Chinese (Mandarin)/Writing in Chinese

Lessons: Pron. - 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11 - 12 - 13 - 14 - 15 - 16 Search inside this book using Google
Subpages: Examples - Exercises - Stroke Order

Writing in Chinese edit

Learning to read and write Chinese characters will probably be your largest obstacle in this course. Since Chinese has no alphabet with reusable letters, there is no way around lots of writing practice and rote memorization. But while there is no small set of glyphs that can be used to write the entire language, there is reuse and repetition. Although pinyin is useful for representing the sounds characters make, they couldn't be used to replace characters, since many words make the same sounds.

Remember the way you learned to write the Latin alphabet—with extensive practice. While difficult and time consuming, learning Chinese characters can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience that provides a window into Chinese culture. The writing system has been in continuous use for over 3000 years, with the traditional characters essentially unchanged since the 7th century. There is a story in every character.

Additionally, because of the difficulty, people tend to be that much more impressed by foreigners who take it upon themselves to learn Chinese characters.

CJK strokes edit

The CJK strokes (also known as the CJK(V) or CJKV strokes) are the strokes needed to write the Chinese characters used in East Asia. The corresponding CJKV characters being the characters that come from Chinese Hanzi, and which are now used in China, Japan, Korea, and still a little in Vietnam.

There are some thirty distinct types of strokes recognized in Chinese characters, some of which are compound strokes made from basic strokes. The compound strokes comprise more than one movement of the writing instrument, and many of these have no agreed-upon name.

Each single stroke includes all the motions necessary to produce a given part of a character before lifting the writing instrument from the writing surface; thus, a single stroke may have abrupt changes in direction within the line. For example:

  is one stroke, named Shu, and also a basic stroke (one direction)
  is a compound stroke, named ShuZheZhe, comprising 3 basic strokes but written without lifting the writing instrument from the writing surface.

Several aspects of interest in the study of CJK(V) strokes are, for example, their use in East Asian calligraphy (how write them, which shape, which way), their change according to which style is in use, their naming and counting conventions, and their use on computers.

Basic strokes edit

Another classification showing 37 strokes: 8 basic strokes, and 29 complex strokes.
Table of simple strokes
(pinyin, trad. char./ simp. char.)
CJK stroke Translation
of Chinese name
Basic strokes
diǎn, 點/点   "Dot" Tiny dash, speck
héng, 橫/横   "Horizontal" Rightward stroke
shù, 豎/竖   "Vertical" Downward stroke
, 提   "Rise" Flick up and rightwards
, 捺   "Press down" Falling rightwards (fattening at the bottom)
piě, 撇   "Throw away" Falling leftwards (with slight curve)
Combining strokes
zhé, 折 n/a "Break" Indicates change in stroke direction, usually 90° turn, going down or going right only.
gōu, 鉤/钩   "Hook" Appended to other strokes, suddenly going down or going left only.
wān, 彎/弯   "Bend" A tapering thinning curve, usually concave left (convex outward right).
xié, 斜   "Slant" Curved line, usually concave right (convex outward left).

The "dot" is rarely a real dot. Instead it usually takes the shape of a very small line pointing in one of several directions, and may be long enough to be confused with other strokes.

Certain strokes (such as gōu and zhé, the "hook" and "break") never occur alone, but always in compound strokes. Thus, they are not in themselves individual strokes.

The character for "eternity" shown in the following image demonstrates some of these compound strokes. The centre line is a compound stroke that combines three stroke shapes in a single stroke.

Writing CJK strokes edit

To write CJK characters, one must know how to write CJK strokes, and thus, needs to identify the basic strokes that make up a character. The following section lists the most usual common shapes of the basic CJK strokes, and the proper way of writing each. Many different lists of basic strokes coexist and there is no broad agreement as far as the stroke names are concerned (examples). We use a set of 37 CJK strokes based on the 8 basic strokes of 永, and 29 other compound strokes. We also use a common naming system, which is not the only available. The strokes are painted in black and a red arrow shows the way to write it (you can click on images to enlarge them).

The 8 principles of Yong, the 8 basic strokes[1]
The 8 basic strokes (8 stroke shapes in 5 basic and compound strokes), extract from , "eternity". Enlarge this image to see the red arrows, showing the way of writing of each.
  - the Diǎn 點, is a Dot. Filled from the top, to the bottom, traditionally made by "couching" the brush on the page.
  - the Héng 横, is horizontal. Filled from left to right, the same way the Latin letters A, B,C,D are written.
  - the Shù 豎, is vertical-falling. The brush begins by a dot on top, then falls downward.
  - the Gōu 鉤, ending another stroke, is a sharp change of direction either down (after a Heng) or left (after a Shù).
  - the Tí 提, is a flick up and rightwards
  - the Wān 彎, follows a concave path on the left or on the right
  - the Piě 撇, is a falling leftwards (with a slight curve)
  - the Nà 捺, is falling rightwards (with an emphasis at the end of the stroke)
(+   - the Xié 斜 is sometimes added to the 永's strokes. It's a concave Shù falling right, always ended by a Gōu, visible on this image).
                ( )
8 basics making 29 compound strokes[1]

