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, www.chineseetymology.org.

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.

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