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Random stuff which might have something to do with Chinese

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This was copied from the conclusion of a research paper I wrote. I'm not super confident on the quality of the paper so I'm not putting it here. A lot of this should be "no shit" to many of you. Some of it might be surprising.

A teacher’s ability to naturally gravitate toward good pedagogy depends on target language proficiency, linguistic expertise, and familiarity with current research and technology. Based on the studies referenced in this paper and the discussion in the previous section,

  • Reading complements writing and writing complements reading. They should be developed together, with reading prioritized.
  • Students should not be expected to write whatever they can say or read, but should be expected to write something in order to develop sensitivity to orthographic features of Chinese.
  • Students should be shown and be allowed to use the best learning tools available on their various devices.
  • Allowing novice students to produce written Chinese using phonetic input methods is not a handicap, but a scaffolding tool providing reinforcement of the connection between phonetic notation, meaning, and written representation of words.
  • Learners who are freed from having to handwrite everything in their oral vocabulary should learn handwriting at a more deliberate pace, where more attention is paid to form.
  • In particular, the modular structure of Chinese characters should be taught explicitly.
  • Although unfashionable, rote repetition is still useful in developing motor memory, which automatizes encoding, allowing a focus on meaning.
  • The same stroke order should be followed each time a character is written.


On learning the qin (琴)

Congratulations and happy new year.

It was about 3 years ago that I started learning the qin, or guqin. I thought I'd share my thoughts in case it helps anyone considering learning it.

Musical background

I'm primarily a pianist. I started as a kid, and I'd like to think I'm pretty proficient. I was a finalist in a national competition in high school, but took a break from piano shortly after to study Chinese. At that time, my reasoning was that I wasn't going to be a professional pianist, and I can already play anything I would ever want to play, and so continuing lessons only wastes money and give me unnecessary stress. Despite my hiatus, I undoubtedly got better. Where before I would have vague ideas of what my teacher wanted through her instruction of how things should be played, I later developed more concrete ideas about piano playing, developing principles that I can call my own. Perhaps the lack of regular lessons contributed to this. (I would later resume lessons to complete a music minor.)

I'm also a violinist, but a crappy one. I started as a teenager because I wanted to play in a school orchestra, and also because I wanted to diversify into non-keyboard instruments. Despite learning quickly, I didn't get very far. It took me maybe 3 years to get to Bach's second partita, and that's about where I stayed after I stopped taking lessons. My repertoire is mostly Bach, and once in a while I practice a sonata or partita. Paganini is unapproachable at this point.

First impressions

It was during the piano hiatus, when I was studying Chinese, that I first touched a qin. It was a factory-made qin I ordered from Yangzhou, for about 3000RMB. It came unstrung and so I had to search around and string it myself. There are "sound posts" but there is no risk of them falling. As for quality, I had nothing to compare it to, but I have a feeling it was a decent value, except one part of the nut was too low, causing one string to buzz too easily when plucking near the nut. Later I might raise it with something. Wood filler or lacquer maybe?

Anyway, checking it out reminded me of a guitar (Oh yeah, I played the guitar. I only practiced for 2 weeks and then my friend whose guitar I was borrowing left for Taiwan.) in that the intervals between strings are unequal. I remembered I was having trouble with that. Also, it's quiet. Just drawing from my experience with bowed strings, I think if it were closer to the size of a cello, we could hear more of the strings' energy, but then again, this is traditionally a solo instrument for small audiences. Up close in person, I thought the lacquer finish was quite nice, with particulates embedded in it (maybe this is what was called 鹿角霜.)

First notes

The qin came with a thin textbook, which served as an OK reference. There were a few notable issues. First, playing the qin usually entails having somewhat long nails. Plectra are not used. Because I still regularly play the piano, and because I did not find the difference in timbre between flexing plucks and extending plucks to be a problem, I did not grow my nails out. Also, like the guitar, playing the qin forms calluses on some body parts. Some techniques, such as 跪 (stopping strings with knuckles), are painful and can't be done easily without calluses.

I followed the textbook's introductory lessons up to some point. Checking with online texts and videos, I was able to learn the basics within a few days:

  • Instrument preparation and tuning
  • Posture
  • Basic right hand technique
  • Basic left hand technique
  • Common qin notations.

With this information in place, I was confident that I could start learning music. Part of this confidence came from experiencing exponential decreases in learning time per instrument that I learn. I knew my technique was not as solid as the authors of the book would like it to be, but I also knew from playing other instruments that highly refined technique is usually developed through playing real music.

And here is something I'd like to point out. It shouldn't be a surprise that learning a subsequent musical instrument should be faster than learning previous instruments. When you learn another instrument, you are only learning to control it; you are not relearning how to be a musician. When I started the qin, many concepts about music, psychomotor development, learning strategies, and cognition were already in place. This information allowed me to developed informed strategies as to how to start learning a new instrument.

Certain characteristics from the other instruments transferred though. Perception of intonation was never a problem, and was only a matter of getting used to the distance between one note to the next. I also had the idea of positions and "keys" from playing the violin and guitar. Plucking technique was aided by my attention to hand anatomy from playing the piano.

Jumped in the deep end

Anyway, I knew I was not a typical qin learner, and so after playing some exercises provided in the textbook, I started my first piece, 《梅花三弄》. It was also around this time that I got an opportunity to perform, in three weeks. Because this piece wasn't exactly beginner material, I had to make some compromises. I couldn't take the time to build a solid foundation such that I could learn it the "right" way. I couldn't read qin notation fast enough, and I didn't feel like I could control the instrument naturally. Therefore, I got a score with both Western notation and qin notation (I think it was this one) and added my own color-coded notations to it based on my slow decoding the qin notation. My notations included violin notations to indicate the string, the guitar notations p, i, m, a above or below the staff, and piano fingerings for both hands. I also cut out the stuff after the "三弄" and jumped straight to the end. (Blasphemy, I know.) It took me a week to come up with this strategy.

Then it was just a matter of cramming until the performance date. This would have been impossible had I not had experience learning long, technically demanding pieces. Every decent pianist knows how to do this, but I have a hard time imagining typical guqin players doing this. You know, stuff like...

  • memorizing a small section, memorizing another small section, playing them consecutively.
  • using a metronome to gradually increase tempo
  • automatiziation of motor memory through repetition

I barely made it. My goal was to have it memorized, and I did, but not solidly, and so I had to play with the music in front of me. Furthermore, I had no time to develop it musically, but was able to BS a decent performance from my existing musical intuition.

Current events

Nothing is happening right now, and that's OK. The qin now holds a similar status as the violin in my arsenal. That is, my skills are not as good as they were before, but I'm not worried because I could learn something if I really wanted/needed to. I think of it like putting a system in sleep mode.

P.S. John Thompson's site is a good starting resource for prospective learners. I didn't look at it much, but probably should have.


How to learn cursive (行書)

There was some demand for this. I know much less cursive than I do regular script, but I'll try not to BS.

