The Chinese Typewriter – Simplified

     “How is this even possible?’ one may ask. There are so many characters in the Chinese language. Before the time of the computer, you could not select which character you wanted based on the pinyin. Decades ago, if you did not want to write each character, then you had to use one of these.

     As you can see in the picture, there is no keyboard, but a rectangular tray full of tiny metal symbols. Each one of those blocks is a character. Another problem – what if you need even more characters? In that case, the design of the machine allowed the trays to be swapped in and out as needed. The most widely used model contains about 2,500 characters. To try and make the process even faster, typists are able to move the tiny metal blocks around to different spots on the tray. These spots could be organized in anyway you choose: frequency of character use, meaning of character, and more. These process sounds very slow and tedious right? Well, it is. Good operators could type as many a 20-30 characters per minute. Remember, they need to find the correct character among 2,500 other ones that are all very tiny. If that was me, I would be sitting there for minutes before finding even one!

How to Use

     With your left you hand, you hold onto the knob that is closest to you. This knob is connected to the tray bed and allows the bed to be moved from left to right. This allows for fast movement when you may need to jump around the tray bed quickly. Your right hand is used on the other lever that is closest to the rubber roller. This is for more precise, but slow, movement. This lever also allows you to move left to right, as well as up and down. You then align the type chamber (this is part of the lever) over the desired character. Finally, you push the lever down with your right hand.

The Mechanics of the Getting One Metal Piece to the Paper

     Once the type chamber is pushed down onto the metal character (also known as a slug), the character is poked up out of the tray bed and inserted and temporarily locked in the type chamber. This chamber moves up and rubs against an inking spool. Now the character strikes the surface of the paper. Afterwards, the chamber falls back down and lets go of the temporarily locked in piece, which falls back into the exact spot it was taken out of. The amazing thing is, this all happens in one motion.

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There are 15 comments

  1. Caroline Strauss

    This type writer is very interesting! It must have taken so long to write a single sentence with the machine because of how many buttons it had and how complex it was. Writing sounds a lot easier than this.

  2. Nikki Brotter

    This is so cool / crazy because of how many characters the Chinese language has. It’s amazing how they configured a type writer that fits the necessities to write in Chinese.

  3. Ashley Silverstein

    It is so interesting that . each one of those blocks is a character. It is crazy that good operators could type as many a 20-30 characters per minute. This is a very interesting article and I have now learned a lot about the Chinese typewriter.

  4. Alynah Ratansi

    This type writer is absolutely creative. It is an extraordinary sight as there is no keyboard. This type writer is a rectangular tray full of tiny metal symbols and each block is a character. It is amazing how people can build such inventive creations.

  5. Michael Lin

    This type writer would make typing characters in class soooo much easier, it seems really innovative and new. I would love to try it out. Having 2500 characters is incredible and really blends the culture of an old type writer with new innovative, forward thinking technology.

  6. Halle Fishman

    It is so interesting how there is no keyboard. It is crazy that 20-30 characters can be typed per minute. I love how you explained each step on how to use it.

  7. Jake Moreh

    Wow this is pretty amazing because of how fast the type writer can write 20-30 characters per minute. Having the opportunity to used 2500 is amazing because it allows to create rich sentences that truly reflect the Chinese culture. Very innovative to see that there is no keyboard either.

  8. Gordon W

    This is crazy. I can’t believe a language as complex as the Chinese language could be typed by a machine with no keyboard. The steps explaining how to use the typewriter were very detailed.

  9. Jeffrey Z.

    This is an interesting article. However, I don’t understand why they would want to use such a complicated piece of technology. Typewriters are supposed to make the writing process faster and easier, not more complicated.

  10. Matthew Lecher

    It is fascinating to me how we have evolved from block print, to the typewriter, and now to the computer and keyboard. Looking back, I find that the English typewriter was hard to use, and tedious to put each piece of paper in perfectly, and not being able to make a mistake. As I read this article about the Chinese typewriter, it is amazing how a mechanism for 2500 characters was made. Wonderful job, Wesley.

  11. Dylan Swickle

    Thanks so much for this article Wesley!! I never thought that a language as difficult to write as Chinese could be written on a type writer. The steps to using the type writer is very interesting. It is also crazy that 20-30 characters can be typed minute!

  12. Hitomi Honda

    Wow, I learned so much from this article! I learned that people would have to switch out the trays if they couldn’t find the character they needed. Also, it’s so cool that I could learn how to use the machine. Typing on that machine looks so complicated, which makes the fact that someone could type 30 words in a minute even more unbelievable. Thanks for sharing!

  13. Joanne Li

    I’d always known that there had to be a typewriter for Chinese, but I didn’t know that it would be so complex! I liked how you gave a super detailed explanation of how it works, and I found the part when you commented on how long it would take you to find just one character especially relatable. Nice job!

  14. Pratim Chowdhary

    I can’t imagine how hard it would be to have a typewriter with 2500 keys. The people that wrote 20-30 characters a minute on the typewriter must have practiced for a really long time.

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