Chinese scholar whose western alphabet system advanced literacy and comprehension between speakers of different languages

A fortune teller once warned Zhou Youguang he would not live past 35. The prediction was plausible, as Zhou himself later noted. Average life expectancy in China was then around 30. He had experienced tuberculosis and depression and within a few years would narrowly escape death in a Japanese bombing raid that killed the man beside him. Yet his eventual death came the day after his 111th birthday.

By then he had fewer than 50 peers worldwide. The rest are known primarily for their survival, and Zhou had a variety of explanations for his own longevity: modern medicine, eating when hungry and sleeping when tired, and simply the fact that “God has forgotten me”, a remark reflecting both his humility and his humour. But he had staked his claim to a place in the history books more than half a century before, as “the father of pinyin”, having established what became the international standard for romanisation of Chinese.

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