First, I'm calling 行書 "cursive" as I feel it's the most appropriate translation and its execution is closest to Latin character cursive. 草書 is more like shorthand, which I'll reluctantly call "supercursive." Others might call 行書 "semi-cursive" and 草書 "cursive".


(My everyday handwriting, and example of cursive. It sucks, but it's not wrong.)

In order to learn cursive, you must learn regular script. Cursive is 90% regular script, and its quality will depend on the quality of your regular script. In any fluent writer, cursive script is a reflection of their regular script, so the two scripts will not be significantly different unless they have deliberately made it so.

The first step to learning cursive is to solidify your understanding of regular script. If you need to, read my series on regular script starting here.

Here are some examples of what you need to look out for:

  • Stroke order. Cursive stroke order is almost identical to that of regular script. For example, in Part 5 of my regular script series, the last item on the quiz was about stroke order. You need to get that right in order to understand what’s going on here:


(Ouyang Xun 《千字文》)

You can read about finding regular script stroke orders
. Correct stroke order is also essential for developing an ability to make structurally correct characters. Below I have written "左右" in a correct and incorrect stroke order, demonstrating the effect of stroke order on structure. Incorrect examples are marked with dots on the right.


Yes, there are some instances where cursive stroke order differs from that of regular script. Most of these instances will be because you're writing an abbreviation of some sort. The only case I can think of where the same component is written differently in cursive and regular script is a component where vertical strokes pass through two or more horizontal strokes without passing through the last one, like 土 and 隹. In general, if there is a horizontal stroke at the top, it is written first, then the vertical is written before the other horizontals, unless in 土 above other components (like in 寺) or to the left (like 地) where it resembles regular script stroke order. This only applies to 土. The top of 青 is still 一 丨 一 一.
  • Stroke type. For example, if you are in the habit of ending 羽 with ㇀, you will not only be writing regular script wrong, but impeding your cursive with awkward strokes that don't go anywhere, and if you have this habit, then you are used to awkwardness, and these awkward strokes will go unnoticed. Below I write 羽 alone and as a component in another character with correct and incorrect stroke types. The blue arrows show the writing instrument direction.


  • Width relationships. Cursive permits a wider range of possible width relationships, but in most cases, the only correct one is identical to the regular script one. When you know the correct way(s) to write a regular script character, the cursive character will come naturally. Below, I show correct and incorrect width relationships in regular script, and their effect if translated to cursive.


  • Most common variants. When writing regular script, you can get away with only knowing an orthodox variant, but if the orthodox variant isn't also the most common variant, you will need to learn the most common variant, because the most common form in cursive is almost always based on the most common variant in regular script. Below, I have written (from right to left) an orthodox variant, the most common variant, and cursive. It is rare to find these characters written in orthodox form, and rarer to find them written in cursive based on the orthodox form.


  • Common abbreviations. Many abbreviations found in regular script, often making the difference between the orthodox and most common variant, are also found in cursive. Below I write a character in orthodox form, and again employ some abbreviation(s), and then all of them in cursive.



Notice that the abbreviation of 艹 in 若 is the same as the abbreviation of 从 in 從 and 來. Abbreviations will overlap like this, and will never be used in a context that would create ambiguity.

Once you are confident with these things, you will have established regular script, one extreme in the range of cursive. From this, simply writing regular script fast enough that inertia overpowers your willingness to maintain a clean line will result in a cursive effect. The other extreme of cursive is supercursive (草書). Cursive exists somewhere between these two. For now, because you (probably) don't know supercursive, your cursive would lean toward regular script. Later, if you learn supercursive, you will be able to add supercursive features to your cursive, therefore pushing it more toward supercursive. For example, the way I wrote 隹 in 雖 is a supercursive feature because supercursive draws more on clerical script (隸書) than regular script. If I wanted to, I could also turn 彳 into 氵 or 冫 or 丨, which would be another supercursive feature. Cursive also has its own unique features, such as an abbreviation of 門 rarely seen in supercursive and never in regular script. The best way to pick up these features is to read other people's handwriting.

The best examples of cursive are from Wang Xizhi, Wang Xianzhi, and Zhao Mengfu. I recommend that when practicing someone else's cursive, only aim to reproduce the major features instead of producing a precise copy, as precision is not a primary goal in cursive. As for resources, I've linked to a 書法字典 (search in Simplified Chinese) numerous times in this post. Whole documents can be found here. One particular publication that has helped me a lot is 《王羲之行書字典》. It's about 400 pages of cursive characters. If you take half a day to look through that, it will beat going over the various ways different components are written in cursive.


Some crazy typography


This is a screenshot of a .pdf I found on a Google project about Chinese fonts. One of the first things I thought was "how long did it take for Lietxia to typeset this?"

On the project you can find some fonts that Lietxia made from combining different fonts and somehow making them look coherent. He/she seems to have a fetish for 舊字形...a bit righter in some aspects but not really right.


Handwriting: The minimum requirements (Part 5)

This series is outdated. I wrote a book about regular script, which I recommend over reading this.


(Continued from Part 4)

This is both a review and a quiz. There are no new ideas here.

1. What is 語, with 忄 in place of 言?

a. 誤
b. 吾
c. 情
d. 悟

2. Observe the characters and . Choose the incorrect character.







3. Observe the characters and . Choose the incorrect character.









4. Observe the characters , , and . Choose the incorrect character.









5. Choose the correct character.









6. Choose the correct character.









7. Observe the character . Choose the correct stroke order, from black to red.







Answer key:


1. d

2. c

3. a

4. a

5. a

6. b

7. a

Post a comment if you want an explanation.


Handwriting: The minimum requirements (Part 4)

This series is outdated. I wrote a book about regular script, which I recommend over reading this.


(Continued from Part 3)

Let's start with a...

Warm up:

Kenny asks Eric how to write 春. Eric says "Write 三, then write 人 centered on that, then write 日 under that." If Kenny follows Eric's instructions exactly, will he write 春 correctly?



Perhaps you have heard that mnemonic before, and while it might produce something that people can recognize, it will not be without distraction. Take a look:


There you go. A 三 squished vertically but preserving the long 一, and then a 人 written directly onto that, and then 日 under that. And yes, 人 does start with a rather straight 丿 (source). I hope you see the problem here. There are both a long 一 and a ㇏. There is no problem with the 5th stroke starting above the 3rd stroke (source) although it is better if it doesn't touch the 4th stroke. Now see this character corrected:


The major problem has been corrected. The 5th stroke ends far to the right of the 3rd stroke, as in all examples. It is more tempting than one might think to write that 3rd stroke long. Also, although not critical, the 4th stroke should start more steeply and curve more. I also start the 5th stroke from the 3rd stroke, as is more common.

Moving on. In this post I want to go over gut feeling. I hope over this series you've developed some. Here are some more weird things you might encounter that, like wrong width-relationships, should make you feel like something's off.

