A top guide to Chinese characters: Strokes, stroke orders & more

Thinking about learning Chinese, but worried about the Chinese characters?

Fear not! Although they might seem intimidating if you’re just about to start learning Mandarin Chinese, the characters are one of the most fun and interesting parts of this language.

These logographic symbols represent some of China’s oldest history, with some of the earliest Chinese characters dating back over 3,000 years ago. As such, they carry deep cultural meanings and are an irreplaceable part of the Chinese language. If you’re familiar with the difference between Mandarin and Cantonese, then you know that characters are the unifying force behind all Chinese dialects. While each dialect has unique pronunciations and some grammar differences, the meaning of the characters remains largely unchanged across dialects — making them all part of the Chinese language.

So, if you’ve already reviewed our 10 expert tips to learn Chinese characters and are ready to go all in by learning about the origin, types, and meaning of them, then this guide is for you. We’ve even included a chart of the 100 most common ones to help you kickstart your journey to Chinese fluency!

We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, so let’s get right to it!

Students learning Chinese characters, strokes, stroke orders & more.

What are Chinese characters?

Chinese characters are logograms used to write Chinese. Instead of using an alphabet, Chinese uses these symbols to represent meaning. Each character corresponds to a syllable and, by extension, a word or concept. Words in Chinese are mostly made up of two or three characters, so you can think of them as the building blocks of written Chinese.

There are thousands of characters, although knowing just 3,000 to 4,000 of them is enough to navigate modern Chinese. That’s because most words are made up of a combination of the most common characters. This means that Chinese is a language that builds upon itself, as once you learn your first few hundred characters, learning new words will be significantly easier as you’ll already know some of the characters!

Let’s take a closer look:

Early history

The history of Chinese characters can be traced back over 3,000 years to the Shang Dynasty, where the earliest known scripts were inscribed on oracle bones. These ancient characters, known as “jiaguwen” (甲骨文), were mainly used for divination purposes. They were pictographic in nature, meaning they were symbols that directly represented objects, animals or concepts. For instance, the character for “sun” (日) resembled a circular object with a dot in the center, symbolizing the sun.


Over the centuries, Chinese characters have undergone significant evolution in form and function. Following the oracle bone script, the Bronze Age brought about the Bronze Inscriptions, known as the “jinwen” (金文), used in inscriptions on bronze artifacts. This script eventually evolved into the Seal script during the Western Zhou dynasty, or “dazhuan” (大篆), characterized by its more stylized and abstract forms.

The Qin dynasty marked a pivotal moment in the standardization of characters through the promotion of the Small Seal script, known as “xiaozhuan” (小篆), as the official national writing standard. The first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, who sought to unify the writing system across his empire, drove this effort. However, the complexity of the Seal script led to the development of the Clerical script, or “lishu” (隶书), during the Han dynasty, which featured a more linear and simplified style.

The Tang Dynasty then saw the popularization of the Regular script, also known as “kaishu” (楷书), which is the basis for contemporary Chinese writing. This script is characterized by its balanced structure and is the style commonly taught in schools today.

Components of Chinese characters

Chinese characters can typically be broken down into the following key components:

  • Radicals: Chinese radicals are the building blocks of characters. They often indicate the general semantic category to which a character belongs, which can help you figure out its meaning even if you’ve never seen it before. For example, the radical for water (氵) is found in characters related to liquid or fluidity.
  • Phonetic components: Many characters are phono-semantic compounds that combine a semantic radical with a phonetic component. The phonetic element suggests the pronunciation of the character, while the radical conveys the general meaning.
  • Strokes: The individual brush or pen movements used to write Chinese characters. There are 41 types of Chinese strokes, and each character comprises a specific sequence of these strokes.

