Zhang Binglin bigraphy, stories - Chinese linguist

Zhang Binglin : biography

December 25, 1868 - June 14, 1936

Zhang Binglin (December 25, 1868 – June 14, 1936) was a Chinese philologist, textual critic, philosopher, and a revolutionary.

His philological works include Wen Shi (文始 "The Origin of Writing"), the first systematic work of Chinese etymology. He also made contributions to historical Chinese phonology, proposing that "the niang (娘) and ri (日) initials [in Middle Chinese] come from the ni (泥) initial [in Old Chinese]" (known as niang ri gui ni 娘日歸泥). He developed a system of shorthands based on the seal script, called jiyin zimu (記音字母), later adopted as the basis of zhuyin. Though innovative in many ways, he was skeptical of new archaeological findings, regarding the oracle bones as forgery.

An activist as well as a scholar, he produced many political works. Because of his outspoken character, he was jailed for three years by the Qing Empire and put under house arrest for another three by Yuan Shikai.


Zhang was born with the given name Xuecheng (學乘) in Yuhang (now a district in Hangzhou), Zhejiang to a scholarly family. Later he himself changed his given name to Jiang (絳) with the sobriquet Taiyan, to show his admiration for the early Qing scholar and activist Gu Yanwu. When he was 23, he began to study under the great philologist Yu Yue (俞樾) (1821–1907), immersing himself in the Chinese classics for seven years.

After the first Sino-Japanese War, he came to Shanghai, becoming a member of the Society for National Strengthening (強學會) and writing for a number of newspaper, including Liang Qichao's Shi Wu Bao (時務報). In September 1898, after the failure of the Wuxu Reform, Zhang escaped to Taiwan with the help of a Japanese friend and worked as a reporter for Taiwan Riri Xinbao (台灣日日新報) and wrote for Qing Yi Bao (清議報) produced in Japan by Liang Qichao.

In May of the following year, Zhang went to Japan and was introduced to Sun Yat-sen by Liang Qichao. He returned to China two months later to be a reporter for the Shanghai-based Yadong Shibao (亞東時報), and later published his most important political work, Qiu Shu (訄書).

In 1901, under the threat of arrest from the Qing Empire, Zhang taught at Soochow University for a year before he escaped to Japan for several months. Upon return, he was arrested and jailed for three years until June 1906. He began to study the Buddhist scriptures during his time in jail.

After his release, Zhang went to Japan to join Tongmeng Hui and became the chief editor of the newspaper Min Bao (民報) that strongly criticized the Qing Empire's corruption. There, he also lectured on the Chinese classics and philology for overseas Chinese students. His students in Japan include Lu Xun, Zhou Zuoren and Qian Xuantong. His most important student was Huang Kan. In 1908, Min Bao was banned by the Japanese government. This caused Zhang to focus on his philological research. He coined the phrase "Zhonghua Minguo" (中華民國)which eventually became the name of the Chinese Republic.

Because an ideological conflict with Sun Yat-sen and his Three Principles of the People, Zhang established the Tokyo branch of Guangfu Hui in February 1909.

After Wuchang Uprising, Zhang returned to China to establish the Republic of China Alliance (中華民國聯合會) and chief-edit the Dagonghe Ribao (大共和日報).

After Yuan Shikai became the President of the Republic of China in 1913, Zhang was his high-ranking advisor for a few months until the assassination of Song Jiaoren. After criticizing Yuan for possible responsibility of the assassination, Zhang was put under house arrest, in Beijing's Longquan Temple, until Yuan's death in 1916. After release, Zhang was appointed Minister of the Guangzhou Generalissimo (大元帥府秘書長) in June 1917.

In 1924, Zhang left Kuomintang, entitled himself a loyalist to the Republic of China, and became critical of Chiang Kai-shek. Zhang established the National Studies Society (國學講習會) in Suzhou in 1934 and chief-edited the magazine Zhi Yan (制言).

Living octopus

Living octopus

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