One thing is the ㇀ (提) stroke, or rather misuse thereof. This stroke usually comes into being as a modification of some other stroke, usually to ease transition into starting the next stroke. Think of all the ㇀ in the characters you know. Likely there is something following it to the upper right. This is also why ㇀ is never the last stroke of a character. If you find yourself writing ㇀ as the last stroke of a character, then there are two possibilities:

  1. It should actually be some other stroke, this stroke being what became ㇀.
  2. You have written in the wrong stroke order.

As an illustration of number 1, here are a few characters in DFKai-SB:


In 羽, there should only be one ㇀: the 3rd stroke. This is only a ㇀ to ease transition to the next stroke that begins to the upper right. The last stroke should be a 丶 just like the 5th stroke. To make it ㇀ would point it at nothing. In 將, the 8th stroke should also be 丶 because the next stroke starts below it. There is nothing right of it to write. Observe these characters written correctly in Epson 正楷書体M:


This is also the case with the ice radical 冫 as in 冷. The underlying form should just be two 丶, one on top of the other. However, because it is often followed by something to the upper right, the bottom 丶 becomes ㇀. This leads to such hypercorrections as:


That would be Adobe 明體 Std L. Observe this corrected:


As for number 2, let's say you think the stroke order of 耳 is 一 丨 丨 一 一 一, and let's say you look through examples of 聞 because you can't find any 耳 in regular script, and it seems to end with ㇀. You feel like something's wrong here. Actually 2 things: (1) the stroke order is wrong and (2) you probably extended the wrong horizontal stroke. Here I give you Epson 正楷書体M:


...and here is 耳 correctly written with stroke order from black to red:


And as you can see, the last stroke is actually 丨. Enough about ㇀.

Next, a bit about 又. This is very a common character building block. In many typefaces you'll see the 2nd stroke starting where the 1st stroke started, forming a corner:


If your gut feeling has developed sufficiently, you'll find it quite awkward to do so, i.e. to write such a long 一 before turning a corner into a 丿. That is because all of these instances are short, e.g. in 夕, or it's actually a ㇀ like in 水, and so 又 written in this way is wrong. Let's look at the etymology. You should see that this was a picture of a right hand, and likely the original character for 右. Look at the etymology for 右 and you should also see that it's just 又 with 口 under it (which should also explain the stroke order of 丿一 for the tops of 右, 有, and 布), and finally look at examples of 又, and you should see that in all examples, even that first one that's usually wrong, there is an opening in the upper left. And you should also notice that in anything that looks like 又, such as 攵 or 夂 or 夊, the last stroke doesn't start at the beginning of the 一.

Next, I will talk about variants. The Chinese call these 異體字, although this term implies something nonstandard or unorthodox. I consider two characters variants if they differ in stroke type or placement. That means 太 with the dot attached to the 2nd stroke and 太 with the dot centered under the intersection are different variants. The ROC's MOE variant dictionary doesn't even differentiate them. And of course, not all variants are correct.

So, here you are, probably not too experienced with writing Chinese, faced with so many variants and big bad me, who can pick wrong characters out of computer fonts. What do you do? The short answer is: pick one way to write your entire vocabulary and stick with it. As for which variant to pick, pick the most popular among the best examples of regular script. Again, these are 歐陽詢, 顏真卿, 柳公權. Avoid obscure variants. They hinder communication among those who are not well read, or are distracting to those who are. Furthermore, if I see an obscure variant in your writing, and I also see wrong characters, that will not leave a good impression. And remember, only wrong learning and/or carelessness can produce wrong characters; technical deficiencies cannot produce wrong characters, as I illustrated in Part 2 using 月. Also, if you feel like there is a character that is just too awkward to write in its orthodox form, there is likely a common variant that is easier. Examples I can think of are 骨, 斷, 節, 乘, 夷, 皆, 鬼, 策...

However, if/when you get a feel for what is legal and what is not legal, you will find that there is quite a bit of freedom in Chinese writing, and it will feel easier than ever before.

(Continued in Part 5.)


Handwriting: The minimum requirements (Part 3)

This series is outdated. I wrote a book about regular script, which I recommend over reading this.


(Continued from Part 2)

In part 2 I introduced to you some things you should look for when observing example characters. To review, they are

  • What kind of stroke is employed.
  • In relation to other strokes and components,
    • Where it starts
    • What it passes through
    • Where it ends

    [*]In what order it's written

Now we will do some further exercises in observing examples such that good graphemes make it into you head.

First, let's do one exercise regarding length of horizontal strokes. Do you know how to write 三? If you're like most people you probably think the first stroke is longer than the second. Look at these. You should see that they are actually pretty much the same length. If there is any significant difference, then the second stroke is longer. But most importantly, the third stroke is still much longer than the first two. And so here I give you a rule about regular script: In any one character there can be no more than one thing that extends far to the right, and if it's a horizontal stroke, it likely starts on the far left, spanning the whole character. Everything else should usually be much narrower. Therefore, when a character has many uncontained horizontal strokes (i.e. not in 目 or something), pay attention to which one is longest. It will be much longer than the others. Let's examine this in a few more characters.

A close call is not acceptable:


The difference between the longest horizontal stroke and the others must be obvious:


(Verify on 9610.com: , , , .)

And remember, use good examples to make sure the long horizontal stroke is the right one.

華 ←What does that look like to you? Does it look like any of these? Or is it more like


If that looks wrong to you, then you're in good shape, because it should be like


Now, remember that the rule says "in any one character there can be no more than one thing that extends far to the right." This thing doesn't have to be a horizontal stroke. It can be a ㇏ or any hook to the upper right, like ㇂ (or 乚). In any character there will be at most one of ㇏ or ㇂ or 乚 or long horizontal strokes. This rule has a name in Chinese: 一字不二捺. You should remember from before that 捺 refers to ㇏, but in this context, it refers to all of ㇏, ㇂, 乚, and long horizontal strokes. If you find yourself writing ㇏ or ㇂ or 乚 and it isn't the rightmost thing in a character, you're probably doing something wrong.

Observe the following wrong characters:


林 contains two 木. You know that 木 ends with a ㇏ but if you write 林, the first one has to change to 丶. If not, two problems will arise: (1) there are more than one ㇏ and (2) there is a ㇏ that is not the rightmost thing of the character. In 疑 there is the ㇏ at the end, but many people like to write a hook on 匕, and if you don't kill it in 疑, you'll end up with both a 乚 and a ㇏. Remember that there can be at most one of these. 輝 has 光 on the left. 光 ends with 乚 when written alone, but because it isn't the rightmost thing in the character, the hook must come off, which results in a bare horizontal end, and because there is more stuff to write to the upper right, this bare horizontal end becomes a ㇀. In 七 there are both a long horizontal stroke and a 乚. Furthermore, 乚 isn't the rightmost thing. And you should remember 大 from Part 2. The problem in this context is that there are both a long horizontal stroke and a ㇏. Observe these characters corrected:


Next, I will show you more rightward-extending things that can't contend for rightwardness with anything else: components like 宀 and 皿.


...the key word being "contend." Notice 宀 being most rightward in 寶, but giving it up in 安 to the 一 in 女. In 孟, there is 子 and 皿, both having long horizontal strokes when written alone, but when written together 皿 dominates. In 盡 we have 聿+火+皿. 聿 and 皿 have long horizontal strokes when written alone, but in 盡, 聿 dominates.