Common vocabulary for Chinese characters

Discussing characters in Chinese typically comes with a few associated words. Here’s the most common Chinese character vocabulary:

Chinese characters汉字hàn zìhann tzyh
Oracle bone script甲骨文jiǎ gǔ wénjea guu wen
Font字体zì tǐtzyh tii
Strokes笔画bǐ huàbii huah
Radicals偏旁部首piān páng bù shǒupian parng buh shoou
Traditional Chinese characters繁体字fán tǐ zìfarn tii tzyh
Simplified Chinese characters简体字jiǎn tǐ zìjean tii tzyh
Pinyin拼音pīn yīnpin in
Four tones四声调sì shēng diàosyh sheng diaw
Vocabulary words词汇cí huìtsyr huey
Calligraphy书法shū fǎshu faa
Idioms成语chéng yǔcherng yeu
Dictionary字典zì diǎntzyh dean
Grammar语法yǔ fǎyeu faa
Syllable音节yīn jiéin jye
Pronunciation发音fā yīnfa in
Sentence句子jù zijiuh tzy
Phrase词组cí zǔtsyr tzuu
Pictograms象形字xiàng xíng zìshianq shyng tzyh
Phono-semantic characters形声字xíng shēng zìshyng sheng tzyh
Simple ideograms指事字zhǐ shì zìjyy shyh tzyh
Compound ideograms会意字huì yì zìhuey yih tzyh
Transfer characters转注字zhuǎn zhù zìjoan juh tzyh
Loan characters假借字jiǎ jiè zìjea jieh tzyh

What are the different types of Chinese characters?

Chinese characters have evolved for thousands of years from multiple sources. That means different characters were developed from different places, so they all have different ways of existing. Here’s a breakdown of the types you’ll run into:

Learning the different types of Chinese characters.

Pictograms 象形字 (xiàng xíng zì)

Pictograms are characters that visually represent the objects they denote. They’re among the oldest types of Chinese characters and are the foundation of many complex characters.

For example:

  • 山 (shān) - Mountain
  • 日 (rì) - Sun
  • 月 (yuè) - Moon
  • 木 (mù) - Tree
  • 人 (rén) - Person

Phono-semantic characters 形声字 (xíng shēng zì)

These characters combine a phonetic component that suggests the pronunciation and a semantic component that suggests the meaning. The majority of characters fall under this category, as this system allowed the expansion of the Chinese lexicon while maintaining a connection between form, meaning, and sound.

Here are some examples:

EnglishChinesePinyinSemantic componentSemantic pinyinSemantic meaningPhonetic componentPhonetic pinyin

Simple ideograms 指事字 (zhǐ shì zì)

These characters represent abstract concepts through unique visual symbols. Simple ideograms modify or combine basic strokes to convey an idea or concept, often related to numbers, directions, or relationships. Due to their direct representation of ideas, they’re among the most straightforward characters to understand.

Here are some examples:

Above, showing something above a lineshàngshanq
Middle, indicating the center point within a boundaryzhōngjong
Small, depicting three small dotsxiǎosheau
Big, represented by a person with arms and legs stretched out, signifying largenessdah

Compound ideograms 会意字 (huì yì zì)

These characters combine elements to create new meanings, where each part contributes to the overall concept of the character. They illustrate complex ideas or objects by juxtaposing simpler pictograms or ideograms, offering a more nuanced understanding of the terms they represent.

Some examples are:

EnglishChinesePinyinComponents 1
BrightmíngSun () and moon () shine together, symbolizing brightness
RestxiūShows a person () next to a tree (), indicating rest.
TrustxìnCombines a person () saying words (), suggesting trustworthiness.

Transfer characters 转注字 (zhuǎn zhù zì)

Transfer characters are a unique set where the meaning of a character is extended to a related concept. This category is less common but illustrates the adaptability and evolution of the Chinese script over time.

Here is a pair of transfer characters:

  • 老 (lǎo) — Old. Originally depicted an old man holding a cane with hair hanging down. Over time, it came to broadly represent the concept of age or being old.
  • 孝 (xiào) — Filial piety. Closely related to 老 in representing the virtue of respecting one’s elders, showcasing the extension of meaning from “old” to a value associated with age.

Loan characters 假借字 (jiǎ jiè zì)

Loan characters are fascinating, as they were originally used for one word but were borrowed to create another word with phonetic similarity. At times, the meaning of the original character was entirely abandoned, with the newly created character conveying the original meaning. This category highlights the flexibility of the Chinese script in adapting characters for new meanings when phonetic or conceptual similarities allow for it.

  • 来 (lái) - To come. Initially depicted wheat but was replaced by 麦(mài) with a similar pronunciation to represent the concept. 来 instead was used to represent the verb “to come.” It even kind of looks like a wheat plant!
  • 令 (lìng) - To order, command. It has been used in various contexts beyond its original meaning: to order or command, serving as a loan character for its phonetics.
  • 朋 (péng) - Friend. Originally represented a currency unit representing shell coins closely tied together, but evolved into a term for friendship, illustrating the adaptability of characters to encompass broader meanings.

How to write Chinese characters

Diving into the world of the Chinese language is an adventure that spans not just the language itself but also the rich culture behind it. Knowing how to write Chinese characters correctly will help you understand them more easily, learn to write them faster, and appreciate a new dimension of Chinese.

Learning how to write Chinese characters.

Chinese stroke names

Chinese characters are composed of strokes, each with its own name and set of rules. Understanding the strokes is the first step toward mastery, as you’ll be able to identify the building blocks of each character. Some of the most common strokes are:

  • 横 (héng): The horizon line, straight and expansive.
  • 竖 (shù): The standing sentinel, tall and proud.
  • 撇 (piě): The graceful descent, a leaf floating down from a branch.
  • 捺 (nà): The firm conclusion, like the period at the end of a sentence.
  • 点 (diǎn): The dot, small but full of potential, ready to start or complete any character.

Standard rules of stroke orders

Stroke order is crucial in Chinese calligraphy. It not only ensures the characters look balanced and beautiful but also facilitates faster and more intuitive writing. Here are some golden rules:

  • Top to bottom: Begin with strokes at the top of a character and move downward.
  • Left to right: Strokes on the left are drawn before strokes on the right.
  • Horizontal before vertical: When a character is composed of both horizontal and vertical strokes, the horizontal strokes are written first.
  • Center before outside: For vertically symmetrical characters like 小, the middle stroke usually comes first.
  • Outside to inside, then close: Start with the lines at the top of enclosed characters like 田. Next, add the central strokes before completing the frame with a line at the bottom.

Check out the following video for a quick demonstration of how these rules are put together:

How to balance the characters when writing them

Balancing characters is an essential skill in mastering the art of Chinese writing. The beauty of a character is often judged by its balance and structure, which requires understanding how each character is arranged within an imaginary square. Here are some strategies to help you achieve balance:

  • Understand structure and composition: Each stroke belongs in a quadrant of the imaginary square. Knowing where to place the stroke and how it fits within the character will help you balance your characters correctly.
  • Maintain uniform stroke proportions: Ensure that the thickness of similar strokes is consistent across different characters. Similar strokes should have similar lengths unless the character’s structure dictates otherwise.
  • Practice symmetry: For characters with a symmetrical structure, aim for equal weight on both sides. Align the components vertically where applicable, ensuring that top and bottom elements correspond to each other in size and placement.
  • Pay attention to spacing: Ensure that there’s adequate and even space between the different components of a character to avoid crowding or excessive gaps.
  • Use guides and grids: Practicing on grid paper or using apps with guide grids can help beginners get a sense of proper character proportions and spacing.
  • Analyze characters: Study characters written by skilled calligraphers, like your Chinese teacher. Pay attention to their structure, balance, and use of space within the square.

Fun facts

Tips for handwriting characters

Improving your handwriting in Chinese is an important skill that combines art, discipline, and language learning. Here are some practical tips to improve your Chinese character handwriting skills:

  1. Start with stroke order: Understanding stroke order and direction will help you memorize them and ensure they look structured and balanced.
  2. Use the right tools: Experiment with different pens and pencils to find what feels most comfortable to you. Brushes and traditional ink pens can help understand stroke thickness and fluidity, although they can be impractical for daily use. Grid paper can help you maintain a uniform size and the correct proportion of characters.
  3. Focus on structure and balance: Each character should fit neatly within a square space, which helps maintain its proportions and balance.
  4. Practice regularly: Regular practice is crucial. Dedicate time each day to practice your handwriting, even if it’s just a few characters.
  5. Get feedback: If possible, get feedback from teachers or more experienced learners. They can provide specific feedback to help your handwriting. Alternatively, you can regularly review your own work to identify areas for improvement.

Tools for learning and writing in Chinese

Learning how to write or draw in Chinese can be much easier with the right tools. Thankfully, modern technology has made it remarkably easy to learn how to write characters, although some traditional tools are still extremely helpful. We’ve compiled some of the best apps for learning Chinese characters below:

Downloading apps and online resources for learning and writing Chinese characters.

Apps and online resources

  1. Pleco: This is, by far, the most popular Chinese dictionary for Chinese learners. It’s much more than just a dictionary, though, as Pleco includes the stroke order of each character, making it indispensable for learners.
  2. Anki: This powerful flashcard app is another fan favorite among language learners. You can use Anki to find or create specific character decks, including stroke order and pronunciation.
  3. Skritter: This app focuses on teaching you to handwrite the characters. Skritter provides stroke order and immediate feedback to help you improve.
  4. Hanzi Grids: Create your own practice sheets according to your personal goals with Hanzi Grids. You can print out these sheets to practice your handwriting with helpful guidance.
  5. DuChinese: While not specifically designed to help with handwriting, DuChinese is a powerful tool for learning how to read Mandarin at any level. It gives you interesting and helpful articles at your Chinese level to help you read, which will help you memorize characters. This will improve your handwriting from memory tremendously.

Traditional tools

  1. Practice workbooks: You can purchase workbooks specifically designed for writing practice. These often include grids and examples of characters with stroke orders.
  2. Chinese brush and ink: For a more traditional approach, practicing with a brush and ink on rice paper can improve your understanding of brush thickness and fluidity.
  3. Flashcards: Traditional paper flashcards can be useful for memorization, especially if they include information on stroke order and character composition.

How to type Chinese characters

You’re probably used to having a keyboard with 70 keys or so that includes one key for each letter in the alphabet, plus a few extra symbols. So, if Chinese doesn’t have an alphabet, then how are you supposed to type thousands of characters on a keyboard?

The short answer is pinyin. Thanks to this Romanization system, it is now extremely easy to write Chinese characters digitally without having to memorize thousands of stroke orders. Simply add a Chinese keyboard setting to your device, enter the pinyin, and select the character from the corresponding matches. Best part? You don’t even have to buy a new keyboard!

Here are step-by-step instructions for typing Chinese characters on different devices:

Instructions on how to type Chinese characters.

How to type Chinese characters on iOS

  1. Go to Settings on your iOS device.
  2. Scroll down and tap General.
  3. Find and tap on Keyboard.
  4. Select Keyboards at the top to see the list of currently enabled keyboards.
  5. Tap on Add New Keyboard.
  6. Scroll through the list of languages and select either “Chinese, Simplified” or “Chinese, Traditional” depending on your preference.
  7. Choose an input method such as “Pinyin” for Simplified Chinese or “Zhuyin” for Traditional Chinese. Pinyin is by far the most common input method. You can also choose Handwriting as an input method in addition to Pinyin or Zhuyin.
  8. Now that you’ve added a Chinese keyboard, you can simply open any app where you can type text and tap the globe icon next to the space bar to switch keyboards.

How to type Chinese characters on Android

  1. Go to Settings on your Android device.
  2. Tap on System and then select Languages & input.
  3. Choose Virtual keyboard under the Keyboards & inputs section.
  4. Tap on Manage keyboards.
  5. Look for a Chinese input method such as Gboard (Google Keyboard) and enable it. If it’s not available, you may need to download a Chinese keyboard app from the Google Play Store, such as Google Pinyin Input.
  6. After enabling, you can switch to the Chinese keyboard by pulling down the notification shade when the keyboard is active and selecting Change keyboard or by long-pressing the space bar in some keyboard apps.

