The pinyin was first developed as a superior alternative to earlier Chinese romanization systems such as Wade--Giles. It has since proved helpful for combating the illiteracy problem in Communist China, as well as for foreign learners of the Chinese language. The availability of pinyin in Chinese elementary schools significantly lowered the average Chinese's learning curve toward computer literacy.
Mr. Zhou survived forced labor and persecution during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960--70s and became a vocal critic of Chinese politics despite his great age, publishing 10 books after turning 100. Among his other achievements, he was responsible for overseeing the Chinese translation of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.