Below I have written the 266 most common characters in Mandarin as further demonstration of this rule. I have circled the rightmost extender in each character if there is one. Sometimes the character doesn't have one, such as when the rightmost thing is a vertical stroke, as in 個. There will be no ㇏, ㇂, 乚, or long horizontal strokes that do not have a red circle (except in 心), unless I have written incorrectly. A blue asterisk means that there are other correct ways of writing the character where a different stroke or component is extended to the right.


Finally, I will show you some characters straight out of my computer that break this rule:


This is DFKai-SB, or 標楷體, which exhibits the standard character forms of the Republic of China.

Quiz question: Do you know how to correct them?




(Continued in Part 4)


Handwriting: The minimum requirements (Part 2)

This series is outdated. I wrote a book about regular script, which I recommend over reading this.


(Continued from Part 1)

Now that you can identify and reproduce all strokes in regular script, it's time to learn to use them correctly. When looking at an example character, observe the writer's intent regarding:

  • What kind of stroke is employed.
  • In relation to other strokes and components,
    • Where it starts
    • What it passes through
    • Where it ends

    [*]In what order it's written

A note about stroke order: the tl;dr about it is to memorize this list and use Japanese standard stroke order references like this in order to produce correct stroke orders. For more details, read this.

Now I will elaborate a bit about intent. When you try to write 10 of the same character the same way, they will all be different because of human imprecision, although you have the same target character in your mind. The character in your mind is a grapheme (underlying form), and what is written is the surface form. By observing multiple surface forms, you will get a better idea of what the grapheme must be. For example, observe the 1st and 2nd strokes of the many examples of 月 here. In most examples, both of them touch to form a corner. In some examples, they don't touch or almost touch. In even fewer examples, they pass through each other. By observing these examples, one should conclude that they should be ideally touching to form a corner, although if you write 10 of them, and 2 of them look like this:


...and one of them looks like this:


...that's OK. However, no amount of technical deficiency would produce something like this:


Therefore, when writing Chinese characters, it is necessary for your intent to be correct, even if your rendition in some instances is not.

Now let's practice our observational techniques on another character. Look at 大 here. Only look at regular script examples. Here is what I see stroke by stroke:

  • In all examples, the first stroke is a 一. I conclude this is the rule.
  • In all examples, the second stroke is a 丿 that begins somewhere obviously above the first stroke, centered on it, and passes through it, ending either under the beginning of the first stroke or obviously to the left. In most examples it is obviously to the left. I conclude that ideally it is obviously to the left, although not quite getting there is OK.
  • In all examples, the third stroke is a ㇏ beginning at the intersection of the first and second strokes, end extends well past the end of the first stroke, at around the same height as the second stroke. I conclude this is the rule.

Now I try to reproduce it.


  • The first stroke is a 一.
  • The second stroke is a 丿 that begins somewhere obviously above the first stroke, centered on it, and passes through it, ending either under the beginning of the first stroke or obviously to the left.
  • The third stroke is a ㇏ beginning at the intersection of the first and second strokes, end extends well past the end of the first stroke, at around the same height as the second stroke.

If I break the last rule one way or another:


...I will produce wrong characters. On the left I wrote the first stroke too long and/or the last stroke too short. On the right I replaced the last stroke with a 丶, which was in none of the regular script examples.

Now that you know how to write 大, you can use it to learn other characters that contain it, like 天 or 太. Let's look at 太 here.

  • The majority is written like 大. Since you know that already, there is no need to relearn.
  • There is a 丶 placed between the 2nd and 3rd strokes. Most examples place it directly under the intersection (and not halfway between the 2nd and 3rd strokes).

More on that last point, observe this. The dot is placed under the intersection. If it were halfway between the 2nd and 3rd strokes, it would be to the right of the intersection. Technical imprecision can produce a dot that goes anywhere in the area between the 2nd and 3rd strokes, but most examples seem to aim directly under the intersection. Also, some learners who are used to looking at modern typefaces will likely have a grapheme in their heads with the dot attached to the 2nd stroke, even if it ends up left of the intersection. This is because modern Chinese regular script typefaces render it so. Here is DFKai-SB:


Compare with a Japanese typeface Epson 正楷書体M:


Although technical imprecision could cause someone meaning to put it under the intersection to attach it to the 2nd stroke, an intent to do so is inaccurate. One can avoid this by always using good examples. Unfortunately, the best examples are rarely presented to beginners. The tl;dr about good examples is go to a 書法字典 like 9610.com, search for what you want (in Simplified Chinese), and prioritize 歐陽詢, 顏真卿, and 柳公權, being careful not to learn a wrong character because they are misclassified. This might seem like a lot of work, but if you do it, you will find that you will only need to look up simple characters, as complex characters are made of simple components. Furthermore, it isn't much additional work if you are learning characters, as observing example characters in detail only strengthens your character memory.

(Continued in Part 3.)


Handwriting: The minimum requirements (Part 1)

This series is outdated. I wrote a book about regular script, which I recommend over reading this.


This post is meant to provide a clear-cut standard for beginners regarding Chinese handwriting using common hard-tipped writing instruments like pencils and pens, focusing on regular script (楷書). This is necessary because commonly available materials provide inaccurate information or stray too far into aesthetics too early, while neglecting the basics. My goal here is not to get you to write well, but to write correctly. The examples I show are made with a pencil, only caring to ensure that things are correct where they should be, with no attention paid to aesthetics.

First, some axioms.

  • Writing is a form of communication through symbols. Recognition of these symbols without distraction requires them to adhere to certain rules. These rules are called 書法, “writing rules.”
  • Characters in regular script are recognized based on the length, direction, and placement of strokes. Stroke thickness is not essential. Therefore, regular script can be written correctly with a monoline writing instrument. However, an atypical scheme of line thickness variation that becomes distracting is still wrong.

With that, your goal when writing (regardless of writing instrument) should be to communicate without distraction. The most common potential distraction when writing is producing wrong characters. In general, writing something that has not been commonly employed in exemplary pieces of writing for that particular morpheme will probably result in a wrong character. More concretely, the difference between a right and wrong character can depend on:

  • Substitution of one character for another, e.g. dfuebr.jpg instead of 29p5kqw.jpg
  • Substitution of one component for another, e.g. i1a6ie.jpg for 33lyyc4.jpg.
  • Absence of a required stroke (which may result in a substitution), e.g. j58tq1.jpg for 2u9tvf7.jpg.
  • An extra stroke, e.g. s6p01t.jpg for 15z0684.jpg.
  • Stroke placement is incorrect, e.g. osgw15.jpg for sy1eh3.jpg.
  • Substitution of one type of stroke for another, e.g. 1gg5fa.jpg for27xe6s.jpg.
  • Width relationship of certain strokes are incorrect, e.g. s6p01t.jpg for 21lonsw.jpg.
  • Height relationship of certain strokes are incorrect, e.g. 14iebgl.jpg for 214thtd.jpg.
  • Width relationship of certain components are incorrect, e.g. 2ir3rdc.jpg for rjkzrq.jpg.
  • An opening where there should be none, e.g. 5cddlv.jpg for 30htw13.jpg.
  • Lack of an opening where there should be one, e.g. 30htw13.jpg for 5cddlv.jpg.
  • Visibly incorrect stroke order, e.g. 2nvqus8.jpg for 16c2deb.jpg

I think that about covers it. The first piece of homework you have to do, then, is to learn to recognize and reproduce the basic strokes of regular script. They are most reliably recognized by their orientation and curvature. The number of different strokes varies depending on how you count. I only include those which I think differ significantly in technique.

