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.
Jing Tsu is the John M. Schiff Professor of East Asian Languages and Literatures and the Comparative Literature Chair, Council on East Asian Studies at Yale University. A 2016 Guggenheim Fellow, she specializes in modern Chinese literature and culture and Sinophone studies, from the nineteenth century to the present. Her research spans literature, linguistics, science and technology, typewriting and digitalization, diaspora studies, migration, nationalism, and theories of globalization. At Yale she offers graduate seminars on sympathy, world Sinophone literature, and approaches to East Asian intellectual and literary history. From mainland China to Southeast Asia, her area of expertise covers the Sinophone world at large. She offers a regular interdisciplinary course, “China in the World,” which features six contemporary topics in historical time. Tsu has been a Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study (Harvard), the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (Stanford), and the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton). She is currently writing a new book on what happened to the Chinese script in the age of the Western alphabet, to appear with Riverhead at Penguin Random House.