Sending and Receiving E-Mail in Chinese under Windows:
An Overview

This is a guide to writing and reading Chinese messages for users of English versions of Windows whose correspondence is primarily in English but who sometimes need to send or receive Chinese e-mail.

Once Microsoft’s Chinese language support and input method editors (IME) have been installed, the user can compose and read e-mail in Chinese. Unfortunately, not all English-language e-mail programs can write messages in Chinese, and while all can receive Chinese messages, they may not always be decoded properly depending on the sending format. In fact, it is advisable to install Microsoft’s Japanese language support and input editor even if the user never receives or sends Japanese messages, because, bizarre as it may seem, there are circumstances when it is necessary to choose Japanese encoding to decipher a message in Chinese! (See here for a graphical illustration of this peculiar problem.)

Erik Peterson of On-line Chinese Tools has provided a tool for repairing Chinese e-mail messages corrupted by e-mail programs.

  • Scope & Limitations of Study
  • Sending Chinese E-Mail
  • Receiving Chinese E-Mail
  • General Recommendations
  • Data Summary Table

  • Sending & Receiving Chinese E-Mail With:

  • Scope and Limitations of Study:

    Below are some preliminary considerations on composing and decoding Chinese messages, based on my extensive testing of ten e-mail clients in August of 2002. First the scope and the limitations of this study:
    1. Testing is done on computers running under Windows 2000 Professional or Windows XP. Results for Windows 95, 98 or Me will probably be similar or identical. Excluded from this study are Chinese versions of Windows, MacOS, Unix/Linux, and other operating systems.
    2. With the important exception of AOL, most major (and some minor) English-language Windows e-mail programs in their most recent versions have been included in the testing. They are:
      • Eudora 5.1.1 (Qualcomm’s popular commercial program that is also available in an ad-supported free version)
      • Hotmail (the Web client for Microsoft’s free e-mail service, which can also be accessed by Outlook Express and Outlook 2002)
        • A user of Hotmail can configure it for a preferred language other than English.
        • The testing here includes Hotmail configured for English, traditional Chinese or simplified Chinese as the preferred language on the sending end, but only Hotmail configured for English on the receiving end.
      • MyRealBox (the Web client for Novell’s free e-mail service, which can also be accessed via POP3 or IMAP protocols with other e-mail programs)
      • Netscape Mail 7.0 (the e-mail client bundled with Netscape 7.0)
      • OperaMail (the Web-based e-mail client for the free e-mail service of Opera, a superb alternative Web browser to Internet Explorer and Netscape)
      • Outlook Express 6.0 (bundled with Windows)
        • Messages can be sent in either HTML format (the default format) or plain text.
        • Regardless of whether you choose HTML or text as your format, you are asked to choose between sending your message in Unicode or as is whenever you send a message in a language not using the Latin alphabet such as Chinese).
        • The testing therefore includes all four possible combinations for Outlook Express: HTML/Unicode; HTML/As Is; Plain/Unicode; Plain/As Is.
      • Outlook 2002 (part of Microsoft Office XP; also available for purchase separately)
        • A user can send e-mail in either HTML format (default), rich text, or plain text.
        • The testing here therefore includes all three possible formats for Outlook.
      • Outlook Web Access (the Web-based e-mail client for remote access to the Microsoft Exchange e-mail server)
      • Pegasus Mail 4.02 (a feature-rich and very secure freeware that is the winner of PC World’s 2002 World Class award in the e-mail program category)
      • Yahoo Mail (the Web client for Yahoo’s free e-mail service)
    3. Testing was done on 130 combinations of 13 sending formats (Hotmail with 2, Outlook Express with 4, and Outlook with 3) and 10 receiving e-mail clients.
    4. Web-based e-mail clients have been tested only with Internet Explorer 6.0. While results for other recent versions of Internet Explorer are likely to be similar, that may not be the case with Netscape, Mozilla, Opera, or other alternative Web browsers.
    5. Results for traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese are identical, and therefore separate categories have not been created for them in the tables. A table summarizing the ten programs's sending and receiving capabilities for Chinese e-mail can be found here.
    6. Evaluations of the programs are only based on their abilities to write and read Chinese messages and on their compatibility with other e-mail programs. Other features of these programs are not considered here. For more detailed information on the Chinese handling capability of the individual programs, see their individual pages: Eudora 5.1.1,  Hotmail,  MyRealBoxNetscape Mail 7.0, OperaMailOutlook Express 6.0Outlook 2002Outlook Web Access, Pegasus Mail 4.02Yahoo Mail.

    Sending E-Mail in Chinese:
    1. To compose an e-mail message in Chinese, simply click on the language bar or language button on the task bar (this will be present after installing Microsoft’s Chinese language support and Input Method Editors (IME), and by default is indicated by the button EN for English). Then select the appropriate language: CN (PRC) for simplified or CN (Taiwan) for traditional.
    2. Outlook Express is the e-mail client most compatible with other e-mail programs when Chinese messages are sent in HTML format/As Is out of the four possible choices. All ten e-mail programs (including itself) can read such messages. Moreover, these messages appear correctly in the message window/pane without further manual decoding necessary.