A horizontal stroke, commonly called 橫, is written from left to right. It can be truly horizontal or tilted up at the right a bit. It rare cases it can be tilted down, but not doing so in such a case will not make the difference between a right and wrong character. It may bow up (most commonly) or down in the middle, but not extremely. If you vary the thickness, it must be thick on both ends.


A vertical stroke, commonly called 豎, is written from top to bottom. It must not curve. In most cases it should be ideally truly vertical. In some cases such as in the second stroke of 五 it can slant and still be a vertical stroke as long as it does not curve. When written with line width variation, both ends are usually thick, although in some cases it can end in a point, and sometimes it must end in a point.


A positive-sloped stroke, commonly called 撇, is written from the upper right to the lower left. Lengths and curvatures of these strokes vary greatly. It usually bows down in the middle. In rare cases it must either be completely straight or bow up, such as the second stroke of 為 (examples). If you vary thickness, in most cases it must start thick and end thin. In some cases, such as in the third stroke of 鹿, it may start with a point, however not doing so will not result in a wrong character.


Dots, commonly called 點, are short strokes going in some downward direction, written from the top. When writing with varying line thickness, start with a point and increase thickness until the end.


The dot to the right can be lengthened using the same technique, resulting in a straight or upwards-bowing negative slope stroke, called 長點 or 反捺.


A negative slope stroke that bows down in the middle is called 捺. At the top, if it is closer to horizontal, there is initially a rightward motion. If it is steeper, it starts directly in the downward bow. If it starts in the middle of another stroke, it starts with a point. If not, it likely must start thick, as in the last stroke of 之 (examples).


A stroke that is written from the bottom left to the upper right, and tilts up more than a horizontal stroke, is called 提. These are never the last stroke of a character. They start thick and end thin.


A round curve of about 90 degrees is called 彎. They are usually a transition between a vertical and horizontal stroke.


Hooks, called 鉤, are short attachments to major strokes. Most of them are very straightforward. On horizontal strokes, hooks can only go down. On vertical strokes, hooks can only go left.


One stroke only occurs with a hook. I don't know what it's called, but it occurs in the last stroke of 子 and the second stroke of 狗. It is rather vertical but bows to the right, starting thin and ending thick (where the hook starts, which ends thin again).


Hooks attached to rather steep 捺 are likely called 斜鉤. However, there are steep 捺 where you must not hook, as in the 4th to last stroke of 國 (example). The hook should point straight up or slightly to the right, even if the next stroke occurs left of it, except in 心 and 必, where it should point left.


Corners are the end of one stroke and the beginning of another. Corners can be correctly made by lifting your writing instrument up and starting a stroke that covers the end of the previous stroke. However, if at the end of one stroke you feel that you are prepared to start another, then go ahead and connect them. Note that stroke counts for dictionary classification are made assuming cornered strokes are connected into one where possible. Therefore, while I would write 幺 in 5 separate strokes, a dictionary would say it has 3 strokes.

(Continued in Part 2)


Chinese typefaces (and fonts) and how to use them

Learn Chinese at advanced levels and you’ll eventually have to write a paper, or design something, with Chinese text. I’ve written a paper or two, and so I’ll summarize my preferences regarding Chinese typefaces.

BTW, in this blog entry “typeface” refers to a set of glyphs in many variations in weight, width, Italics or Roman, etc. “Font” refers to a variation. Adobe Garamond and Monotype Garamond are two different typefaces. Adobe Garamond Bold and Adobe Garamond Bold Italic are two different fonts, but the same typeface. These terms are being blurred lately, so elsewhere you’ll probably see them all called fonts.

The three most common Chinese type styles are, in chronological order, regular script (楷書體), Ming (明體), and sans-serif (黑體). You can read a history of these styles (in Chinese) here. To summarize:

  • The first moveable type was from the Song Dynasty, using ceramic tiles in regular script. Compared to most modern regular script typefaces, Song Dynasty regular script typefaces have straighter lines and lower variation in line width. This is what is commonly called imitation Song (仿宋體), although it is still a regular script type style.
  • The Ming style appeared in the Ming Dynasty as a result of straightening regular script lines. I’m not sure why. It was not created to compensate for wood grains. Regular script can be properly carved out of wood. Also, in Mainland China this style is called Song (宋體), which is a bad name at best as there is no evidence of this style appearing before the Ming Dynasty. There have been xenophobic explanations made up in an attempt to support this bad name. This has created a mess of analyses and theories trying to explain the difference between Ming and Song as if they were two different things.
  • Sans-serif Chinese typefaces appeared in the late 19th century, first in Japan, probably from Latin character sans-serif typeface influence.

Use of these type styles depends on medium. On paper, for body text, you’ll most likely see a Ming typeface, although sans-serif is also appropriate and not rare. On screen you’ll most likely see sans-serif. This makes sense as until recently, printers have had a higher resolution than displays. Sans-serif typefaces, with their low contrast, large counters, and frame-filling glyphs, allow for high legibility at low resolutions. Ming typefaces have characters that are more distinct, and a little less legible, but the popularity of Ming typefaces on paper is probably more due to the tradition of using it for printing body text since the Ming Dynasty. Regular script typefaces’ characters are most distinct, but least legible at small sizes, and can occasionally be seen in body text but probably not at small sizes and not smaller than about 48 pixels high, unless the designer has bad taste.

Below I have an example of Chinese text in (from right to left) regular script, Ming, and sans-serif typefaces.


Notice that the Ming and sans-serif examples fill each square more than the regular script example. That is because regular script requires certain strokes to extend out far from the body of the character in order to look right, requiring the body of the character to be smaller in order to fit in the frame.

Therefore, I have some guidelines for Chinese typeface usage. This is my opinion.

  • No more than 2 different typefaces in one document, unless you have a good reason. You can have different fonts but use them appropriately.
  • If you have almost exclusively Chinese text, prioritize vertical orthography, allowing Chinese to be displayed in its natural direction.
  • On screen, prioritize sans-serif typefaces. No Ming typefaces less than 24 pixels high. No regular script typefaces less than 48 pixels high.
  • On paper, prioritize sans-serif and Ming typefaces. No Ming typefaces smaller than 10 points. No regular script typefaces smaller than 18 points.
  • Also, do not shear Chinese glyphs in order to fake an Italic font. Emphasis should be done with emphasis marks, and titles should have 《》 or wavy lines to the left or below.