How to type Chinese characters on Mac

  1. Click on the Apple menu in the top left corner of the screen and select System Preferences.
  2. Click on Keyboard.
  3. Select the Input Sources tab.
  4. Click the + button at the bottom left to add a new input source.
  5. Scroll through the list of languages on the left and select “Chinese, Simplified” or “Chinese, Traditional” depending on your preference.
  6. Choose an input method such as “Pinyin” for Simplified Chinese or “Zhuyin” for Traditional Chinese. Pinyin is by far the most common input method. You can also choose Handwriting as an input method in addition to Pinyin or Zhuyin.
  7. Ensure the “Show input menu in menu bar” box is checked. This allows you to switch between input methods from the menu bar.

How to type Chinese characters on Windows

  1. Go to the Settings menu and select Settings (gear icon).
  2. Click on Time & Language.
  3. Select Language from the sidebar.
  4. Click Add a language.
  5. In the search bar, type “Chinese” and you’ll see options for “Chinese (Simplified)” and “Chinese (Traditional).” select the one you want and click Next.
  6. Review the install options, making sure the “Install language pack” option is selected and click Install.
  7. Once installed, click on the newly added Chinese language and select Options. Add an input method like Microsoft Pinyin for Simplified Chinese or Microsoft Zhuyin for Traditional Chinese.
  8. You can switch between input methods by clicking on the language icon in the taskbar or by using the Windows key + Space bar shortcut.

100 most common Chinese characters

If you came here looking for a list of the 100 most common Chinese characters, then look no further. The following table includes the top 100 characters ranked by frequency, so if you’re an absolute beginner, then this is a great place to start.

