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To learn Chinese writing is a critical part of learning Chinese. Chinese lessons with Kids Chinese Podcast help you learn speaking Chinese in the same time introducing you Chinese writing as well.

Chinese writing symbols are all the same across China although there are more than 3,000 dialects of Chinese being spoken including Mandarin Chinese, the standard language in China. Therefore, people from different provinces in China use the same written language although they may speak different dialects. The written language is a unifying factor culturally, for although the spoken languages and dialects may not be mutually comprehensible in many instances.

English words are made up of a collection of letters that each has its own sound. Chinese use Chinese characters (汉字, Hàn zì). A Chinese character, a symbol consists of a number of strokes or lines set inside an imaginary square as a discrete unit. There are also cursive styles of brush-writing where characters flow together freely and gracefully and the size of characters varies.

Unlike English, where a line of text is separated by spaces into individual words, Chinese text is interrupted only by punctuation marks. Traditionally, the characters are written in columns that are read from top to bottom and from right to left, or in horizontal lines that read from left to right.

The Earliest Form of Chinese Writing

Chinese writing characters, the symbols began as pictures back to several thousand years ago. Pictures were drawn to resemble the items they represented. The earliest form of Chinese writing is called the oracle bone script, used from 1500 to 1000 BCE. This script was etched onto turtle shells and animals bones, which were then heated until cracks would appear. The following are some examples.

oracle bone script

Scholars have been using oracle bones as historical documents. The shape of these characters are often described as "pictographic", in that they resemble stylized drawings of objects they represent.

Modern Chinese

Chinese has evolved substantially over time yet has retained its ancient core, making it one of the longest continuously used writing system in the world. The most important change in Chinese writing since the standardization in the Qin dynasty occurred in the middle of the 20th century. In 1956, the People's Republic of China (PRC) introduced simplified characters (简体字, jiǎn tǐ zì) to replace the traditional Chinese characters in order to promote literacy. Some simplified characters were in fact official recognition of widely-used colloquial variants of traditional characters.

In addition to the People's Republic of China, Singapore also adopted the simplified Chinese. However, other Chinese-speaking areas such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, and various Chinese communities in Southeast Asia continued to use the traditional script.

Today there are about 50,000 characters have been recorded. However, around 7,000 characters are actually in use in the modern language. It is believed that only about 3,000-4,000 are needed to read books and newspapers.

Also in 1956 an alphabet based on Roman letters, Pinyin was developed in mainland China. Its purpose, however, was the phonetic transcription of Chinese characters rather than the replacement of them. Since alphabetic writing requires a standardized spoken language, the local differences in the pronunciation of Chinese present a serious obstacle to the development of a satisfactory alphabet. The Chinese government has made a great effort to standardize the pronunciation of Mandarin, which is essentially a spoken language, and to have it adopted throughout China. The Beijing dialect of Mandarin was chosen because it was already the most widely used.

From the aspects of sound, every Chinese character represents one syllable. Many of these syllables are also words, but you should not think that every word in modern Chinese is monosyllabic. For example many Chinese words have two characters.

Chinese Writing Influence

As the oldest writing system in East Asia, the Chinese writing system became the inspiration and the basis for many other East Asian writing systems, some prominent and still in use, while other having faded into obscurity and disuse. For example, Japanese and Korean are sharing many of the same characters.

Strokes and Stroke Order

Chinese characters are made out of simple single strokes, all of them variations of only eight basic ones. All strokes have their own name and are written according to a few rules. It's very important to learn to recognize them, since the number of strokes in a character is often the easiest way to find it in an index when use dictionaries.

For a Chinese character, the strokes are written in an order. Usually, strokes are combined together in an order according to a few rules. Learning these rules help you memorizing characters.

The fundamental rules - from top to bottom and from left to right. It is recommended to learn the right stroke order from the beginning; otherwise you may find to write and memorize a Chinese character challenging.


A Chinese radical is a component of a Chinese character. Most of the radicals were once characters themselves, but some are no longer recognizable. Learning the radicals helps you categorize and memorize Chinese characters; some radicals can even suggest the meaning of the whole character, which often relates to the original form of the radical. On the other hand, the non-radical component of the Chinese character often suggests its pronunciation.

Chinese dictionaries contain more than 200 radicals, to memorize the most common ones is not so difficult. Please note that the shape of a radical changes according to its position in the character, and that the same radical could well be found at the top of a character and on the left side of another.

The Art of Calligraphy

The art of calligraphy is highly developed in China. For this purpose a traditional writing brush is employed, and the calligrapher may specialize in one of several different styles. Calligraphy is one of China’s major visual arts, many painters and scholars were also accomplished calligraphers. The cultivation of artistic writing is only one of many practices that show how deeply the writing system is rooted in Chinese culture.

The following is the Chinese character with the meaning of dance.

Chinese calligraphy






Like Semitic writing in the West, Chinese script was fundamental to the writing systems in the East. Until relatively recently, Chinese writing was more widely in use than alphabetic writing systems, and until the 18th century more than half of the world’s books were written in Chinese.

Interested in learning Chinese writing? Start with free Chinese lessons with Kids Chinese Podcast!

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