Lesson 0.2  – Chinese characters

(What they are built of and how to write them properly)


What are Chinese characters?

  • Just a small part of Chinese characters can be considered as a picture-writing, where we can see a visual connection between the thing that is described and the visual representation (character). But for instance the character  <mù> TREE, WOOD still looks like a tree. There are few more.
  • The connection between characters and captured objects used to be much closer in the past. But as the characters evolved and captured more and more abstract concepts, the logic of Chinese characters became more and more abstract and sophisticated as well.
  • Now most of the characters is composed of two basic parts.

There is a phonetic part – this part tells us approximately how to read a particular character.

Second part is connected with the meaning

Take a look at the animation below…


Unchanging part is the phonetic part. You see that the pronounciation of two characters is similar – only first letter (and the tone) change. 

What changes is the “meaning-related part”. In Chinese characters there are altogether about 200 so called radicals – these are the components that we encounter very often, they have their own meaning and this meaning is related to the meaning of the whole character.

In this animation we see the radical TREE – and the whole character means ROOT.

When the radical TREE changes to the radical HEART, meaning of the character changes to TO HATE.


Let’s have a look at the mom and horse sentence again…



<Māma mà mǎ ma?>  

Mom _ to scold _ a horse _ question particle ma?

Does mom scold a horse? 

Last but one character is A HORSE

Why do we find a HORSE in the character for MOM and TO SCOLD?

It (approximately) tells us how to pronounce the characters.

These characters differ in “meaning-related components” – in radicals.

In the character for MOTHER the radical is WOMAN .

In the character TO SCOLD there are two radicals MOUTH.

In the question particle there is one radical MOUTH.


The general rules for writing Chinese characters:

  • At the beginning try to write characters as slow as possible for maximum level of control.
  • When you make a mistake, don’t go back, write it without a mistake next time.
  • Using a graph paper makes the composition easier.
  • Follow the STROKE ORDER. It makes remembering easier. 


Basic STROKE ORDER rules:

Have a look at writing of  <píng> BALANCE, LEVEL, HARMONY


  • basic direction of writing is from top down and from left to right
  • when horizontal and vertical line are crossed, we first write horizontal

Another character is  <yǒng> FOREVER

This character is usually used to demonstrate most of the existing strokes.


  • although left and right parts of the character look similar, don’t be mistaken. Left part is one stroke, right part two strokes.
  • important part of many characters is a “sharp hook” on the vertical stroke – don’t forget to write it.

Character FAITH  <xìn> is “a person, man”, who stands behind his   “word”.


The character  <ài> [love, to love] is not just beautiful, but also interesting from the educative point of view…


  • Notice that the first stroke is not entirely horizontal. It falls from up down – just like water. And that is the way we write it.
  • After just a little while all these rules will be very natural to you. 

When you are not sure how to write particular character, consult Archchinese.