Richard Sears, Knoxville’s Archivist of Chinese Characters

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Oct 232011

The Knoxville News-Sentinel recently introduced me to Richard Sears:

Anyone who has studied Chinese as a second language within the past 10 years has likely heard of Richard Sears.

Working out of a modest studio apartment in West Knoxville, the amateur etymologist has amassed what is arguably the world’s largest online database of ancient Chinese written character origins.

I have not only studied Chinese but am also from Knoxville, so I should really have heard of him. Somehow I have not. I had not even heard of his website,

Sears was barely known even among the residents at his apartment complex until January when a web surfer in China posted a blurb about the etymology site to Sina Weibo, a Chinese hybrid version of Twitter and Facebook. The next day, the traffic on his obscure site jumped from 15,000 daily page views to more than 600,000.

He has since become a minor celebrity in China.

Oddly, most of the article has nothing to do with this fascinating little story but rather with a minor incident between Sears and the police. (To the paper’s credit, Knoxvillians are probably more interested in overzealous cops than the history of Chinese characters.)

Sears claims he did nothing wrong and has even created a single-post blog, Durty Knoxville Cops, to give his version of the story. I have no idea who’s right but would like to hear more about the China connection.

Todd Steed at UT-Tsinghua Summer Camp

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Jul 252011

From Knoxville’s Bearden Shopper-News community paper:

Todd Steed has been writing songs and playing his own witty brand of Knoxville-centric music since 1977. His first touring band, Smokin’ Dave & the Premo Dopes, made him a teenage legend…

Steed’s most recent foray was to China, where he spent a month working as co-coordinator of foreign teachers and volunteers at Tsinghua University’s summer camp. He led a group of 14 faculty and volunteers from UT.

You can find the full article on page 9:

Ai Weiwei Exhibit at Knoxville Museum of Art

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Apr 082011

The Knoxville Museum of Art presents Ai Weiwei: Dropping the Urn (Ceramic Works, 5000 BCE-2010 CE) May 13-August 7, 2011. This is the first solo exhibition of works by the prominent Chinese artist to be presented in the United States outside of New York….

In these works, Ai Weiwei transforms ancient ceramic objects, including 7,000-year old Neolithic urns and Han dynasty vessels, by painting them with a “Coca-Cola” logo, dipping them into vats of industrial paint, smashing them on the ground, or grinding them into powder.

The largest piece in the exhibition is what appears to be a large pile of tiny sunflower seeds, a common street snack in China. Each seed, produced to scale, was painstakingly hand-crafted from porcelain. Weighing precisely one ton, the porcelain seeds were created by a team of workers in the town of Jingdezhen, China where porcelain has been produced for the past 1,700 years.