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How do you type in a language with thousands of characters? In the early 20th century, two inventors vowed to solve the information, technology and engineering puzzle of creating a Chinese language typewriter. Zhou Houkun, of MIT, designed a typewriter based on “common usage Chinese,” selecting the 3,000 most commonly used everyday characters. Qi Xuan, of NYU, broke up characters into modular pieces that would allow a typist to “spell” any character. Even though it was more limited, Zhou’s prototype was more successful and was acquired by the Commercial Press in Shanghai. After minor improvements conducted by Commercial Press, the Shu Zhendong Chinese Typewriter became the country’s first mass-manufactured typewriter. Using the left hand, the typist would move the gridded bed right and left; with the right hand, they would punch down on the chosen Chinese character with a type lever to pick up the loose metal slug. To this day, people are still trying to figure out the best way to translate Chinese characters into communication systems, from Morse code to iOS. Currently, Chinese computing is possible thanks to “Input Method Editors,” which date back to the 1947 MingKwai experimental typewriter. This typewriter intercepts QWERTY keystrokes and retrieves the correct character from a database based on the sounds inputted.

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  • Title: Chinese typewriter

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