As the creator of the now ubiquitous hanyu pinyin his contribution was phenomenal. I would think he deserved the Nobel Peace Prize. Without his contribution I wonder the Chinese could even enter the modern age because it would be too hard to achieve high levels of literacy. What is the use of Deng's opening up then? As a counterfactual, may be the lots more Chinese would have picked up English without the aid of hanyu pinyin to learn their own tongue. The world would have been a completely different place.
Zhou Yougang would probably had remained on Wall Street if he knew the suffering he was destined under Mao. He is a believer in democracy and after living to a ripe old age of 111, democracy is not even a distant goal for China.
"Ordinary people no longer believe in the Communist Party anymore," Zhou said in the interview. "The vast majority of Chinese intellectuals advocate democracy."
The biggest takeaway from him to survive in a unpredictable and may be brutal world is to always remain optimistic. The NYT article concluded with this line from him:
“When you encounter difficulties, you need to be optimistic,” he said. “The pessimists tend to die.”