for kanji, and from the 1920s their mass production began.

    Japanese companies entered the Korean and Chinese markets, and the issue of competition from local manufacturers was decided samurai simply: in 1932, the Imperial Army planes bombed Shanghai’s industrial areas, including the Commercial Press building. With the help of such a spectacular marketing move, Japanese manufacturers began to dominate the continental market.

    After the defeat of Japan in World War II, mass production of copies of Japanese typewriters began in China, and in 1964 the mass production of “two pigeons” began - the title model, which became the main typewriter of communist China.

    Impossible keyboard

    Despite its cultural and economic importance, the Chinese typewriter was inferior to its alphabetic counterparts: it was cumbersome and it was necessary to remember the location of all the hieroglyphs. This problem was solved by the scientist, philosopher and eminent Chinese writer, Lin Yutang .

    The resulting device (MingKwai 明快: "bright" and "fast") was more like a "search and typewriter" and allowed to type 8352 characters. Using their combinations, one could get any, even the rarest hieroglyph. The design resembled a double planetary system: 29 symbols were located on each side of the printing octahedral rods, combined into 6 pieces in 6 rotating clusters. For the convenience of the operator through the viewing window on the additional rotating unit of a smaller size, one could look at the selected characters.

    scheme and internal device

    By pressing one of the 36 upper keys, the printing and information bar was selected, then when one of the 28 middle keys was pressed, a sheet of paper was placed in the print position, and eight characters were displayed in the viewing window. From them with the help of the numeric keys the desired hieroglyph was selected.

    To provide access to each of the 8,000 characters, Lin combined them by 8 and developed a new key classification system: using graphic similarity between them (for example, xin (忄) and mu (木)), Lin distributed them in groups of up to 5 pieces per key. In addition, he had to add his own keys, which were not in the traditional classification systems.

    Unfortunately, MingKwai appeared at the wrong time and was not needed by anyone: starting to work in the early 30s, Lin created a prototype and received a patent only in 1947. He aroused interest in IBM and Remington, but the civil war in China, the victory of the communists, and then the Korean war completely repelled the desire of Western companies to enter the Chinese market.

    Hello world!

    Despite the fact that MingKwai was forgotten, the work of Lin Yutan was in demand after his death: entering the hieroglyph in parts and outputting suitable values ​​became the basis of IME for entering Chinese characters, and the classification of hieroglyphs he developed and the distribution of keys were used in the first Anglo-Chinese keyboards for the PC, leaving multi-key monsters in history:

    Hidden text

    And at the beginning of the XXI century, scientific works appeared on the fact that hieroglyphic writing develops the left hemisphere, and the perception of one symbol as a combination of several components goes more efficiently than into alphabetic. Well, actually, who would doubt that writing, which had been developing for five thousand years, may be ineffective = ~ _ ^ =

    Also popular now: