Deaf People and Community in China

Becoming More Like Us

Deaf Chinese Boy
Deaf Chinese Boy. Kim Symansky

China is a vast country, and I am sure that the material in this article barely scratches the surface for those interested in Chinese deaf education and culture. Therefore, I welcome any suggested additions from About readers.

Sign Language in China

In Chinese Sign Language (CSL), the signs are like written Chinese characters. (This is not much different from the way the sign language alphabet resembles written English letters). Just as ASL can have regional variations, Chinese Sign Language comes in many dialects, with the most commonly used one being the Shanghai version.

The International Bibliography of Sign Language has a good listing of articles and resources on sign language in China. Click on the link "Chinese Sign Language." In addition, the University of Arizona Linguistics Circle's Coyote Papers includes this article: Evidence from Chinese Sign Language and American Sign Language.

Education of Deaf in China

The Disability and Deafness in East Asia: Social and educational responses, from antiquity to recent times partially annotated bibliography includes articles about deaf education in China. Examples of items found in this bibliography include a paper titled "A Bilingual and Bicultural Approach to Teaching Deaf Children in China."

An About Deafness/HOH blog post about a bilingual-bicultural deaf school in China:
According to the article "Seen and not heard" in the Weekend Standard (Feb. 26-27, 2005), China's Business Newspaper, Tianjin is home to a bilingual-bicultural school for the deaf, a deaf university, and a sign language club. The article also gives a clear insight into the situation for deaf people in China.

China has many schools for the deaf. A small sampling: Fourth school for the deaf (Beijing), Nanjing deaf school, Shanghai Deaf School, Chengdu School for Blind and Deaf Children, Kunming School for Blind and Deaf Children, and Chefoo School for the Deaf. Additional deaf schools are in Hong Kong, such as the Lutheran School for the Deaf, Chun Tok School (Hong Kong School for the Deaf), and the Caritas Magdalene School.

A 2001 China People's Daily news article reported that Zhou Tingting was China's "first deaf college graduate" and that she had been accepted to Gallaudet University. While attending China's Liaoning Normal University she had written a paper, "The Way Deaf People Adapt Themselves to Mainstream Society."

An About visitor wrote: Lei leng, a deaf woman born in the Fujian province of China who immigrated to Macao when she was 14 years old, graduated in January 2000 from the University of Macau. Macau, previously a Portuguese colony, became an S.A.R.(special administrative region, just like Hong Kong) of China in 1999.

For deaf college students in China, the Tianjin Technical College for the Deaf (TTCD) of the Tianjin University of Technology (TUT) is the first technical college for deaf Chinese students. Begun in 1991, this college focuses on computer technology education and also has a degree in costume design.

Tibet is part of China and has its own school for the deaf in Lhasa, Tibet's capital.

History of Deaf Education in China

Yale University has a China Records Project, Miscellaneous Papers Collection that includes a paper on the life of Annetta Thompson Mills, who founded the Chefoo School for the Deaf. The Library of Congress AG Bell Papers collection - has a Letter from William H. Rose to Alexander Graham Bell, March 27, 1903, about the need to raise funds to help schools for the deaf in Chefoo, China.

The Entrez PubMed database yielded an abstract of an "Intelligence Study of 1758 deaf children in China," from 1995.

Bibliography of Resources on Deafness in China

  • Callaway, Alison. (2000). Deaf Children in China Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press. The book is(reviewed online)along with a sample chapter describes life for deaf children, particularly the educational situation, in China, circa 1994.
  • Carter, Anita E. (1911). The School for Chinese Deaf: The story of our deaf girls. ASIN: B00086EC7S. - Appears to be an out of print book about the Chefoo School for the Deaf.
  • Chan LM, Lui B. (1990). Self-concept among hearing Chinese children of deaf parents. American Annals of the Deaf,135(4),299-305. - Summary is on the Entrez PubMed website.
  • Martin, David S, Hussey, Leslie, Sicoli, Debbie, Sheng, Zhang Ning. Removing barriers and building bridges: American deaf interns teaching Chinese deaf children. American Annals of the Deaf, Jul 1999 - article about the experience of Gallaudet interns in deaf education in china.
  • Yang, J.H. (2002): An Introduction to CSL/Chinese bilingual education for the deaf in China. Chinese Journal of Special Education, 1, 33-37.

