Chinese typewriter

An electro-mechanical Chinese typewriter was invented and patented by Dr. Lin Yutang. The patent, No. 2613795, was filed on April 17, 1946 by Lin, and was issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office on October 14, 1952. One of Lin's intentions was to help modernize China. The typewriter was called "MingKwai"; Lin promoted it as "The Only Chinese Typewriter Designed for Everybody's Use." ("Ming kwai" means "clear and quick".)

Lin had a prototype machine custom built by the Carl E. Krum Company, a small engineering-design consulting firm with an office in New York City. That multi-lingual typewriter was the size of conventional office typewriters of the 1940s. It measured 14” x 18” x 9”. The typefaces fit on a drum. A "magic eye" was mounted in the center of the keyboard. When the typist pressed several keys, according to a system Lin devised for his dictionary of the Chinese language, a Chinese character appeared (in the magic eye?). To select a particular character, the typist then pressed a "master" key, similar to today's computer function key. The typewriter could create 7000 distinct characters. It could type additional "words" using combinations of characters, attaining a theoretical total of 90,000 words.

The inspired aspect of the typewriter was the system Lin devised for a Chinese alphabet. It had thirty geometric shapes or strokes. These became "letters" by which to alphabetize Chinese characters. He broke tradition with the long-standing system of radicals and stroke order writing and categorizing of Chinese characters, inventing a new way of seeing and categorizing.

The typewriter was not produced commercially. According Lin's daughter, Lin Tai-Yi, the day she was to demonstrate the machine to executives of the Remington Typewriter Company, they could not make it work. Although they did get the machine fixed for a press conference the next day, it was to no avail. Lin found himself deeply in debt. In 1947, Lin paid income taxes owed to the Internal Revenue Service and went to work in Paris for UNESCO.


  • Lin Yutang and Y.R. Chao, another linguist and scholar, worked out a scheme for writing Mandarin Chinese with the Roman alphabet. Known as Gwoyeu Romatzyh, it pioneered a way of indicating the tones of the Chinese language by varying the way words were spelled out in Roman letters.


  • Bliven, Bruce Jr. The Wonderful Writing Machine. New York: Random House, 1954.
  • Chinese Typewriter: A Real Character Study," Business Week (August 30, 1947), 16.
  • Lin, Tai-Yi. “My Father, Lin Yutang,” Reader’s Digest (December 1990) p:161-191.
  • Lin, Yutang, Lin Yutang’s Chinese-English Dictionary of Modern Usage. Hong Kong: The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 1972.
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