When you first hear of the title "Uncle Hanzi" (literally means "Uncle Chinese Characters"), you may find it hard to believe that it was given to an American man named Richard Sears.
Sears is the founder of the "Chinese Etymology" website, spending over 20 years sorting different types of inscriptions ranging from oracle, bronze, to small seal and putting them on the Internet.
Just by typing a Chinese character on his website, you can find out the shapes and evolution of the character. In order to study Chinese characters and build up his online database, Sears spent his own money to pursue his dream.
In 1972, when Sears was only 22, he was determined to go to Taiwan to learn Chinese, despite his father's strong opposition.
"My father had me when he was over 40 years old, and he wanted me to work at an insurance company. At that time, the insurance industry in the United States was very developed," Sears said.
Sears spent nearly a year washing dishes at a hotel and earned enough money to buy a one-way ticket to Taiwan. When he arrived, Sears wrote a letter to his family, telling his father that if he had a TV, he would learn Chinese faster. His father sent him money. At the time, Sears did not know that his father was diagnosed with cancer.
Sears was once a computer engineer in the United States, but when he was young, he developed a passion for learning the Chinese language. He had to look for the prototypes of Chinese characters to understand nearly 5,000 Chinese characters and 60,000 words. But he soon discovered that there were no English books to explain them. Since then, Sears has made his own research to understand the origins of Chinese characters, and used the Internet to put his own database online.
In 1994, Sears began to work on computerizing Chinese characters. That year, he suffered from a sudden heart attack and returned to the United States for surgery.
Doctors told him that he had only a year to live. The illness had a huge impact on Sears, and he began to ask himself a lot of questions: "What is the most important thing in life?" His answer is: "If I could live for another year, 365 days, I would decide to computerize 'Shuowen Jiezi' (the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220) dictionary)."
Sears lived a very frugal life for years. In 2011, someone shared Sears' website on Weibo, which attracted wide attention in China. Sears soon got invited to study Chinese characters in the country and get a teaching job in Beijing. Netizens called him "Uncle Hanzi" to show their respect to his efforts.
Since 2011, "Uncle Hanzi" has a growing influence across the country, and has even appeared on Chinese TV. His website continues to help many foreigners in China learn Chinese characters.