In 1928 linguist Yuen Ren Chao had reason to celebrate. The Nationalist government had just recognized his system for writing Chinese, Gwoyeu Romatzyh, so he gleefully wrote (using the system) in his diary: "G.R. yii yu jeou yueh 26 ry gong buh le. Hooray!!!" (G.R. was officially announced on September 26. Hooray!!!). He was not the only one excited about the prospect of scraping Chinese characters either. In the global context of phonocentric dominance both the Nationalists and the Communists waged war on Chinese characters, seeking new, scientific, modern, and entirely phonetic writing system.
Ultimately, however, Chao's three exclamation marks were somewhat in vain. China's "script revolution" ended, and the Chinese Communist Party opted to simplify Chinese characters instead — a process and history deftly traced by Chinese Grammatology: Script Revolution and Literary Modernity, 1916–1958 (Columbia University Press, 2019). In Chinese Grammatology Yurou Zhong explores the history of the script revolution, tracing where it came from, how it changed over time, and how it was finally contained. Sharply written, beautifully constructed and filled with fascinated case studies, this is a real treat for those interested in modern Chinese history and literature, as well as anyone curious about global script reforms in the twentieth century.
Sarah Bramao-Ramos is a PhD candidate in History and East Asian Languages at Harvard. She works on Manchu language books and is interested in anything with a kesike. She can be reached at email@example.com