“I will always try to study and figure out things that we don’t understand about the origins of Chinese characters. We understand a lot, but we don’t understand everything,” said Sears.
BEIJING, March 23 (Xinhua) — “Chinese characters, you will never get to the bottom of them,” says American Richard Sears. And he should know, having devoted almost 50 years to learning, teaching and disseminating the pictographic origins of Hanzi, the septuagenarian has earned the nickname “Hanzi Shushu,” or Uncle Hanzi.
Richard Sears, 71, a physicist from the state of Tennessee, was first exposed to Chinese characters in 1972 because of a fascination with China and its culture.
“When I was 22, I went to Taiwan and learned to speak Chinese, but I wasn’t all that diligent,” Sears told Xinhua during an interview at his home in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, east China.
By 40, he still couldn’t read Chinese characters, so he started to study.
“I found that almost all Chinese had learned to read and write by absolute blind memorization and almost no one had a clue where the characters actually came from,” he noted, “but I am a physicist, a scientist, so I don’t like to blindly memorize stuff.”
In 1994, with computers becoming more available, Sears started programming and he built a database of oracle bone inscriptions. It took him seven years just to scan the source characters from antique books.
In 2002, he launched his Hanzi etymology website. It only clocked up a few page views per day for many years, this changed in 2011, when a blogger recommended the site on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform. From a handful of views, daily traffic surged to 600,000.