    In addition, Gallaudet University's catalog yields many riches related to China. There are both archival/historic items

    (pre-1980s) and regular (modern) items, plus periodicals. These are the ones found in the WRLC catalog that I feel are most relevant for About readers:


    • Acupuncture in treatment of deaf-mutism / Eleventh People's Hospital, Shanghai College of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Shanghai
    • China through a car-window : observations on the modern China, made in the course of a four months' jouney in behalf of the Chinese deaf: with some account of the school at Chefoo / by Annetta T. Mills
    • The story of the Chifu School / by Sara Entrican

    Regular (Modern)

    • Blind and the deaf-mute in Shanghai / [compiled by the Shanghai BDM Association]
    • Blind and the deaf of China / China Association for the Blind and the Deaf
    • History and development of deaf education and sign language in Taiwan
    • History and development of deaf education and sign language in Taiwan
    • Listing of schools and programs for the deaf in the People's Republic of China / prepared by: Wayne H. Smith
    • Overview of China's current deaf situations and recommendations for ELI / by William J. Lauck
    • Speaking with signs; a sign language manual for Hongkong's deaf Illustrations [by] Patrick Wong Pak-chuen and Fung Kin-kwok
    • Taipei Theatre of the Deaf
    • Well-being of the deaf-blind in China / by Wu Houde and Tian Sansong


    There are four deaf Chinese periodicals in the Gallaudet library.

    • Chung kuo lung jen
    • Long ren zhuan kan
    • Mang lung chih ying / Chung Kuo Mang Jeng Lung Ya Jeng Hsieh Hsui
    • Te' shu chiao yu / Te' Shu Chiao Yu Pien Chi Pu

    Numbers of Deaf in China

    According to the China Disabled Persons' Federation website, China has approximately 21 million people with hearing loss out of 60 million disabled.

    China is doing its own research into hearing loss. The Entrez PubMed database turned up the following sample results of a search on deaf China (some articles are in Chinese):

    • Mutations in the connexin 26 gene in patients with nonsyndromic hearing impairment - study done at Hunan University in Changsha.
    • Chinese tonal language rehabilitation following cochlear implantation in children - Hong Kong study of prelingually deaf implanted children.
    • Cochlear implants in China - 1995 study by the House Ear Institute of Los Angeles.
    • Prevalence and genetic aspects of deaf mutism in Shanghai - 1987 article.
    • An investigation on the developmental and health status of deaf-mute students - 1985 article.

    Organizations for the Deaf in China

    Expatriate deaf Chinese have their own organization, the Chinese National Association of the Deaf,ROC.

    In China itself, there is the China Association of the Deaf, at this address (possibly outdated): China Association of the Deaf
    44 Beichizi Street, Dongcheng District
    China 100006

    Additional deaf Chinese organizations are the China Sports Association of the Deaf, and the China Deaf and Blind Association.

    Hong Kong, part of China, also has deaf organizations such as the Hong Kong Society for the Deaf. There also seems to be a similar organization, the Hong Kong Association of the Deaf (website is in Chinese). The difference seems to be that the Society is more social-services oriented while the Association is more socially-oriented.

    Social and Rehabilitative Services for the Deaf

    China has seen an increase in services for deaf people, particularly children. There is a medical center focused on hearing loss and oral communication is jointly run by the Shanghai Health Bureau and Fudan University. A branch of the Special Education Institute for the Disabled under Beijing United University is a Hearing and Language Ability Rehabilitation College. This college works with the China Rehabilitation Research Center for Deaf Children.

    There are also charitable ventures to aid deaf people in China. One such venture is the China Children Hearing Aid Foundation, which seeks to provide hearing aids to Chinese children. In addition, the Amity Foundation provides scholarships to deaf students in China, and has a program to support deaf school libraries.

    Deaf Characters in Chinese Movies

    There are at least five Chinese movies that have included deaf characters:

    • Breaking the Silence (2001) - about a deaf boy and his hearing mother
    • To Live (1994) - family with deaf daughter
    • Silent River (2000) - hearing teacher in school for the deaf
    • Sky Lovers (2002) - movie adaptation of Dong Xi's novel "Living Without Words," features young deaf man in a love story

    Deaf Tours of China

    The Deaf Counseling Advocacy & Referral Agency was offering a tour of China at the time this article was written.

    A photographic essay on a trip to China in September 2004 was found on the website of

    Chinese Deaf Culture

    If you had attended the Deaf Way II, you might have had the chance to see the "Masters of Chinese Watercolor" exhibit by four Chinese artists. Or, you might have watched the "My Dream" Chinese dancers during the Folk Life Festival in Washington, DC.

    Deaf Chinese Youth

    The web/print publication Deaf Friends International has a couple of items from deaf Chinese youth: