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  • Published: 29 March 2022
  • ISBN: 9780241295854
  • Imprint: Allen Lane
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 336
  • RRP: $45.00

Kingdom of Characters

The Language Revolution That Made China Modern




A riveting, masterfully researched account of the bold innovators who adapted the Chinese language to the modern world, transforming China into a superpower in the process

What does it take to reinvent the world's oldest living language?
China today is one of the world's most powerful nations, yet just a century ago it was a crumbling empire with literacy reserved for the elite few, left behind in the wake of Western technology. In Kingdom of Characters, Jing Tsu shows that China's most daunting challenge was a linguistic one: to make the formidable Chinese language - a 2,200-year-old writing system that was daunting to natives and foreigners alike - accessible to a globalized, digital world.

Kingdom of Characters follows the bold innovators who adapted the Chinese script - and the value-system it represents - to the technological advances that would shape the twentieth century and beyond, from the telegram to the typewriter to the smartphone. From the exiled reformer who risked death to advocate for Mandarin as a national language to the imprisoned computer engineer who devised input codes for Chinese characters on the lid of a teacup, generations of scholars, missionaries, librarians, politicians, inventors, nationalists and revolutionaries alike understood the urgency of their task and its world-shaping consequences.

With larger-than-life characters and a thrilling narrative, Kingdom of Characters offers an astonishingly original perspective on one of the twentieth century's most dramatic transformations.

  • Published: 29 March 2022
  • ISBN: 9780241295854
  • Imprint: Allen Lane
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 336
  • RRP: $45.00

About the author

Jing Tsu

Jing Tsu is the John M. Schiff Professor of East Asian Languages and Literatures & Comparative Literature at Yale, where she specializes in Chinese literature, history, culture, science and technology, and politics. She is a member of the Council on East Asian Studies at the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies and an affiliate faculty at the Jackson School of Global Affairs. A Guggenheim fellow, she has held fellowships and distinctions from Harvard, Stanford, and Princeton. She moved to the US from Taiwan at age 9, and now lives in New York City.

Praise for Kingdom of Characters

Kingdom of Characters is an eye-opener. It approaches a central topic in modern and contemporary Chinese culture through a unique perspective, combining scholarship with vivid historical narrative. Jing Tsu wears her erudition lightly and gives us a fascinating and moving story. It shows the passionate struggle of generations of pioneers, who tried to find ways of reshaping and preserving the Chinese written script. It's a story of desperate strife, unflagging dedication, and ultimately, triumph

Ha Jin

Kingdom of Characters is a deeply engaging and revealing narrative of the Chinese language in modern times: its graphic and phonetic transformations, conceptual debates, technological innovations, and political contentions. Jin Tsu has brought together a series of key moments concerning Chinese modernity, from the first Chinese typewriter to the digital Sinosphere, from the script reform to the voice revolution. Meticulously researched and beautifully written, this book is indispensable for anyone interested in the sound and script of modern China

Professor David Wang, Harvard University

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