I am editing a manuscript from 1939 at the moment that will hopefully be published later this year – it is the diary of someone that spent most of 1939 in
What I had forgotten till I transcribed this passage was that Lin was also an inventor who designed a Chinese typewriter – something I’ve always wanted to find in a flea market but never have…so far (Japanese ones pop up every now and again but rarely Chinese).
Lin worked hard on Gwoyeu Romatzyh, a new method of romanizing the Chinese language, and he created an indexing system for Chinese characters. Since obviously Chinese is a character-based rather than an alphabet-based language it had always been difficult to employ modern printing technologies. For many years it was doubted that a Chinese typewriter could be invented. Lin, however, eventually came up with a workable typewriter which he launched in the middle of the war with
As the picture shows the typewriter was the size of a normal one but the typefaces fit on a drum. A so-called “magic eye” was mounted in the centre of the keyboard and when the user pressed several keys, according to a system Lin devised for his dictionary of the Chinese language, a Chinese character appeared. To select a particular character, the typist then pressed a "master" key, similar to today's computer function key –if you use pinyin software on a computer you’ll recognise the basic process.
Sadly the typewriter was never produced commercially. According Lin's daughter, Lin Tai-Yi, the day Lin was to demonstrate the machine to executives of the Remington Typewriter Company, he couldn’t make it work. Lin ended up deeply in debt.
Others did make it into production - the first typewriter with Chinese characters was produced about 1911-14. The Japanese Nippon Typewriter Co. began producing typewriters with Chinese and Japanese characters in 1917 with a flat bed of 3,000 Japanese characters (which would effectively mean typing only shorthand).The picture left is a Japanese typewriter.