How to write Chinese characters?

Now that you have learned a few Chinese words, perhaps you would like to try and write the corresponding characters. Some people talk about “drawing” the Chinese characters, and I don’t blame them. Each character does look like some kind of a symbol.

There are simple characters, like (yī one), (èr two), (sān three) and (rén person). And there are complicated ones, like (bí nose) and (dài a black pigment). By the way, one of the main characters in the famous classical Chinese novel, Dreams of the Red Mansion, is named 林黛玉 (Lín Dàiyù). (Lín) is a last name that means woods, (yù) is jade. 黛玉 (Dàiyù) means black jade.

When making a drawing, you can pretty much start wherever you please, although I would usually start with the head when I’m drawing a person. When doing a Chinese character, you will need to follow a given sequence, and that is for your own good. For one thing, if you start from a different point each time you write a character, it will be harder to remember that character than if you always execute the strokes in the same order. Compare that to typing on the QWERTY keyboard. You barely have to think when typing some English text. Your fingers “remember” the locations of the letters on the keyboard. In the same way, you can train your hand to “remember” the way to write a character by repeated execution of the same sequence. Secondly, many Chinese characters take on shared radicals. It will be wise to take advantage of the knowledge of these radicals rather than wield your pen haphazardly.

The book, “Reading & Writing Chinese” by William McNaughtan and Li Ying, shows you the definition and the sequence of the strokes for over 2000 commonly used Chinese characters. Both a Traditional Character edition and a Simplified Character edition are available. If you choose to learn the Traditional Characters, you could get the Traditional Character edition. Where a Simplified Character is available for a Traditional Character, this book also shows the corresponding Simplified Character on the side. Use the Alphabetical Index at the end of the book and your knowledge of pinyin to locate the group of characters with the same pinyin notation. Then look for the character that you are after.

There is a link to a nifty free Chinese character animation on Erik E. Peterson’s web site: From the home page, select “Learn Chinese”. Under “Tools for Learning Chinese”, select “Learn to Draw Chinese Characters”. Under “Links for Learning to Draw Chinese Characters”, select “Characters with Animation”. The direct link to Tim Xie’s page is:

You will notice that, in gneral, the strokes on the top get written before those at the bottom, and the strokes on the left side come before those on the right side of the character. Why not look up the following Chinese characters and practice writing them on paper? Yes, yes, you will need to write each character many, many times until you can do it with your eyes closed.

(nĭ you), (hǎo good), (zǎo early, morning), (wǎn late, eveneing)
(xīn new), (nián year), (kuài fast, quick, pleasurable), (lè happy)
(mǎ horse), (niǎo bird), (zài again), (jiàn see, look)

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