An American Character and Chinese Characters“汉字叔叔”和他的汉字学习生活
One of the definitions of the word character is, “an interesting person with unusual behavior.” In simpler terms: a likeable oddball. American Richard Sears of Knoxville, Tennessee (田纳西州，诺克斯维尔) is certainly a character. For the past forty years he’s been studying the etymology of Chinese characters (words), and for the last twenty years he has maintained a website that follows the evolution of Chinese writing from its earliest days until the present.
The website has proved invaluable to Chinese scholars both inside and outside China. So, who is this guy who knows more about the Chinese language than most Chinese? As a young man Sears spent two years in Taiwan and became intrigued with the language. To him, the multi-stroked characters were like puzzles that had to be solved. When he returned to America he kept up his interest in Chinese as a hobby while getting a degree in Computer Science and working in IT for twenty years. Then something happened. He had a heart attack.
It was a life changing event. He knew his time on earth was limited and he wanted to do something special to give his life meaning. From then on he poured all his money, time and energy into his website. The effort has cost him dearly. His obsession with studying Chinese and maintaining his website has cost him his job, his house and his wife. “Some people think I’m crazy,” he says. “But I don’t think I’ve wasted my time.”
One of the reasons for Sears’ financial problems is that his website is free. He accepts donations, but until recently they were few and far between. That changed when stories about Sears and his website appeared in the Chinese press. Many Chinese people were so taken by his story and his devotion to his work that more donations are now flowing in.
Characters like Sears are considered strange by some, but they are important to society. Einstein was a character, so was Steve Jobs. Their obsession, sometimes at great personal sacrifice, pushed forward our knowledge of the world and its possibilities.
Richard Sears may be every bit as puzzling as the Chinese characters he studies, but his contribution to the world cannot be denied.