NPR’s Louisa Lim talks to Zhou Youguang about the changes he has witnessed and those he still hopes to see. Born in 1906, Zhou became friends with Einstein while living in the US, and “father of pinyin” after his return to China.
Far from shying from controversy, Zhou appears to relish it, chuckling as he admits, “I really like people cursing me.”
That fortitude is fortunate, since his son, Zhou Xiaoping, who monitors online reaction to his father’s blog posts, has noted that censors quickly delete any praise, leaving only criticism. The elder Zhou believes China needs political reform, and soon.
“Ordinary people no longer believe in the Communist Party any more,” he says. “The vast majority of Chinese intellectuals advocate democracy. Look at the Arab Spring. People ask me if there’s hope for China. I’m an optimist. I didn’t even lose hope during the Japanese occupation and World War II. China cannot not get closer to the rest of the world ….”
Zhou’s century as a witness to China’s changes, and a participant in them, has led him to believe that China has become “a cultural wasteland.” He’s critical of the Communist Party for attacking traditional Chinese culture when it came into power in 1949, but leaving nothing in the void.