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Chinese Characters


Different from English, a Chinese “word” is either one Chinese character or a combination of Chinese characters used together to express one idea.

Most Chinese words consist of two characters, where each character is considered a word component.

For example, the Chinese word for “airplane” is 飞机 (fēi jī). 

It contains two components 飞 (fēi) - "fly” and 机 (jī) - "machine”.

“Cell phone” is 手机 (shǒu jī). 

It contains two components: 手 (shǒu) - "hand” and 机 (jī) - "machine”.

“Helicopter” is 直升机 (zhí shēng jī). 

It's made up of three components: 直 (zhí) - "straight”, 升 (shēng) - "ascend”, and 机 (jī) - "machine”.

So basically, each Chinese word is made by shuffling or recycling different Chinese word components or Chinese characters.

In the case of the word component 机 (jī) - "machine", please note that it cannot be used alone as a word. As I said, most Chinese words are two characters. To really say the word “machine” in Chinese, it’s 机器 (jī qì)  which consists of the word components 机 (jī) - "machine” and 器 (qì) - "instrument”.

Simplified characte Vs. Traditional

Traditional characters are the original set of Chinese characters that have been used since long ago in China's history. They are usually made up of many complicated strokes.

Around 1950, the People's Republic of China (PRC) began standardizing a simplified version of many of these complex characters.

This simplification began as the PRC's attempt at decreasing nationwide illiteracy. One major difference: simplified characters have fewer strokes.

For example, the common character (biān) - "side" has 18 strokes in traditional form, while its simplified form (边) only has 5.

The good news is, 20% of traditional and simplified characters are written exactly the same way, so you’ll automatically be able to read some of both!

If you’re planning to travel or live in either Hong Kong or Taiwan, you’ll mostly see traditional characters, however, if you plan to travel mostly in Mainland China or Singapore—where simplified characters are standard—you should learn simplified characters. If you plan to travel to all Mandarin speaking countries, you should know both simplifeid and traditional.


Basic  Writing  Rules  

Writing characters in the correct stroke order can greatly facilitate learning and memorization. Correct stroke order is also vital to produce visually appealing characters. 
Traditionally, Chinese is written in vertical columns from top to bottom; the text runs from the right toward the left of the page. Modern Chinese uses the familiar western layout of horizontal rows from left to right, read from the top of the page to the bottom. 

  1. From top to bottom ()
  2. From left to right ()
  3. Horizontal before vertical ()
  4. Diagonals right-to-left before diagonals left-to-right ( )
  5. Outside before inside ()
  6. Inside before outside ()
  7. Inside before bottom enclosing ( )
  8. Center verticals before outside "wings" ( )
  9. Cutting strokes last ( )
  10. Left vertical before enclosing ( )
  11. Top or upper-left dots first (  )
  12. Inside or upper-right dots last ( )

1. From top to bottom ()

As an example, the character  (two), which has two strokes, is written with the top stroke first and then the lower stroke. This rule applies also to other characters with Above to Below structure, such as , the top component  is written before the lower component . Click the following characters to see more animated character examples: , etc.

2. From left to right ()

Among the first characters usually learned is the number one . This character has one stroke which is written from left to right. Again, this rule applies to all the characters withLeft to Right structure such as  (leaf), the left component  (mouth), which is a radical, is written first and then the right component  (ten). You can view more examples: , etc.

3. Horizontal before vertical ()

When strokes cross, horizontal strokes are usually written before vertical strokes. As an example, the character  (ten) has two strokes. The horizontal stroke  is written first, followed by the vertical stroke. The following are more examples: , etc

4. Diagonals right-to-left before diagonals left-to-right ( )

As in (person), right-to-left diagonals () are written before left-to-right diagonals (乀). Same rule applies to: , etc. 

5. Outside before inside ()

Outside enclosing strokes are written before inside strokes, for examples , etc. This rule applies to the characters with Surround from Upper Left structure (), such as , or Surround from Upper Right structure (), such as , or Surround from Above structure (), such as 

6. Inside before outside ()

This rule applies to the characters with Surround from Below structure (), such as  or characters with Surround from Lower Left structure (), such as  etc. 

7. Inside before bottom enclosing ()

If there is a bottom stroke, the bottom stroke is written last. For an example, for the character , the outside enclosing strokes are written first, followed by the inside component  and then the bottom horizontal stroke. The same pattern you can find in , , etc. 

8. Center verticals before outside "wings"( )

For the character , the center  comes first before the two dots. Same rule applies to character , etc. 

9. Cutting strokes last ( )

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

10. 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):  and . This rule applies to most of the characters with Full Surround structure, such as , , etc. 


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