Event Detail


The Man Who Made China a Literate Nation

Mark O'Neill
Thursday, 11 Apr 2024
Complimentary Free-Flow Drinks from 6:45 pm; Talk at 7:30 pm
Tanner De Witt. 17/F, Lippo Centre Tower 1, 89 Queensway, Admiralty
Mark O’Neill tells the story of Zhou Youguang, the scholar who invented pinyin, a system of romanisation for Chinese characters. Since 1958, Chinese primary school students have learnt pinyin, before they learn characters. Thanks partly to him, one billion Chinese have become literate – perhaps the greatest contribution by a linguist in history.

Zhou Youguang had several lives: a banker in Shanghai, New York and London; supplying food and textiles for the army and ordinary people during World War Two; and after 1949, a linguist.  He lived through the campaigns of the Maoist period, spending 28 months in a labour camp in west China. He wrote 49 books, many critical of the Soviet Union, the Soviet model used in China and of Mao Zedong.
In the last 20 years of his life, until the age of 111 years, Zhou Youguang was one of the few intellectuals in China willing to speak the truth in public.  Mark shows how he had innate optimism, intellectual curiosity about everything and a Buddhist-like humility to see himself and his belongings as of little value. 

Mark O'Neill is from the United Kingdom and was educated at Marlborough College and New College, Oxford.  He worked in Washington, DC, Manchester and Belfast before coming to Hong Kong in 1978.  He has lived in Asia ever since.  He worked as a journalist for 30 years in Hong Kong, Taiwan, India, Mainland China and Japan, for Reuters, SCMP and many other publications.  Since 2006, he has been writing books on Chinese history and society, of which nine have editions in Chinese, simplified and traditional, as well as English.  These include China's Great Liberal of the 20th Century – Hu ShihIsrael and China: from the Tang Dynasty to Silicon Wadi, How the South Asians Helped to Make Hong Kong and his recently published China's Russian Princess.

The Royal Geographical Society - Hong Kong wishes to express its thanks to
Tanner De Witt as the Venue and drinks Sponsor of this talk.


The opinions expressed in this talk are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of the Royal Geographical Society - Hong Kong.

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