Thomas S. Mullaney is Associate Professor of Chinese History at Stanford University, and Curator of the international exhibition, Radical Machines: Chinese in the Information Age. He is the author of The Chinese Typewriter: A History (MIT Press 2017), Coming to Terms with the Nation: Ethnic Classification in Modern China (UC Press, 2010), and principal editor of Critical Han Studies: The History, Representation and Identity of China’s Majority (UC Press, 2011). His writings have appeared in the Journal of Asian Studies, Technology & Culture, Aeon, Foreign Affairs, and Foreign Policy, and his work has been featured in the LA Times, The Atlantic, the BBC, and in invited lectures at Google, Microsoft, Adobe, and more. He holds a PhD from Columbia University. His new book, The Chinese Typewriter, examines China’s development of a modern, nonalphabetic information infrastructure encompassing telegraphy, typewriting, word processing, and computing. This project has received three major awards and fellowships, including the 2013 Usher Prize, a three-year National Science Foundation fellowship, and a Hellman Faculty Fellowship. The sequel to this work – The Chinese Computer: A Global History of the Information Age – will be released on MIT Press later, and will be featured in the Weatherhead Asian Series. He also directs Digital Humanities Asia (DHAsia), a program at Stanford University focused on East, South, Southeast, and Inner/Central Asia. DHAsia was recently the recipient of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Sawyer Seminar fellowship.
Chinese writing is character-based, the one major world script that is neither alphabetic nor syllabic. Through the years, the Chinese written language encountered presumed alphabetic universalism in the form of Morse Code, Braille, stenography, Linotype, punch cards, word processing, and other systems developed with the Latin alphabet in mind. This book is about those encounters -- in particular, thousands of Chinese characters versus the typewriter and its QWERTY keyboard. Thomas Mullaney describes a fascinating series of experiments, prototypes, failures, and successes in the century-long quest for a workable Chinese typewriter. Today, after more than a century of resistance against the alphabetic, not only have Chinese characters prevailed, they form the linguistic substrate of the vibrant world of Chinese information technology. The Chinese Typewriter shows how this happened.