This 8 traditional basic strokes are used to make all other compound strokes -or complex strokes-. In example, Shù plus Gōu produce   named ShùGōu. The new way of naming strokes is simply the sum of the names of the basic strokes, in the writing order. Moreover, a turn of 90⁰ (and only of 90⁰) producing a Shù or a Héng is called Zhé 折. In example, Héng plus Shù plus Gōu produces   named HéngZhéGōu. Shù plus Héng plus Shù produces a ShùZhéZhé ( ). Nearly all complex strokes can be named using this simple scheme.

It is essential to recognize and know how to draw the different strokes that make a character. To properly draw a Chinese character, it is also necessary to draw the strokes with respect to a certain order.

Stroke Order edit

Every character has a specific stroke order to it. It may seem at first like this would make writing characters harder by being one more thing to remember, but definite stroke orders actually help you to remember characters. The "motor memory" you develop from following the same order every time helps develop a rhythm that flows through until the end of the character. In contrast, just attacking a character with a random stroke order each time might leave you with lots of half-completed characters!

The principal rules to keep in mind are shown in the chart below, with specifics following.

Principal rules
    Top before bottom
    Horizontal strokes before intersecting vertical strokes…
    Left before right…
    Left vertical stroke (usually) before top horizontal stroke…
    Horizontal "support stroke" in last…
    Center stroke before wings…
    Left-falling strokes before right-falling strokes…
    Minor strokes (often) last.
Other details to note:              

1. Write from left to right, and from top to bottom.

As a general rule, characters are written from left to right, and from top to bottom. For example, among the first characters usually learned is the word "one," which is written with a single horizontal line: 一. This character has one stroke which is written from left to right (see image).

The character "one" has a single stroke which is written from left to right.

The character for "two" has two strokes: 二. In this case, both are written from left to right, but the top stroke is written first. The character for "three" has three strokes: 三. Each stroke is written from left to right, starting with the uppermost stroke.

This rule applies also to more complex characters. For example, 校 can be divided into two. The entire left side (木) is written before the right side (交). There are some exceptions to this rule, mainly occurring when the right side of a character has a lower enclosure (see below), for example 誕 and 健. In this case, the left side is written first, followed by the right side, and finally the lower enclosure.

When there are upper and lower components, the upper components are written first, then the lower components, as in 品 and 襲.

2. Horizontal lines are written from left to right; vertical lines are written from top to bottom

3. Horizontal before vertical

When strokes cross, horizontal strokes are usually written before vertical strokes: the character for "ten," 十, has two strokes written as follows: 一 十.

4. Ocassionaly Vertical before Horizontal

There are some circumstances where the vertical stroke is written before a horizontal, such as when the character ends in a horizontal stroke at the bottom. E.g., 上 is written 一 then | then _.

The Chinese character meaning "person" ( , Chinese: rén). The character has two strokes, the first shown here in dark, and the second in red. The black area represents the starting position of the writing instrument.

5. Cutting strokes last

Vertical strokes that "cut" through a character are written after the horizontal strokes they cut through, as in 書 and 筆.

Horizontal strokes that cut through a character are written last, as in 母 and 海.

6. Diagonals right-to-left before left-to-right

Right-to-left diagonals (ノ) are written before left-to-right diagonals (乀): 文.

7. Centre verticals before outside "wings"

Vertical centre strokes are written before vertical or diagonal outside strokes; left outside strokes are written before right outside strokes: 小 and 水.

8. Outside before inside

Outside enclosing strokes are written before inside strokes; bottom strokes are written last (see 4): 日 and 口. This applies also to characters that have no bottom stroke, such as 同 and 月.

9. Left vertical before enclosing

Left vertical strokes are written before enclosing strokes. In the following two examples, the leftmost vertical stroke (|) is written first, followed by the uppermost and rightmost lines (┐) (which are written as one stroke): 日 and 口.

10. Bottom enclosing strokes last

Bottom enclosing strokes are always written last: 道, 週, 画.

11. Dots and minor strokes last

Minor strokes are usually written last, as the small "dot" in the following: 玉.

If you're not sure about the stroke order of a Chinese character, you can usually look it up in an online Chinese dictionary. For example, nciku has stroke order animations for almost all Simplified Chinese characters (look up a single-character word and scroll down to the bottom of the page).

References edit

  1. a b The extended CJK set of strokes has 29 strokes. These most common 29 used strokes can be reduced to combinations of 8 basic strokes. This subset is found in the character "eternity" 永, hence the name of this set. But other sets of CJK strokes can be found.

Lessons: Pron. - 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11 - 12 - 13 - 14 - 15 - 16 Search inside this book using Google
Subpages: Examples - Exercises - Stroke Order