He invented Pinyin, the way to use Roman letters to write Chinese. It was not the first time this was done, but it was the best and quickly became the norm.
Before Pinyin was developed, 85% of Chinese people could not read, now almost all can....
It is also widely used to type Chinese characters on computers and smartphones, leading some to fear it could end up replacing Chinese characters altogether.
more in this BBC 2012 article.
He initially become an economics professor at Shanghai's Fudan University, but in 1955 was invited to join a committee in Beijing looking at simplifying the Chinese language.
At first he resisted, saying he had no professional experience in this field. He was finally persuaded to join the project by a friend. It was a decision that probably saved his life. A few years later, Chairman Mao launched one of his first purges, and many of those caught in the mayhem were those who had gone back to China from abroad.
"All university professors who'd returned from the US were labelled 'Rightists'. Many committed suicide, including some good friends. I luckily missed it," he said. It was one of the few moments that Mr Zhou did not laugh.
how did the use of Pinyin enabled people to use computers and smart phones?
A respected Chinese dictionary lists more than 85,000 characters. An estimated 7,000 are in daily use. But the knowledge of how to compose those characters is in danger.
All over the country, Chinese people are forgetting how to write their own language without computerised help.
Software on smart phones and computers allows users to type in the basic sound of the word using the Latin alphabet. The correct character is chosen from a list. The result? It's possible to recognise characters without remembering how to write them.
so the gov't is stressing writing and practicing traditional Chinese characters so the skill is not forgotten.