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My Lifelong Journey with Chinese Characters

Source: Science and Technology Daily| 2021-08-05 10:41:55| Author: Richard Sears

By Richard Sears

My name is Richard Sears. Chinese people call me Uncle Hanzi because of my research in Chinese characters. I am a scientist. I am always looking for a deeper understanding of the universe. Language is one of the mysteries of the universe. Language is how we get a thought from my brain to your brain.


Chinese is a special language because unlike other languages, written Chinese uses symbols rather than alphabets. Different words have their own history, which tells you something about the history of thought. The English word chromosome, for example, comes from the Greek chroma-soma, which means colored body and that is because unless you dye a cell, you cannot see the chromosome. In Chinese, we say, "ran se ti" which means "dyable body."

My Work in China

I do not like to blindly memorize stuff without understanding why. Everyone knows that Chinese characters are derived from pictographs, but when I tried to search out the pictographs, I found a lot of incomplete and often wrong information. So, in order to resolve this issue, I ended up spending 30 years building up one of the worlds most extensive databases of Chinese character etymology.

One reason I have been able to excel is because of modern computer technology. I built a database of nearly 100,000 ancient character glyphs and a database dissecting 15,000 modern characters. The technology allows me to do things that could never have been done a few years ago. It has allowed me to bring my website to millions of people around the world, and recently, with the help of a team of people at my company, I have used AR (Augmented Reality) to bring the stories of Chinese characters to many Chinese children.

Living in China gives me the opportunity to talk to other experts in the field. There are different people with different opinions, but I also do my own research and have come up with some interesting discoveries.

Rocks and Music

Music was important to the ancients. Since they did not have recordings, you had to make your own music. In Ancient China they had some special Chinese musical instruments. One was a set of chimes, made with stone called a petraphone. They were triangular shaped rocks or pieces of jade that were carved to different sizes and dimensions in order to make different tones.


Every part of every Chinese character is derived from a pictograph. If you know the original pictograph and the original logic, you can trace the evolution of every character and thus every Chinese character becomes logical. If you don't know these origins, you are just trying to memorize a bunch of complicated strokes.

My Life in China

Nanjing has a rich history. One of the places I like best is the Purple Mountain Observatory. It is the observatory that ultimately defines the Chinese calendar.

Nanjing is a vibrant city with many intelligent young people. I am particularly happy to live in Nanjing because I can influence the lives of young people. I often tell my students to find their own interests and pursue their dreams.

I also have the opportunity to share my ideas and explanations of Chinese characters on Bilibili. Fortunately I have managed to gain permanent residence in China, and I plan to stay here forever.

The views doesn't necessarily reflect those of S&T Daily.

Editor:温皓婷

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