A grammatical particle that denotes possessiondede话 (if), 我 (my), 你 (your)
Onei样 (the same), 起 (together), 个 (one)
To beshìshyh的 (yes), 不(is not), 非(right and wrong)
No, negativebuh好 (not good), 能 (cannot), 是 (is not)
Verb particle making past tense, completed action or change in condition.lelhe (finished/over), 吃 (ate), 到 (arrived)
Personrénren民 (people), 类 (humanity), 一个 (one person)
I/mewoo们 (we/us), 的 (my/mine), 爱你 (I love you)
At/inzàitzay (now), 线 (online), 家 (at home)
To haveyǒuyeou (whether or not), 意义 (meaningful), 趣 (interesting)
He/himta们 (they/them), 的 (his), 人 (others)
Thiszhèjeh里 (here), 样 (this way), 些 (these)
Middlezhōngjong国 (China), 心 (center), 间 (middle)
Bigdah家 (everyone), 小 (size), 学 (university)
To comeláilai自 (come from), 吧 (come on), 临 (approach/come)
Up/onshàngshanq面 (above/on top), 学 (go to school), 班 (go to work)
Countryguógwo家 (country), 中 (China), 际 (international)
General measure wordgeh (one), 人 (individual), 别 (individual/specific)
To arrivedàodaw达 (to arrive),处 (everywhere), 底 (actually/on earth)
To sayshuōshuo话 (to speak), 明 (to explain), 服 (to persuade)
Plural markermenmhen(they/them) 我 (we/us), 你 (you all)
Forwèiwey了 (for the purpose of), 什么 (why), 着 (in order to)
Child/sonzǐ/zitzyy (child), 样 (appearance), 儿 (son)
Andher平 (peace), 谐 (harmony), 气 (gentle)
Younii们 (you all), 的 (your), 好 (hello)
Grounddì/dedih/de方 (place), 球 (earth),艰难 (with difficulty)
Outchūchu来 (come out), 去 (go out), 现 (appear)
Way/pathdàodaw路 (road), 理 (principle), 知 (know)
Alsoyee许 (perhaps), 是 (also is), 好 (might as well)
Timeshíshyr间 (time), 代 (era), 候 (moment)
Yearniánnian龄 (age), 度 (year), 每 (every year)
To getdé/dede到 (obtain), 觉 (to think), 应 (deservd)
Thenjiùjiow是 (is just), 要 (is going to), 近 (nearby)
Thatnah里 (there), 么 (so/then), 样 (that way)
To wantyào/yāoyaw (demand/need), 重 (important), 求 (request)
Downxiàshiah来 (come down),去 (go down), 雨 (rain)
With/byyii前 (before), 后 (after), 为 (to assume)
Life/birthshēngsheng活 (life), 日 (birthday), 产 (produce)
Can/meet/willhuìhuey议 (conference), 见 (meet), 谈 (talks)
Selftzyh己 (oneself), 由 (freedom), 然 (nature)
Continuing action or statezheje(looking at), 穿 (wearing), 跟(following)
To gochiuh年 (last year), 掉 (remove), 离 (depart)
Ofzhījy间 (between), 前 (before), 后 (after)
Experienced action markerguòguoh去 (past), 经 (pass through), 通 (through/by)
Homejiājia庭 (family), 人 (family members), 老 (hometown)
To learnxuéshyue校 (school), 习 (learn), 生 (student)
To/towardsduìduey于 (regarding), 面 (opposite), 象 (object/partner)
Cankee以 (can), 能 (possible), 爱 (cute)
She/herta们 (they/them, females), 的 (her), 看 (look at her)
Insidelii面 (inside), 边 (within), 哪 (where)
Afterhòuhow (after), 来 (later), 面 (behind)
Smallxiǎosheau心 (be careful), 时 (hour), 说 (novel)
Question particlememe (what), 怎 (how), 这 (so/this way)
Heartxīnshin情 (mood), 脏 (heart), 小 (careful)
Many/muchduōduo少 (how many/much), 么 (how), 亏 (thanks to)
Day/skytiāntian气 (weather), 今 (today), 空 (sky)
And/butérerl且 (moreover), 已 (that's all), 是 (rather)
Cannéngneng力 (ability), 不 (cannot), 可 (possible)
Goodhǎohao吃 (delicious), 看 (good-looking), 像 (seem)
Alldōudou好 (all good), 大 (mostly), 是 (all are)
Then/soránran后 (then), 当 (of course), 自 (natural)
Notméimei有 (not have), 事 (no problem), 关系 (it's okay)
Day/sunryh子 (day/life), 程 (schedule), 记 (diary)
In/atyu是 (therefore), 关 (about), 此 (herein)
To risechii来 (get up), 床 (wake up), 点 (starting point)
Still/yetháihair有 (also have), 是 (or), 行 (not bad)
To sendfa现 (discover), 生 (happen), 展 (develop)
To becomechéngcherng功 (success), 立 (establish), 就 (achievement)
Matter/thingshìshyh情 (matter), 件 (event), 办 (handle affairs)
Onlyzhǐjyy有 (only have), 是 (just), 要 (as long as)
To dozuòtzuoh用 (function), 文 (composition), 品 (work)
Shoulddāngdang时 (at that time), 然 (of course), 地 (local)
To want/to thinkxiǎngsheang法 (idea/thought), 念 (miss), 象 (imagine)
To seekànkann见 (see), 法 (opinion), 书 (read a book)
Culture/languagewénwen化 (culture), 章 (article), 字 (text)
No/withoutwu论 (no matter), 法 (unable), 聊 (bored)
To start/to openkāikai始 (begin), 放 (open), 心 (happy)
Handshǒushoong机 (cell phone), 表 (watch), 工 (handmade)
Tenshíshyr分 (very), 字 (cross), 月 (October)
To useyòngyonq使 (use), 处 (use), 有 (useful)
Main/masterzhǔjuu要 (main), 题 (theme), 人 (host)
To go/to doxíngshyng为 (behavior), 动 (action/move), 李 (luggage)
Side/directionfāngfang法 (method), 向 (direction), 面 (aspect)
Again/alsoyòuyow来 (come again), 见 (see again), 称 (also known as)
Like/asru果 (if), 此 (so/this way), 何 (how)
Before/frontqiánchyan面 (front), 以 (before), 进 (advance)
Placesuǒsuoo有 (all), 以 (therefore), 在 (location)
Origin/thisběnbeen书 (this book), 来 (originally), 身 (itself)
To seejiànjiann面 (meet), 看 (see), 证 (witness)
Throughjīngjing过 (pass by), 验 (experience), 济 (economy)
Headtóutour发 (hair), 痛 (headache), 领 (lead)
Face/sidemiànmiann对 (face), 积 (area), 表 (surface)
Publicgōnggong共 (public), 司 (company), 平 (fair)
Sametóngtorng学 (classmate), 意 (to agree), 时 (at the same time)
Threesānsan角 (triangle), 月 (March), 明治 (sandwich)
Alreadyyii经 (already), 然 (as it is), 知 (known, established)
Oldlǎolao师 (teacher), 虎 (tiger), 人 (elderly person)
Fromcóngtsorng前 (formerly), 来 (always), 事 (to engage in)
To movedòngdonq物 (animal), 活 (activity), 移 (to move)
Twoliǎngleang边 (both sides), 次 (twice), 国 (two countries)
Longchángcharng期 (enduring), 城 (The Great Wall), 度 (length)


