Reading Chinese E-Mail under Windows:
When Choosing Japanese Encoding is Necessary

For users of English-language Windows and e-mail programs who have enabled Chinese language support, Chinese messages may need to be decoded by manual selection of the encoding scheme from the View/Encoding submenu, which contain three options for simplified Chinese and one for traditional Chinese in the case of Internet Explorer. Astonishingly, there are situations when selecting Chinese encoding will not work, but selecting Japanese encoding succeeds in deciphering a message in Chinese! For that reason it is advisable to install Microsoft’s Japanese language support and input editor even if the user never reads or writes Japanese.

It is likely that messages originating from Chinese versions of Windows running native Chinese language software will not pose such a problem. But for people who may receive Chinese e-mail from users of English versions of Windows, the possibility that invoking Japanese encoding is nessary exists. It has been verified that e-mail written with Microsoft's Input Method Editors for Chinese under Hotmail (with English as the preferred language), Outlook 2002, Outlook Web Access, OperaMail and Yahoo Mail may require manual selection of Japanese encoding. Full details are found in the summary table for a comparision of the Chinese sending and receiving capability of ten e-mail programs to send and receive Chinese messages.

Below is a graphical illustration of this peculiar problem. The example here applies to a case when a correspondent using Hotmail (with English as the preferred language) sends a message in simplified Chinese to a recipient also using Hotmail (English). When the recipient opens the message, this is what he sees (message header information deleted in this and the following screen shots):

Since the message appears as code, he selects simplified Chinese from the View/Encoding submenu, and is then confronted with:

Since he gets gibberish, he tries traditional Chinese encoding next:

In desperation, he tries Japanese (Shift-JIS). Astonishingly, the message appears correctly!

If the recipient is using Hotmail with Chinese as preferred language, he sees this on opening the message:

The message appears the same as when a Hotmail (English) recipient selects simplified Chinese encoding. If the Hotmail (Chinese) user manually selects Japanese, then the message is correctly decoded, but the Chinese headings above are turned into gibberish Japanese script:

Ironically, a recipient who has set Japanese as the preferred language will see the message correctly decoded as is!

Please email me your comments, suggestions, and corrections.

All contents copyright © 2002 Robert Y. Eng. All rights reserved.
With author's permission, republished in CLIEJ.