I knew Chinese typewriters were big and complicated, but to see them in action is a real eye-opener. See Victor Mair’s post at the Log and the photos and videos thereto appended; here’s his description of the process:
The main tray — which is like a typesetter’s font of lead type — has about two thousand of the most frequent characters. Two thousand characters are not nearly enough for literary and scholarly purposes, so there are also a number of supplementary trays from which less frequent characters may be retrieved when necessary. What is even more intimidating about a Chinese typewriter is that the characters as seen by the typist are backwards and upside down! Add to this challenging orientation the fact that the pieces of type are tiny and all of a single metallic shade, it becomes a maddening task to find the right character.
I’m glad they exist, and I’m glad I never had to learn to use one.