As for recommended typefaces,

  • I rarely type in regular script. Most modern regular script typefaces are quite objectionable in that there are too many wrong characters and they are too obvious. Just pick one. DF-KaiSB included in Windows doesn’t suck as much as most others. If I absolutely must type something in regular script, I have Morisawa’s 欧体楷書, which has much fewer wrong characters than anything else I’ve seen, whose glyphs I edit as I need to.
  • For Ming, if you want frame-filling glyphs and large counters, Founder’s 博雅方刊宋 is good. If you don’t require counters that are that large, and have the patience, you can use Kozuka Mincho included in a lot of Adobe software and use the glyphs panel to select alternate glyphs when the default one is too Shinjitai for you. If you don't want to deal with glyph selection but want multiple weights, Founder's 雅宋 is one of the few acceptable typefaces. Of course, Ming and sans-serif typefaces contain just as many wrong characters as regular script typefaces, but since it isn’t regular script, it’s less noticeable.
  • If you’re using sans-serif, you probably want legibility and even texture. Microsoft’s YaHei and Founder’s 蘭亭黑 are the best I’ve seen. The former is based on the latter, tweaked to be even more frame-filling and with extensions to the first and second stroke of boxes to make them more distinct (in the regular font. The bold and light fonts lack these extensions.). You can read more about their design here. I find that YaHei can look crowded and slightly messy with the extensions on boxes, while 蘭亭黑 looks simpler. Ideally I would use 蘭亭黑 most of the time and YaHei in sizes below 8 points and on low-density displays. Microsoft JhengHei, done by Monotype, is far inferior to either.

If you can read Chinese, blog.justfont.com is a Chinese typography blog whose author(s) are much more familiar with and anal about Chinese typography than me. Read it and you'll probably become a better typographer.


Lyrics for tonal languages: A sloppy investigation

To what extent do lyrics have to correspond to the tones in tonal languages? I knew they had to, to some extent, but I wanted to find out more about what the rules were. I could hear a strong correspondence in some songs (especially Cantonese) but not others. It seems sometimes tones are completely ignored.

So...I Googled "聲調 歌詞" and found the Wikipedia article 填詞, which said (as of 2013-03-14 09:56‎)



...which might be BS, since I know Minnan has just as many or more phonemic tones than Cantonese, but I'll take note of it anyway.

Let's look at some songs. First, a Mandarin song 七里香, written and sung by Jay Chou, with lyrics by Vincent Fang. Just one verse of

since I don't feel like analyzing so much stuff, and since choruses tend to be more dynamic. So, here's the chorus, the first time, without all the singer's ornaments (which might matter, but probably not as much as the actual notes). I put tone letters next to each character as one would speak the lyrics.


Doesn't seem to have any rule about this, as the Wikipedia article described. For example, at "我的愛溢出" one wouldn't expect 出 the high tone character at the lowest note in the little scale there. Another example is 窗臺. It sounds like 闖胎 or something. And this doesn't have to do with tone but stress seems awkward at times the "子" in "院子" is musically stressed. Same with the first-beat-and-fifth-up-to 的 in "也無法將我的" and "像詩裏紛飛的."

But I've also heard that older songs do more to incorporate tones. Let's look at 晴雯歌 by Cao Xueqin, an insert to the novel Dream of the Red Chamber, set to music (with the modern Beijing dialect in mind) by Wang Liping as an insert to the 1987 drama. Starting

until after they repeat "心比天高..."


Less objectionable, somehow, but somehow I still don't see any real intent to use the tones. Sure, at the end he didn't put 天 on the A and instead saved it for the higher D, but at the beginning there's a 比 on a higher note than 心 and 天. There's "靈巧," with the 巧 on the highest note in the range.

Now let's look at something in Cantonese, 離家出走 by Mark Lui, with lyrics by Albert Leung, sung by Janice Vidal, from



Without exception, the endpoints of the tones (and tone letters) correspond with the notes. A few parts sound close to how one would speak it, such as "也是我運氣." Ornaments might play a role in this, as one can often hear a lower grace note before characters with rising tones. The result is highly intelligible lyrics. This song isn't special, AFAIK, as Cantonese lyrics are usually written in such a manner. So I guess the Wikipedia article is kind of right although some details might be messed up.


Recording of 杜甫's 春望 reading aloud

This is a recording of my reading of 杜甫's 春望 in William Baxter's reconstruction of Middle Chinese that I used for a presentation last week. I thought I'd post it here in case anyone's interested. Also, please offer corrections if necessary. For one I think my nucleus was too open on 深 and 心.

— is 平; / is 上; \ is 去; p, t, or k is 入.

Also color coded for and .


kwok pʰwa\ ʂɛnɣa dzoj/1


dʑjeŋ tɕʰwin tsʰaw/ muwk ɕim


kom/ dʑi xwæ tsjen\ lwij\


ɣon\ bjet tew/ kjæŋ sim


pʰjowŋ xwa/ ljen sam ŋjwot


ɕjo tej/ mjwon\ kim


k duw saw kæŋ\ twan/


ɣwon jowk pjut ɕiŋ tʂim

1. The recording says /tsoj上/. It should be /dzoj上/.


Why people think Chinese has no grammar

I have often heard of observations that Chinese grammar is flexible or even that it doesn't have any grammar. This is of course false, as is easily demonstrated in that the meaning of following two Mandarin sentences can be differentiated:



But what, then, are they talking about when they say that Chinese grammar is flexible or that Chinese doesn't have grammar? This is just speculation, but I would think that they have some experience with subject-prominent languages, like English, where there are such things as conjugation (I am, you are), inflection (go, going, gone,...went!), articles (the, an), and such seemingly more "strict" rules such as that there must be a subject in an English sentence, such that we need dummy subjects (it is raining). So this is their idea of grammar.

Topic-prominent languages, such as Chinese, lack such features. Seeing this lack, the uninitiated will say that there is no grammar as they know it.

But while I'm at it, let me clarify this topic/subject stuff for posterity. Both Chinese and English are subject-verb-object (SVO), where in most sentences, the subject is first, then the verb, then the object. Examples:

I (subject) drink (verb) tea (object).

(subject) (verb) (object)

And yes, I know that "Tea I drink" is also a valid sentence that means the same thing on the surface. I will get to that later.

They are both topic-comment languages, where the topic (what is being talked about) comes before the comment (what is said about the topic). Examples:

I (topic) drink tea (comment).

(topic) 喝茶 (comment)

The difference is that English is a subject-prominent language, where SVO is the primary structure, and Chinese is a topic-prominent language, where topic-comment is the primary structure. Now, about "Tea I drink."

Tea (topic) I drink (comment).

(topic) 我喝 (comment)

Now the example sentences are about tea. The new information is now "I drink." The English example uses a secondary way of indicating the topic, where the primary way is intonation. In contrast, the Chinese sentence shows Chinese's primary way of indicating topic: putting it in front. These are also examples of subjects and topics being different.

