Imported,Manual typewriters in Shanghai between 80's and 90's. (Part I)

According to the voluminous Oxford English Dictionary, there are about 1 million English words. In addition, with social and scientific progress, several thousand new English words are invented every year. For example, Shakespeare will have no idea about what "tweet" means.

In order to read an English newspaper, one need to know at least 3000 English words. That is partly because English is very specific, take "smile" for example, there are so many words to describe it: laugh, guffaw, giggle, grin, sneer, chuckle, snicker,roar, chortle,simper,cachinnate,horselaugh.....In Chinese, one character "笑" with some help of pre-modifiers is sufficient to name every kind of smile. That's why one only needs several hundred Chinese characters to understand a local newspaper.

But the word "Chinese" is an exception. Modifying with Chinese would sound ambiguous, even with a certain context.  For example, the phrase "Chinese typewriter" can be interpreted in many ways: the typewriter is made by Chinese or in China, the typewriter types Chinese language, a kind of rather monstrous index-typewriter used in typing Chinese language, the typewriter is owned by some Chinese etc. Therefore, I purposefully use "made-in-China" typewriter when referring to those what most typospherians are talking about.

Crap aside, today's post is about foreign typewriters that were once available in retail shops in China. This post is by no means based on a complete research. As I grew up in Shanghai, my knowledge is rather limited to the manual typewriter once available in Shanghai's stationery shops in between 80's and 90's. So this post is just for fun,not much historic value though. I've seen many imported electronic typewriters and those using daisy wheels in stationery shops even today. Most of them are from Japan. But I'm not interested in these kind of typewriter at all.

During the Cultural Revolution (1967-1977), anything Western was condemned. Mr. Lu, a retired typewriter repairman also my friend, once told me that during that time, lots of foreign-made typewriters, ROYAL, REMINGTON,UNDERWOOD,CONTINENTAL, you name it, were confiscated by the "revolutionary" Chairman Mao's Red Guards and sold at very low prices at second-hand shops. Clearly, China once entirely depended on foreign supplies to meet its demand.

In 1980s and 1990s, China adopted a highly prohibitive trade policy to protect its fragile domestic industry, a practice in some sectors remain so even today. Thanks to a sound industrial foundation laid by the nationalist KMT government during 1911-1949, Shanghai is the birthplace of China's modern industry. The country's Big Three typewriter manufacturers, namely, Hero, Changkong and Flying Fish, are all based in Shanghai. Therefore, it is understandable that there were not many foreign typewriters sold in Shanghai's stationery stores. But it's still possible to spot some. They were all sold at very high prices, way out of the reach of ordinary family. For example, a basic Olivetti Lettera 32 was once sold at RMB 480 while a HERO typewriter was only RMB 266 in 1991.

Most of these typewriters were imported from China's neighbors Japan and South Korea. Some are from Mexico, Brazil,Bulgaria and erstwhile Yugoslavia. It's very unlikely that China would import typewriters from U.S. because in 1980s and 1990s, US no longer produced any and herself depended on imports from other countries. Even if U.S. did, I guess it was unlikely that China would import from her because poor brothers (developing countries) should help each other while a richer brother such as U.S. are supposed to offer a helping hand.  

The following are imported mechanical typewriters once sold in China. Hope you guys enjoy.

First, Japan's BROTHER series. They seemed to offer endless inspirations to Chinese typewriter makers. Some of these BROTHERS have Bruxel type style, which is awesome.

The Young Elite

This design of Brother is the original of China's Chang Kong typewriter. Referred to as "simplified typewriters", they are easy to repair, cheap to produce and light to carry around, but they cannot produce nice prints nor do they last long. They pronounced the end of typewriter history. But since so many other Asian manufacturers somewhat borrowed its design, there must be something good in them and deserve the title "classic".

Then the endless Silver Reeds, original design of China's FLYING FISH 88TR, S.Korea's Clover.

This earlier model of Silver Reed is, however, more of a German design I suppose.

Hey Adler, don't lie, you are essentially a Silver Reed

I don't know what Underwood designers would say about this. 

South Korea's Marathoon/Diasister,Clover/


  1. Some of these are very exotic to me.

    It's impossible not to read "Diasister" as "Disaster"!

    1. wow...What a big compliment it is to hear you say "exotic" hehe...

  2. Both familiar and exotic at the same time. How often have you or your typewriter repairman friend Mr. Lu come across older typewriters made in the 20's-40's such as old iron-frame American Underwoods and Royals or early European models such as Mercedes or old black-laquered Hermes? Hopefully you've had more than these late-model machines to collect and enjoy. (:

    1. Thanks for commenting Ted, Sure I do have collected older machines. But since I started this blog to introduce to other typospherians typewriters made in China,and China didn't start producing its own typewriters until late 1960s, that's why mostly a new models. I will write about older machines I've collected.

  3. Very nice group of machines. Some of the typewriters I did not know until now. It is amazing how many are very similar looking.