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Learning etymology from a cat.


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In the last two days I've taken the weirdest dive into Chinese characters.

After my HSK 4 and reading escapade, I've been working a ton on trying to build a broad, etymological understanding of characters. The focus was originally on decomposition for the purpose of creating mnemonics to make characters and words more memorable, but I've gotten more into historical entomology through an old cartoon of all things. A cartoon from the early 2000's to be exact, called 学问猫教汉字 which I'd roughly translate to 'Scholarly Cat Teaches Chinese Characters.' (

Apparently there's also another series where he teaches history as well, but that's tangential.

No idea if it's viewable outside China, but it's been absurdly useful for learning characters from a historical perspective. Surprisingly useful for a series of wacky, eight to ten minute cartoons about a purple cat in traditional Chinese dress teaching two tigers Chinese characters.

It requires some pretty good listening comprehension to understand some of the vagaries, and some patience to wait through all of the antics, but it is a kid's show after all. The language is still pretty simple since it's meant for first graders. I'd say anyone at an intermediate level would be able to get something useful out of it.

The cartoon does a surprisingly good job of explaining the history of characters by showing five to seven of them as they progress from ancient script to modern day Chinese, which has been greatly useful for understanding why certain strokes add onto other characters to change their meaning.

Another helpful thing is that the characters they teach are all grouped by topic where a logical progression exists between them. This is crazy useful for understanding the common threads that run between separate characters. An episode on the common thread between 人,大,夫,立,尸,and 病 blew my mind.

Anywho, this seemed like something useful enough to post to the forum for everyone to take a look at. I'd love to hear what anyone who takes a look thinks of this awkward new obsession of mine.

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Just for future reference, entomology is the study of insects, and etymology is the study of the history of words.


Looks like fun. I can get it in the UK, but the sound quality is not good.

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Thanks Nathan.


Personally, I tend to think that this sort of thing is best done for oneself, but any exposure people get to the idea that characters are either a radical or a mixture of other radicals and components is a good thing. And this is probably far more efficient than doing like I did and looking at ridiculous amounts of characters I didn't know.

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Thanks @li3wei1 and @Nathan for the additions.

@Hedwards, I've been diving into the same thing, but it's kind of nice to hear a Chinese person explaining the pieces. Makes it feel like I'm making a lot less assumptions

@Imron, from what I can tell they stick to 象形字, but there's a cursory explanation of phonetic-semantic characters which are briefly explained when they come up. There's also only 57 episodes (at least on PPTV) so that's only like 250+ characters from the whole series.

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@Kelby, you start with the radicals, there's a bit north of 200 of them, and then there's a few components that aren't radicals which brings things to about 400. Which is overkill. What you do with them is largely up to the person using them as long as they're written correctly and appear in the correct position in the character.


Personally, I tend to use them sort of the way that I use letters in English or as a base for mnemonics when I have a hard time making them stick without.


Not that I'm going to discourage you from these sorts of materials, if they work for you, you're certainly not hurting yourself.

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Biggest surprise to me is they actually have kids doing some of the voices...I've seen them use adult voices dubbing for older teens in the tv serials quite often...

Ugh, that always makes me cringe so much.


Bookmarking this for later viewing.

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