• Kingdom of Characters

  • The Language Revolution That Made China Modern
  • By: Jing Tsu
  • Narrated by: Jing Tsu
  • Length: 11 hrs and 18 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (46 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

What does it take to reinvent a language?

After a meteoric rise, China today is one of the world’s most powerful nations. Just a century ago, it was a crumbling empire with literacy reserved for the elite few, as the world underwent a massive technological transformation that threatened to leave them behind. In Kingdom of Characters, Jing Tsu argues that China’s most daunting challenge was a linguistic one: the century-long fight to make the formidable Chinese language accessible to the modern world of global trade and digital technology.

Kingdom of Characters follows the bold innovators who reinvented the Chinese language, among them an exiled reformer who risked a death sentence to advocate for Mandarin as a national language, a Chinese Muslim poet who laid the groundwork for Chairman Mao's phonetic writing system, and a computer engineer who devised input codes for Chinese characters on the lid of a teacup from the floor of a jail cell. Without their advances, China might never have become the dominating force we know today.

With larger-than-life characters and an unexpected perspective on the major events of China’s tumultuous 20th century, Tsu reveals how language is both a technology to be perfected and a subtle, yet potent, power to be exercised and expanded.

This audiobook includes a downloadable PDF that contains charts, photos, and visuals from the book. 

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio.

©2022 Jing Tsu (P)2022 Penguin Audio
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

“Rigorous and engaging. . . . Languages, as this book makes clear, convey worlds.” —New York Times

“A lively and insightful history of the intersection of China’s information technology systems and its language revolution. The book is a richly documented, riveting, and scholarly rigorous transnational account of how Chinese evolved from a hard-to-learn script entrenched in the beleaguered Middle Kingdom in the 19th century to a global language in the 21st century.” —Science 

“Enchanting... [Tsu's] love for the enigma and beauty of Chinese shines through in this delightful mix of history and linguistics... A pleasure to read.” —The Sunday Times (London)

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Fascinating

As a lover of language, I found this book fascinating. So much so that I really did listen to it every possible moment for just over two days. It tells a very important story.

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Missed important information

I learned a lot but did not learn the answer to the question that made me buy the book. In the early part of the book it discussed attempts to adapt Chinese characters to the typewriter, but when it because really important, in the days of computers, it got hung up in a love of specific characters and disagreements among options. How do Chinese now use computers? Do they type in pinyin and have several characters appear on the screen from which they choose the one they mean? So does that mean all Chinese learn Mandarin (because pinyin is mostly phonetic?). These questions should have been answered or at least discussed.