Winners and losers in turbulent history
Zhou Youguang and his family have been the beneficiaries and victims of China's extraordinary history over the past 150 years.
In the 19th century, the Zhous were an important family in Changzhou , Jiangsu province. The Taiping army ransacked the town and destroyed the family home: in despair, his great-grandfather took his own life by throwing himself into a river.
Then, in 1937, the Japanese army occupied Suzhou and the family lost everything again. The third time was the Cultural Revolution, when Zhou was sent to a labour camp in Ningxia for 28 months; when he returned, he found his Beijing home empty of everything; not even a piece of paper remained.
But he bears no grudges. 'That is fine - no assets and no burden. I feel very relaxed.'
Born in Changzhou on January 13, 1906, Zhou enrolled in St John's University in 1923, one of only 500 university students in China at that time; he majored in economics, with a supplementary in linguistics.
In 1933, he married Zhang Yunhe , one of four daughters of a distinguished Anhui family and a graduate of the history department of Guanghua university in Shanghai. One of her sisters married Shen Congwen , one of the most famous writers of the pre-communist period; Shen never used the simplified characters or pinyin Zhou invented.
In 1937, the family fled to Chongqing , along with the national government. Zhou hid in caves to escape the Japanese bombing and came out to see corpses all around him.
Zhou's wife died in August 2002, at the age of 93, six months ahead of her sister, who died at the same age. They had been married for nearly 70 years. 'Her passing was a bolt from the blue. I had never imagined one day when we would not be together. Such a blow suffocated me, but I had no alternative but to accept the law of nature.'
Like many intellectuals, he draws inspiration from the May 4 movement, launched by students at Beijing University in 1919 to protest against the terms offered to China in the Versailles Treaty. It developed into a blueprint for the modernisation of the country.
He admires Hu Shih , one of the leaders of the May 4 movement: 'He was the only modern Chinese thinker who was not backed by weapons, someone whose thinking touched the general public.'
Hu was a pioneer of the use of vernacular Chinese to replace classical Chinese, an advocate of pragmatism and a scientific approach to social problems. He served as the Republic of China's ambassador to Washington between 1938 and 1942, chancellor of Beijing University and president of Academia Sinica in Taipei, where he died in 1962 at the age of 71.
His principles included 'practice is the only standard and test of reality', which was later adopted by Deng Xiaoping - using pragmatism to study problems and not sticking to rigid ideologies.
To achieve democracy, he advocated splitting the Kuomintang into two parties or setting up a new one, and constitutional government, objectives that have been realised in Taiwan. He opposed revolution and proposed that China should have a federal system of government.
A century on, only some of Hu's ideals have been realised. Of Hu's two children, one went to the US and did not return. The other came back to carry out the revolution and called his father 'a running dog of imperialism'; in 1957, he was designated a 'rightist' and committed suicide.
'We wronged Hu Shi and China went wrong for 100 years,' said Zhou.