Reading faqs on Chinese characters.

What are Chinese characters called?

Chinese characters are called "Hanzi" (汉字) in Mandarin. The term “Hanzi” literally means “Han characters,” Han refers to the Han dynasty, a long unified period in ancient China marked by unparalleled prosperity and profound influence on Chinese culture. Each Hanzi has its own meaning and pronunciation, and the system encompasses tens of thousands of characters, although only a few thousand are commonly used in daily life.

Are all Chinese characters pictograms?

Some are pictograms, but not all of them are. While Chinese characters are often thought to represent ideas directly through visual symbols, the reality is a bit more complex. The system includes not only pictograms but also phono-semantic characters, which combine semantic and phonetic elements. Only a small portion of characters are true pictograms, while the majority are phono-semantic compounds that provide hints about both meaning and pronunciation.

Are Hanzi and Kanji the same?

If you’ve studied Japanese before, then you might be wondering if Hanzi and Kanji are the same. While they do share a historical origin, they’ve evolved differently in the context of Chinese and Japanese languages, respectively. Hanzi is the term for the characters used in Chinese, while Kanji is the term for the characters used in Japanese, which were borrowed from Chinese and integrated into the Japanese writing system. While many Kanji have retained meanings similar to their Hanzi counterparts, their pronunciations and some of their applications have diverged, reflecting the distinct cultural and linguistic developments in Japan.

Is Chinese read and written from top to bottom, right to left?

Traditionally, Chinese was written in vertical columns that were read from top to bottom and arranged from right to left across the page. This method of writing is still found in classical texts, calligraphy, and in certain formal or artistic contexts. However, in contemporary settings, especially in mainland China, the prevalent format is horizontal writing that reads from left to right, mirroring the standard in most global contexts. This shift reflects modern influences and the practicalities of integrating with international norms, though traditional vertical writing is preserved in many cultural expressions, like some Chinese New Year greetings.

Supercharge your Chinese

No matter your level, focusing on improving your understanding of the characters will help you level up all aspects of your fluency. From reading to speaking and even listening, being able to identify the components that make up a character and make them different will give you more language clarity. In Chinese, even if two words sound exactly the same, they could have entirely different meanings if the characters are different. So, understanding Chinese characters will help you handle these situations like a pro!

If you think you understand Chinese characters a little better after reading this article, then make sure to check out the rest of our articles on our Chinese blog. We regularly publish helpful (and free!) guides on vocabulary, grammar, and cultural topics, such as our guide to the Chinese Zodiac and political vocabulary in Chinese.

Call Us


Find out more

Fill in the form below and we’ll contact you to discuss your learning options and answer any questions you may have.