Chinese input methods for computers

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Hundreds of Chinese input methods are available to enter Chinese into computers, but most keyboard-based methods rely on the pinyin readings or shapes of Chinese characters. Although a pinyin method is easier to learn, the latter is often preferred by professional typists due to its faster input speed.

Besides keyboard-based methods, there are also handwriting methods which allow users to write characters on a designated "pad"; this may require extra equipment, but may also be accomplished by using a mobile phone with a touchscreen.



The development of Chinese input methods dates back to the era of typewriter. One of the early attempts was an electro-mechanical Chinese typewriter Ming kwai (Chinese: 明快; pinyin: míngkuài; Wade–Giles: ming-k'uai) which was invented by Lin Yutang, a prominent Chinese writer. It assigned thirty base shapes or strokes to different keys and adopted a new way of categorizing Chinese characters. However, the typewriter was not produced commercially and Lin found himself deeply in debt.[1]

In the Chinese publishing industry before the 1980s, publishers had to hire a team of workers, selecting a few thousand type pieces from an enormous Chinese character set. In governments, Chinese characters were entered using a long, complicated list of Chinese telegraph code, which assigns different numbers to each character. During the early computer era, there were also several methods of looking up Chinese characters such as looking for its radicals or its Pinyin (or romanization), but these gave only ambiguous results.

The modern Chinese input method was invented in 1976 when Chu Bong-Foo published the Cangjie input method, which assigns different "roots" to each key and allows a user to use a standard computer keyboard to enter Chinese characters. With this method, for example, the character 日 is assigned to the A key, and 月 is assigned to B. Typing them together will result in the character 明 ("bright").

Despite its difficulty of learning, this method remains popular in Chinese communities that use Traditional Chinese characters, such as Hong Kong and Taiwan; it is also the first method that allows users to enter more than a hundred Chinese characters per minute.

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