Basic Introduction to Chinese Writing Characters

The earliest known examples of Chinese characters date back to around 2500 BC. They resemble pictographs, which are images that represent objects rather than words. These early forms evolved into logographic characters, which use pictures of things to spell out words. Today there are about 50,000 different written characters in the Chinese language.

In English we often call them letters because they look similar to our alphabet. However, unlike the Latin alphabet, which uses 26 letters, Chinese characters each contain multiple strokes. For example, the letter “A” contains three strokes while the number 2 contains four. This makes it difficult to learn how to read and write Chinese characters. There are over 10,000 Chinese characters in common usage, but many thousands more exist.

Brief History

Ancient China had a variety of different writing systems. Some of the earliest forms of writing in China date back to about 4000 BC. Inscriptions found at archaeological sites dating back to approximately 2000 BC show pictographs and ideograms used to record events, names, dates, and numbers. By 1000 BC, some of the pictographs evolved into logography, where each sign represented a specific idea or concept rather than just representing a single sound.

The oldest known complete piece of calligraphy is the Mawangdui Silk Texts, dated to 168 BC. These documents include writings in both pictograph and logographic scripts.

By the mid-2nd century AD, during the Han Dynasty, the Chinese government standardized the use of the phonetic script called Zhuyin Fuhao (the “Hanyu”). This script combined elements of the logographic and phonetic systems. The original form of the script consisted of 37 strokes, but later revisions added another 30 strokes.

In 589 AD, the Tang dynasty introduced the standard simplified version of the Hanyu, which consists of 24 radicals. During the Song dynasty, the Chinese developed a second simplified form, consisting of 28 radicals.

During the Yuan dynasty, the Chinese adopted the Mongolian script, which was based on the runic writing system. Later, the Chinese adapted the Latin script into a cursive style.

Around 1400, the Chinese began adopting the Korean Hangul alphabet, which became the most widely used script in East Asia. However, the Chinese never fully embraced the Korean alphabet because it contained many similar characters to those already in use. As a result, there are still many differences between the two scripts today.

Chinese Characters

Chinese characters are one of the most important elements in Chinese language, and they play a very significant role in the development of modern China. They are also closely related to the culture of ancient China. So, learning how to write characters is definitely necessary.

In fact, there are about 80,000 different characters in total and about 6000 of them are commonly used everyday. However, each character has its own pronunciation and meaning, and some of them even share the same pinyins. This makes it difficult for people to know which ones to learn first. To solve this problem, we introduce you the basics of Chinese characters, including the principles of making characters and the basic rules behind it. Then, we give you some tips on how to master the writing of characters. And finally, we show you some useful tools to help you practice.

Traditional and Simplified Characters

There are two types of Chinese characters: Traditional Chinese Characters (繪体字~繁体;简体)(TCF) and Simplified Chinese Characters (汉字~英文;中文)(SCF).

The traditional version is mainly used outside of mainland China. In mainland China, people use the simplified version because it is easier to read and write. However, some people still prefer to use the traditional version.

No matter which version you choose, the rules of writing remain the same.

For example, if you want to write “the dog”, you must write 子狗。

If you want to write “dog”, you must write 犬。

So, in learning how to spell, the version you wish does not really matter.

Character Formation

Obviously, such a large number cannot be made randomly. If we want to make a character, it must follow certain rules. These rules are based on Chinese philosophy and are called “The Five Elements”. They are earth, water, fire, wind, and metal.

According to these five elements, there are 12 basic strokes. In addition, each element has three sub-elements. Therefore, 24 different combinations can be formed.

In fact, most Chinese people believe that there are 2.4 billion possible ways to form a character. However, this does not mean that every combination is equally important.

For example, some combinations are much easier to write than others. For instance, the stroke combination of “earth + wood” is easy to combine into words. On the contrary, the combination of “metal + water” is difficult to combine into words.

Therefore, the formation of characters seems just a “LEGO game”. You just need to put the little pieces together. And you don’t need to worry about whether they fit well or not.


There are six main categories ofChinese characters: Pictographs (象形), Pictophonetic characters (形声),Simple ideograms(指社),Compound ideographs (会意),Phonetic loan characters (假倒),andDerivative cognates (转注).

Radicals or Basic Structure

The word radical literally means root or base; it refers to the basic structure of a character. In traditional Chinese characters, there are four main categories of radicals:

1) 手段: hand shape

2) 工具範圍: toolbox

3) 行形範圍: stroke pattern

4) 符號範圍;字形範制 : the category of radicals that represents the principle of the six categories of characters.

There are also some special radicals such as 八十字節、山丘字形, etc. These radicals represent certain characteristics of the characters. For example, 八十行 represents the number 8. And 山� represents mountain.

In addition, there are some radicals that do not belong to any of the above categories, such as 口子, 尺子, 冠子, etc. These radicals are often used to show the pronunciation of the words.

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