History of Design: Chinese Typewriter


Typewriters across Languages: How Foreign Exchange in 20th Century Influenced the Chinese Mechanical Typewriter Design

Link to full research paper: https://nyu.academia.edu/YuepingWang



In his research paper The Movable Typewriter: How Chinese Typists Developed Predictive Text during the Height of Maoism, American historian Thomas Mullaney provides valuable insights on the Chinese mechanical typewriter’s innovative design and underrated achievement in materializing the concept of “predictive text”. The evidences he had found suggest that the resourceful type-setting technique was evolved through the work experience of the Chinese clerks and typists, and shares historical linkage to the more ancient Chinese technology. This technique, he argues, is both saturated with political nuances specific to the Maoist period China, and a potentially underrated technological feat in predictive text that preceded the western world, perhaps even the forerunner of computer-based input technology. 

However, despite evidences assorted to emphasize the Chinese mechanical typewriter’s deep historical and cultural root, a broader examination of the typewriter’s contemporary environment and innovation process reveals layers of technological and cultural interactions that are otherwise more diplomatic and more open-ended. Therefore, I would like to take on a different approach of research, and expand the understanding of Chinese typewriter without conforming to a linear narrative.