In Issue 1/2023

The December 2021 Report

The Chinese Stenography and Shorthand Development Report was released on December 22, 2021.  The report was prepared by the Stenography Professional Committee of the Information Processing Society of China. The goal of the research was to provide current information on the technological advancement and evolving state of stenography in the People’s Republic of China. 

This report outlined the evolution of stenography in China, the importance of education and skills training, the current functional model, the ongoing commitment to and benefits of ensuring an accurate and official record of proceedings in a variety of venues, the growth of the speech capturing industry as it works with new technologies, and possibilities for the future direction of the industry.

The authors of the report reached out to a variety of experts and stakeholders to seek information and feedback. The report was published in both Chinese and English and was shared with a variety of national associations including UNESCO’s International Federation for Information Processing as well as Intersteno. The publication of this report also coincided with two significant events:  the 125th anniversary of the creation of standard Chinese shorthand and the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the Chinese Information Processing Society of China.


According to the historical research conducted to prepare the report, Tang Yawei invented a standardized pen-writing shorthand system in the 1930s.  In 1994, Tang Yawei converted his pen shorthand system to the Yawei Sulu stenotype or shorthand machine to allow for spoken words to be captured as digitized data and stored. Speech is captured by reporters using stenotype keyboard strokes, compared against a matching software dictionary entry (a process also known as “translation”) that defines each keyboard stroke to a particular Chinese character, phrase or speaker for ease of real-time reading and digital retention. The practicality and versatility of the computerized Yawei stenotype system and the growing desire to capture speech meant that there was a rapidly growing market for proficient users of the Yawei stenotype machine.  To address the significant need and relatively small pool of qualified practitioners, vocational schools began offering programs throughout the country and a variety of marketing tools were applied to seek out and inspire potential students. 

The National Vocational College Skills Competition was held from 2013 to 2017, beginning at the provincial level and leading to a final national competition to award the fastest and most accurate stenographers.  The competition promoted vocational education, public outreach and talent training programs, and created awareness of a variety of exciting careers available with stenographic training and educational development. Since 2019, the competitions have continued under the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology’s Talent Exchange Centre.

Current State

The authors of the report highlight that the market for skilled practitioners of Chinese Yawei stenotype services includes the National People’s Congress, conferences, various forms of legal proceedings, government meetings, media events, subtitling for broadcasts and webcasts, private business, medical and secretarial work, and literary creation.  The variety of work also allows for different training and employment streams for stenographers based on their qualifications and skills. 

In recent years, a significant focus has been placed on speech recognition systems and artificial intelligence technology and how to integrate those developments into existing stenographic technology. The progress of stenography has demonstrated increased efficiencies and production versatility, while striving to reduce labour intensity.  It is anticipated that similar advancements may be derived from new technologies.

Progress and Trends

As noted in the report, although originally designed in a DOS system environment, the stenography software that converts stenographic outlines or strokes into Chinese characters or logograms was adapted to the Windows operating system and its subsequent versions upgrades.  However, with the shift to domestic operating systems such as UOS and Kirin, the Yawei software, the Yawei Sulu shorthand machine, and the component parts and peripherals, are adapting to be fully functional in whichever operating system is selected. 

Structured analysis of Automatic Speech Recognition technology and, more recently, artificial intelligence has determined that while both have made tremendous advances, neither can meet the final requirements of an official or certified transcript. However, integrating artificial intelligence as a tool to work alongside the human stenographer can improve readability of both human and artificial translation of the spoken word to written text.

Stenography programs are now offered in 110 cooperative vocational colleges throughout China.  Colleges, government and businesses work together to refine learning plans to ensure that training meets the needs of future employers and clients.  Industry and technical experts are encouraged to come to the classrooms to tutor students. Likewise, instructors and administrators regularly visit employers’ offices and worksites to more clearly understand the future work environment for their students.

The Growing Need for Stenographers

The authors of the report state that in addition to work in courtrooms and other venues, introducing high-speed Chinese stenography into work environments reduces the need for participants to take longhand notes and allows for more complete and creative engagement in discussions knowing that there will be a reliable and accurate transcript. The stenographer can concentrate on the word input and create a reliable and complete manuscript. This advancement in the work process has seen the demand for stenographers increase.  According to the Talent Center of Beijing Sulu Technology, as of 2021, there are 150,000 stenographic practitioners. Projections from the China Statistical Yearbook 2020 indicate that there are approximately 400,000 organizations that are of a size that would benefit from a stenographic clerk, leaving a large gap of stenographers in this sector alone.

The ongoing need for qualified stenographers is also highlighted in the judiciary. According to the authors of the report, there are currently 210,000 judges in China.  Of those, 38% of judges have no stenographer, a shortfall of approximately 80,000.  In addition, it is cited that recruitment for qualified stenographers in 10 of the 23 provinces in China in 2018-19 totalled 17,548 positions.

In contrast, the total number of students enrolled in facilities that provide Yawei stenotype training is approximately 5,000, highlighting what is expected to be an ongoing short supply of qualified practitioners.  Several initiatives are under way to promote career opportunities for stenographers, with specific outreach to students in related majors such as information literacy and information processing.

In order to ensure that all stenographers graduate from programs with a minimum standard, certifications and credentials have been introduced to provide not only educational goals but also a basis from which employers can establish the qualifications of the stenographer that they need. 

Summary and Outlook

The report emphasizes that the future prospects for stenographic longevity in China are positive.  Governments, the judiciary, businesses, media, conference planners and others are increasingly seeing the benefit of high-speed speech capturing and stenographers are essential to answering that need.  The variety of applications for stenographic skills and talents ensures ongoing demand that will appeal to a large population of potential stenographers. Adapting to technological advancement demonstrates the evolutionary nature of the profession and the commitment of its practitioners to strive to improve. 

The authors of the report are rightfully proud of the significant stakeholder support for developing and growing Chinese vocational college programs.  With the expanding application of services, the integration of technology, and effective career development opportunities, the prospects for stenographic reporting in the People’s Republic of China look dynamic and positive.

D’Arcy McPherson is the Director of Hansard Services at the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia and the Secretary-Treasurer of the Hansard Association of Canada. He is also a member of Tiro’s editorial team.

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