Check for understanding:

Consider the topic(s), comment(s), and subject(s), if they exist, in each sentence in the following passages.

  • The forums have been taken over by zombies. They're impossible to read.
  • Tea I drink. Wine I burn. It's how I roll.

Extra credit :wink: : Same thing.

  • 我以毒殺王
  • 殺王者 我也
  • 所以殺王 毒也


A 蘇軾 poem and a quiz






I asked this in a Facebook group about 2 weeks ago and nobody's gotten it right yet. I suspect you lot will do much better.

In the above poem, what is the tone of 看?

A. 平

B. 上

C. 去

D. 入

The correct answer is:

A. 平. There are several ways you can tell. You might recognize this as a heptasyllabic quatrain (七言絕句), where the second and fourth lines (and sometimes the first) rhyme, and the rhyming characters must be a 平 tone. If not, you can see that 寒 and 盤 are both 平 tone, so in order to rhyme, 看 also has to be 平 tone. If you didn't get any of that, then you might know that in Middle Chinese (蘇軾's language), 看 in a 平 tone means "look", while in a 去 tone means "cover eyes with hand" or "try".


Spring couplets

So...I wrote 3 spring couplets to put on doors and stuff.



Anything wrong with them?


If you see something wrong, you'd best tell me because I don't.


This is an extension of "Newb Questions That Never Get Good Answers: Part 3." Please read it in order to understand this.

I have said that the Japanese stroke order standard screws up the least of all. However it still screws up. I have recently realized that they screw up so little, that the incorrect stroke orders can be listed here and memorized in a few minutes.

土(王生里): 楷書 stroke order resembles 行書 stroke order. Rarely will you find an exception. This is one. In 行書, when 土 occurs above other components, such as in 寺, it is 一丨一. If it occurs elsewhere, it is 丨一一 (although it is sometimes 一丨㇀ when on the left). Also, when characters have parts that resemble 土 (usually on the bottom), it will also follow the 行書 stroke order for 土, e.g. 王 in 行書 is 一丨一一, 生 is 丿一丨一一, 里 is 丨乛一一丨一一. However, in 楷書, 土 is 一丨一 in all cases. 生 is 丿一一丨一. 里 is 丨乛一一一丨一. This aids in maintaining regularity, which is a defining characteristic of 楷書.

上(占卓): 上 should be 一丨一. The first 一 can be replaced by 丶 or ㇀ (à la 歐陽詢, among others). Other places where there are two strokes that resemble the first two strokes of 上, such as in 占 and 卓, are also like this.

必: 丿㇃top丶left丶right丶. The top 丶 can be replaced by a small 丿 (歐陽詢).

那: The left part should be 丿㇆一一. This part is a 楷化 version of the the 草書 of 冉. One can see this stroke order in anyone's 草書 or 行書.

無: 丿一一一丨丨丨丨灬. The fourth 丨 can be replaced by 丿 (歐陽詢, 顏真卿, 柳公權, among others).

馬: 丨一一一丨㇆灬. 田蘊章 says that 一丨一一丨㇆灬 is also acceptable. I see 丨一... more often in 行書 (I can't tell for certain in 楷書)

㠯: 田蘊章 says it's 一丨一 in all cases. I've never seen this in 行書. In 楷書, maybe if the 丨 doesn't extend above the first 乛. I find 丨一 most likely in most cases. Just be careful not to mix up 官 and 宦 in 行書.

隹: 丿丿丨一一一丨一. It might seem otherwise, as the left part resembles 亻, but all of the evidence I've seen suggests that it is as I have described. 田蘊章 either disagrees or did not catch this. On the beginning of the second 丿 is usually an additional rightward movement (歐陽詢, 顏真卿) making it look something like ㇇.

艹: Graphemically 丨一一丨 but often rendered 丨㇀一丿. Sometimes this entire component is replaced by [丷 above 一], even in 楷書 (歐陽詢).

臼: 丿丨一乛一一.

Once you remember these stroke orders, the rest can be looked up in any Japanese standard stroke order reference, such as kakijun.main.jp.


Which contraction is it?

Background information

In Classical Chinese, the object of a negated verb is often transposed between the negating modifier and the verb if the object is a pronoun. For example, to say "The ancients cheat me," one might say "古人欺余." To negate this sentence, one might say "古人不余欺."

弗 is considered a contraction of 不之 ("not...it"), while 云 is considered a contraction of 曰之 ("say it").


How would one say "'Flower [花]', the ancients do not say it?"

Underlyingly, one might be thinking "花 古人不曰之 → 花 古人不之曰," but what if one wanted to contract something?
Is this a case similar to the English "that isn't it" and "that's not it?"
If it is, is it "花 古人弗曰," or "花 古人不云," or are both acceptable?

Trivia: In 《說文解字注》 is written 華 俗作花 其字起於北朝 按華字古韻在魚部 漢以後轉入歌部 後出之花字从化得聲 化字古韻正在歌部


Chinglish I said today

It's a hot summer night. It rained a little, but I thought it wasn't enough, so I said...

"天 needs to 雨 some more. Maybe it will 涼 my 屋."

Pop quiz: Which tone is 雨?

A. 平

B. 上

C. 去

D. 入

The answer is

C. 去. The verb 雨 "to rain" is pronounced 王遇切 (yù), i.e. with 去聲. One can check any large dictionary such as 國語辭典.


Auspicious-name-by-stroke-count bullshit

Some of you might have seen this before in various forms, but here I refer to the one on pinyin.info.

Of course, anyone who knows a bit about Chinese characters could come up with a load of reasons why that is a load of bullshit. I give you the following facts (or if they're not facts, correct me with citations) which may be used to disprove the bullshit:

  • The first Chinese characters are pictograms and ideograms. These varied in "stroke count," even when written (or carved or whatever) the same way.
  • When they became glyphs, their usage and writing became arbitrary, and still varied.
  • When compound characters were created, writing still varied.
  • Only during the Ming Dynasty (i.e. late after the development of kaishu) did anyone reasonably care about stroke count.
  • Different variants may have different stroke counts.
  • The Kangxi dictionary method is only one method of counting strokes.


Give one reason why the chart is bullshit.


Is this a couplet?

One might see pairs of lines of words hung up on either side of doors around this time of year. They're supposed to be couplets. The link below shows one I saw today. Is it a couplet?


OK, so I'll give you that it isn't a couplet. The question is why.

Quiz: Name one thing wrong with this "couplet."

Extra credit: Name all things wrong with this "couplet."

Extra extra credit: Write an acceptable left line for the right line "延年益壽開泰運."


Newb Questions That Never Get Good Answers: Part 3

What’s the correct stroke order of…?

Questions like this make me want to leave and go to sleep; hoping that somehow somebody could just figure it out themselves. However, it would take a huge dose of luck for the average newb (and his/her friends) to figure out the correct stroke order of a character whose stroke order is worth asking about. It would take even more luck for them to figure out the whole situation of stroke orders of Chinese characters. It’s also a hassle to explain the whole situation of stroke orders. Even if the whole situation were explained, there’s still a deep root stuck in Chinese calligraphy that needs explaining, so I feel like I have to write a textbook if I want to get anyone to understand what the correct stroke order of something is. But dammit, that’s what I’m going to try right here.

