How to write in Chinese – a Beginner’s Guide

a Beginner guide in Chinese writing

How to write in Chinese

How to write in Chinese – A Beginner’s Guide in Chinese Writing

Learning Chinese can be a bit scary and seems impossible at the first glance. They just seem like scary blocks of words if you don’t know the idea of how they were formed.You will have no idea where to start.

Chinese characters are built on radicals which are similar to alphabets in English. However, unlike English alphabets, each radical has its own meaning.The radicals are combined into characters and the characters combined into words. If you think the radicals are the most basic part of the Chinese writing, you are wrong.

Before you start learning Chinese writing, you need to know how to write them first. Strokes are the classified set of line patterns that are arranged and combined to form Chinese characters.Once you’ve mastered the strokes and learned the logic behind the radicals, learning Chinese writing will become a lot easier.

In this blog, I’m going to teach you the most basic of Chinese writing – strokes, and explain some of the logic behind the common radicals.


How many characters are there in Chinese Writing?

Before we start, let me give you an overview of the amount Chinese characters in Chinese writing. There are over 50,000 Chinese characters. Don’t worry you don’t need to know them all. Even an educated Chinese person know around 8000 characters. The highest level of HSK requires you to know 2600 characters only. You will be able to read about 98% of everyday written Chinese with this amount. And it will even be more comforting if you know the fact that you will be able to read 70% of the Chinese writing once you learn the 250 most used Chinese Characters.

As if how you should motivate yourself to learn Chinese, you can read in our previous blog: I want to learn Chinese.


Understanding strokes and strokes orders in Chinese writing

By now you probably know the importance of radicals in Chinese writing. But Chinese writing is not as simple as typing on the keyboard “How to type Chinese Characters on the keyboard“. You will be able to type if you know the pinyin and the characters. 

But for writing on the paper is another thing. Just knowing the pinyin is not enough. You need to know the strokes to know how these radicals are constructed. That’s not all, you also need to know the correct stroke order and the direction to be able to write each character correctly.

Besides, many educated Chinese people take pride in their ability to write the Chinese characters in the right order. If they see you can write in the right order, they will be impressed and treat you as a real educated person.

Among a lot of strokes, there are only 13 basic strokes that you need to know. Once you get a hold on these 13 strokes, the rest are just the combinations of these 13. After you have learned the strokes and the strokes orders, you will know how to write a character in correct stroke order no matter how complex the character is.


The following table shows the 6 most fundamental strokes in Chinese writing.


Stroke Name


横 Héng
竖 Shù
撇 Piě
点 Diǎn

The second table shows the 5 strokes with the hook


横钩 Héng Gōu
竖钩 Shù Gōu
弯钩 Wān Gōu
斜钩 Xié Gōu
平钩 Píng Gōu

These 11 strokes are the most basic strokes in Chinese writing. The rest of the strokes are just the combinations of the above ones.Now that you have learned all the basic strokes, let’s move on to which stroke and in which order you need to write. The picture below shows you the 8 rules that you need to follow in Chinese writing.


You can read more about the stroke: Chinese Stroke

After you’ve learned all of the strokes and stroke order rules, you will now be able to write any character even if you don’t know what they mean!



Understanding Chinese radicals


Let’s move on to the Chinese radicals! The radicals can be considered as the pillar of the Chinese language learning. Each radical has its own meaning.

For e.g.,

  • “心” is a  Character which represents the “heart”.
  • When it acts as a radical,  “心” can usually be seen together with the “heart-related” characters.
  • Some of the examples are “想 – xiǎng (think),怒 – nù (angry),感 – gǎn (feel, sense)” which are all somewhat related to emotion, feeling, mind, thinking or thought.
  • If 心 radical is written below the character,it is called 心字底 (xīnzi dǐ, meaning 心 at the bottom)。
  • If it is written on the left side, it is usually written as “忄” and we call it 竖心旁 (shù xīn páng). e.g.: 快-kuài (quick),慢- màn (slow),情- qíng (feelings, emotions).
  • Some radicals are also used for their phonetic sounds.

For e.g.,

  • 青 qīng radical can be seen in a lot of Chinese characters which sound ” qīng. They are called phonetical radical because the words with 青 radical are pronounced in similar phonetic sound with only tonal difference
  • 请 – qǐng (to ask, to request ), 情 – qíng (feelings, emotions), 清  – qīng (clear, distinct ). 


Chinese writing showing radicals

Chinese characters with similar radicals



Another interesting fact about Chinese writing is that the Chinese characters are written as pictures in the past like the Egyptians! Those characters derived from images are called “pictogram”. Many of the easy Chinese characters are pictograms! Then they slowly transformed into the systematic words we are using today.


character transformation in Chinese writing

Transformation of Chinese characters


If you want to explore more simple characters, check out: 40 easy Chinese Characters


Connection between the strokes and the radicals

After you’ve learned about the strokes and the radicals, some of you might still be confused about ” how are these 2 related”? So I’m going to explain it to you by using the example of “火 – huǒ” (fire) radical.

Chinese radical "火” in Chinesewriting

the connection between the stroke and the radical 

As you can see in the picture above, “火 – huǒ” (fire) radical has 4 strokes.“火 – huǒ” ( fire ) radical is usually found together with the characters related to ‘fire’. E.g., ” 灯 – dēng” (lamp), “炒 – ” (fry ), “烟 – yān” (smoke), ” 炎 – yàn” (flame), ” 炉 – lú” (stove) and “烤 – kǎo” (roast), all of which have something to do with fire. But as I’ve mentioned earlier, sometimes radical represents the phonetic sound of the character instead of the meaning.

So in short, “the strokes let us know how to write” whereas ” the radicals give us the meaning behind each character for us to memorize more easily”.


Summary of Chinese writing

In conclusion, I would like to summarize what we have learned earlier.

  1. In Chinese writing, you need to learn the strokes and strokes orders first.
  2. Only then, you will know how to write Chinese characters in the correct way.
  3. After that, you also need to study the radicals and the logic behind them.
  4. You can also make good use of pictograms image to help you remember the characters easily.

That way, you won’t need to do rote learning ( writing the characters again and again until you remember them) for Chinese characters. I hope this blog motivates you to start Chinese writing right now!

Knowledge is good but the act of presentation is better. Why not start a free trial and start to learn mandarin today! For more learn Chinese materials, please stay tuned with us!


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