      At the other extreme, if you send Chinese messages in Plain format/As Is from Outlook Express, none of the e-mail programs (including Outlook Express itself) can read them. HTML/As Is therefore is the preferred format to use with Outlook Express.
    3. Three Web-based e-mail programs, Hotmail (with English as the preferred language), OperaMail, and Yahoo Mail are almost as compatible. Chinese messages generated by them can be read by all but one e-mail client. Unfortunately, unless the recipient uses Eudora, he/she must manually select Japanese (!!!) encoding rather than Chinese, a most counter-intuitive situation.
    4. Outlook 2002, regardless of whether you choose HTML, rich text or plain text format, works with 8 out of 10 e-mail programs. Strangely, messages sent by Outlook cannot be deciphered by Outlook Web Access. Recipients using Hotmail (English as preferred language) and Yahoo Mail must manually select Japanese (!!!) encoding to read Outlook messages.
    5. Also compatible with 8 out of 10 e-mail clients are Netscape Mail and Hotmail with Chinese as the preferred language. An advantage of both configurations is that messages composed by them appear correctly for 5 out of 8 compatible e-mail clients, and when manual selecting of encoding scheme is necessary, choice of Chinese works, which is what it should be, not Japanese (as in the case of most other sending formats).
    6. Although Outlook Web Access can compose and send messages in Chinese, it is not recommendable because its messages can only be deciphered by itself and Outlook.
    7. Two venerable POP3 e-mail clients, Eudora and Pegasus Mail, and one Web-based e-mail client, MyRealBox, cannot send messages in Chinese, though they can read Chinese messages some of the time.

    Receiving E-Mail in Chinese:
    1. In 93 out of 130 combinations of 13 sending formats and 10 receiving e-mail programs, the message will either appear correctly (53 cases) or can be decoded by manual selection of the encoding format (40). In 37 cases out of 130, the message cannot be read.
    2. If the incoming message does not appear correctly in your e-mail program at first, you may be able to decode it by choosing Chinese in the View/Encoding submenu and reopening it. If neither traditional nor simplified Chinese works, then choosing Japanese (!!!) may decipher the message. Of the 40 combinations that require manual selection of encoding scheme, Chinese works only in 6 cases, while the choice of Japanese encoding successfully deciphers the message in 32 (Unicode accounts for the remaining 2 cases). Only messages sent by Hotmail (Chinese as preferred language) and Netscape Mail work with manual selection of Chinese encoding.
    3. Outlook is the best e-mail client for receiving messages in Chinese, decoding correctly all but one of 13 different sending formats. However, messages composed by Hotmail (English), Outlook Web Access, OperaMail and Yahoo Mail all require manual selection of Japanese as encoding scheme.
    4. Outlook Express, Netscape Mail, OperaMail, and Yahoo Mail perform nearly as well, reading correctly 11 out of 13 sending formats. For the first three programs, manual selection of Japanese as encoding scheme is required for messages composed by Hotmail (English), OperaMail and Yahoo Mail, while no user intervention is needed for 8 sending formats. Yahoo Mail on the other hand, requires manual selection of coding scheme (Chinese, Japanese or Unicode depending on the sending client) in 10 out of 11 cases.
    5. Hotmail (English) successfully deciphers 9 sending formats. However, except for mail sent by Outlook Express as is, manual selection of coding scheme (Chinese or Japanese depending on the sending client) is required.
    6. Eudora and MyRealBox manage 8 sending formats each without further decoding.
    7. Pegasus Mail and Outlook Web Access are the least compatible, decoding 6 and 5 formats respectively. The most glaring failure of Outlook Web Access is that it is unable to read any of Outlook’s three formats: HTML, rich text, or plain text.

    1. Be sure to install Japanese language support for those occasions that require it for deciphering Chinese messages, even if you never read or write Japanese.
    2. If you need to read and write Chinese e-mail messages fairly regularly, your best bets are Outlook (if you have Microsoft Office which includes it) and Outlook Express. The advantage of Outlook Express (HTML/As Is) over Outlook is that its messages never require the recipient to manually choose an encoding scheme. Outlook messages, on the other hand, have to be manually decoded by Hotmail (English) and Yahoo Mail users with Japanese as the encoding scheme.
    3. Hotmail (English), Netscape Mail, OperaMail, and Yahoo Mail are also very capable performers for reading and writing Chinese messages. Netscape Mail is is on balance the strongest of the group, since its messages are much less likely to require the recipient to choose an encoding scheme manually. Even when manual decoding is needed, recipients of Netscape messages do so by picking the logical choice of Chinese, not Japanese as in the cases of messages composed by the other three programs. However, Netscape messages do not work with Eudora, unlike the other three sending clients.
    4. Outlook Web Access is not recommendable, since messages sent by it cannot be read by any e-mail programs except itself and Outlook, and since it also performs the poorest in terms of the number of sending formats it can interpret (5).
    5. Two very fine e-mail programs, Eudora and Pegasus Mail, unfortunately cannot send Chinese messages. If you like features of either one of them, only have occasional need to deal with Chinese e-mail, and want to continue using it as your primary e-mail program, a work-around is to have a second e-mail account configured with a Chinese-compatible e-mail program. If you cannot decipher an incoming message, bounce or redirect it to your second account (forwarding will mess up the encoding).

    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.