The first thing I want to talk about is language. Language can only exist if two or more people share linguistic expectations. If expectations are shared among all or almost all of a population, they become linguistic rules. When someone learns a language, they learn the rules of the language, which are the linguistic expectations of the users of the language. In the case of English (which I hope you’re familiar with), such rules can be about spelling, vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. There are rules about writing Chinese called 書法 (technically only meaning “writing rules” but one can infer that because this term is in Chinese it refers to the writing rules of Chinese. This is often translated as "Chinese calligraphy." Note also that this term is commonly misused to refer to a creative art that is based on script). These rules include rules about stroke order.

What are the stroke order rules? I need to make a premise that if people think something is written well, it is written with a correct stroke order. Throughout Chinese history, there have been many written materials, many of which are considered to be written well, i.e. they are examples of good handwriting. Among those examples of good handwriting, there are some that are considered the best. These are the models on which people of later generations base their handwriting. Among these one can find patterns, trends. There are trends that are universal, existing in all pieces of Chinese writing, and some that are only consistent on the pieces of good handwriting. Among these are trends in stroke order. If one finds the stroke order of a certain character is the same universally or almost universally, one may consider that as the correct stroke order and that it is a rule. If one finds uncommon stroke orders, one may consider them as discouraged stroke orders. Stroke orders that never or almost never occur may be considered incorrect.

How does one tell what the stroke order of a character was by looking at it? One cannot be absolutely sure without having seen it written, but in many cases, one can get pretty damn sure. One thing to look for is the shape of the strokes. It might take a little imagination, but one can picture what the most likely movement that produced that shape is. This should be easy in script styles where inertia significantly affects the shape of a stroke, such as in 行書 and 草書. Another thing to consider is the evolution of the character. Sometimes the shape of a character in an older form will give hints on its stroke order. Again, this might take some intuition, but sometimes very obvious hints will be obtained. Also consider that for a given script style, if the stroke order of an ancestor and descendant script style are the same, it is likely that the stroke order of the script in question is also like that of its direct ancestor and descendant. If its direct ancestor and descendant differ, it is more likely to be like either of them than like a more distant relative.

Using the methods explained above, among others, the stroke orders of almost all characters have been found with certainty. What’s there to discuss then?

There exist modern regional standards for Chinese characters. See my blog post Newb Questions That Never Get Good Answers: Part 1 and read about them. In addition to standardizing the forms of Chinese characters, the modern governments also standardized the stroke orders.

Standardized stroke orders are described in:

All standards differ. All standards clearly have many inaccuracies. Remember, if you never or almost never see a stroke order in the best examples of handwriting, it’s wrong. Many of the stroke orders prescribed in the standards have absolutely no evidence to support them in any samples of handwriting even considered remotely good. That creates a huge mess because in every region where Chinese characters are written in the primary language of the region, students learning the languages are probably taught according to the governmental (educational) standard. Because of this, almost all who grew up in China, Taiwan, or Japan grew up writing incorrect stroke orders. Even ethnic Chinese and Japanese growing up outside the Sinosphere are influenced by the standards. Therefore, the most likely topic in discussions about stroke order is the differences between standards, with the participants most likely not knowing that they are talking about standards.

Imagine how one would join in such a discussion and rectify it. Let us say they were talking about the character 有. The correct stroke order is 丿 first. The Japanese standard matches this, while the ROC, PRC, and Hong Kong standards write 一 first. I would imagine that they are debating over whether the “Chinese stroke order” or the “Japanese stroke order” is correct. You might even read something like “We’re talking about Chinese characters, which the Chinese created, so of course they would be correct,” not being aware of how diligently the Japanese studied Chinese calligraphy before World War II and how rapidly the caliber of writing in China declined after the fall of Qing. If one were to just go in and say “丿 first” one can imagine how quickly they would conclude that you’re siding with the Japanese for some illogical reason. No, that won’t work. The only way you’ll get your point across is to start from the beginning like I did here. Additionally, you’ll need to show them images of models in order to take care of those who are extra skeptical. This is where a 書法字典 would come in handy, but if you don’t have one, online versions of 書法字典 also work, although they are not as complete and sometimes contain fake characters (i.e. they say someone wrote something some way but it was really a modern person writing it to look like someone’s writing) and misidentified characters. But what if they were talking about character that none of the standards prescribe correctly, like 無? Then you need to make it extra clear how sloppily the standard stroke orders were prescribed.

If you want a quick way to find the correct stroke order of a character, please see the extension entry to this entry.


  1. Only one modern standard prescribes the correct stroke order for 布. Which is it?
  2. What is the correct stroke order of 隹?



A couplet (對聯) is a pair of lines of meter. One may often see them on the sides of doorways or on columns on either sides of a passage. If some architectural structure has a line of text on either side of it with the same number of characters in both lines, it's probably a couplet. Also, many poems are made entirely of couplets. Couplets mounted around the Spring Festival are called 春聯.

All couplets have the following features.

  • Both lines have the same number of characters.
  • The lexical category of each character in one line is the same as that of its corresponding character in the other line.
  • The tone pattern of the even-ordered characters in one line is the inverse of that of the other. That is if one character is of a level (平) tone, its corresponding character in the other line is of an oblique (仄) tone, and vice versa. This is also usually the case in the odd-ordered characters.
  • The last character of the first line is of an oblique tone, which forces the last character of the second line to be of a level tone.
  • The meaning of the two lines are related, with each pair of corresponding characters having related meanings also.

An example of a couplet is



The tone pattern is



Middle Chinese tones can be looked up in 廣韻, whose data have been entered into an Excel database available for download here.


This and this are links to images of two lines in a couplet. Which should be on the left and which should be on the right?

Extra credit:

According to the blog entry "5 Steps to Reading Classical Poetry in Modern Mandarin", write how one should read this couplet in Pinyin.


5 Steps to Reading Classical Poetry in Modern Mandarin

I posted this in the forums, but I want to post it in this blog too, and with additional content. I made this for a class and I thought I'd share. It is aimed at people who only speak Chinese languages that don't have entering tones (such as Standard Mandarin).

"how to read classical poetry in modern mandarin.pdf" is a printed PowerPoint presentation.

"5 steps.pdf" is a poster outlining the process.

"excel quiz.xlsx" is an Excel quiz.

Download all files from this page.


Chinese homework assignment scoring

This is a scan of an exercise from the textbook Reading Into a New China: Integrated Skills for Advanced Chinese (don't know which volume) by Duanduan Li and Irene Liu. This exercise was used as a homework assignment for a third year Mandarin course at the University of Utah in Spring 2010.

The following links to one student's submission. This student got 10 out of 10 possible points on this assignment.

Page 1, 2, 3.


Do you agree with the scorer's score?

Is there anything in this student's submission that should have earned the student less than 10 points?

What score would you have given?

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