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Altair

Stroke Order

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Altair

Is the actual stroke order important? I don't follow the "official" stroke order, just the general rules and my characters look fine. Just remember, top to bottom, left to right, etc.

This quote inspired me to start a new thread, rather than probably clog up the old one. My comments are not aimed at Nipponman, since I think he knows most of what I say below.

Why bother with stroke order at all?

At the fundamental level, stroke order of characters is analagous to stroke order of letters. If you draw the strokes of a letter, such as "b," out of order or in the wrong direction, it can look lopsided or strange. Changing the stroke order can also eliminate or distort tiny features that seem insignificant, but actually aid in recognition. For instance, it would seem possible to draw a "b" in one continuous circling stroke, but this eliminates the projection at the bottom left and makes it look like the Greek letter beta.

The above considerations are greatly magnified if you consider drawing characters with a brush. It is almost impossible to draw a truly symmetrical stroke with a brush, and so left and right and up and down matter to how the stroke will look. Although most characters we encounter today are printed or written with pen or pencil, their shapes are still based on the brush-drawn characters. One calligraphy book I have deals expressly with characters drawn in pen and pencil and requires that even such simple strokes as 一 not be symmetrical. In the font I am using, you can also see that the printed 一 is not symmetrical.

Stroke order is also one method of indexing characters that most dictionaries have. I personally rely on this method less and less, but at the peak may have used it to look up 30% of unknown characters. Now I would say I use it for only 1 or 2%, when I use materials that have no other method. It does seem, however, to be a popular method of indexing among Chinese only materials.

Calligraphy

In Calligraphy, the balance of a character becomes a prime consideration. Because of this, calligraphers have come up with stroke orders that help the calligrapher to draw consistent and balanced characters. Changing the order can change the ballance. For instance, it is easy to draw a piercing stroke, such as the horizontal stroke in 母 through the middle of a character, but quite difficult to build the same balance if the piercing stroke is drawn earlier in the stroke order. A character like 世 would also have a different balance, depending on when the horizontal stroke is drawn. (In this case, it is drawn first, and the other strokes "hang" off of it.)

Because of the nature of brush strokes, characters do not just have a two-dimensional appearance, but take on a four-dimensional reality. The closest thing in working with an alphabet might be a signature, where the method the writer used to form his or her name seems to be visible across time. Just as with signatures, forming characters in a sequence that "makes sense" greatly aids recognition. It also greatly adds to the beauty of writing, since the viewer can visualize the calligrapher's brush in motion and see something of the various pressures and speeds used to from the characters. You can visualize where and how the calligrapher lifted the brush from the paper and put it back down.

行书/行書 (Xing2 Shu1) Running Script and 草书/草書 (Cao3 Shu1) Rough/Grass Script

Issues of stroke order become greatly magnified when dealing with 行书 and 草书, just as they do when trying to decypher signatures written in cursive. Being able to track in your mide how the strokes were probably formed helps in recognizing what stroke or strokes the writter intended.

What is "Official"?

Although just about everyone has sense that each character has an "official" stroke order, I think this is not true. At various times and at various places, it seems that people have looked to different authorities. I think such variation is equivalent to how people shape their 4's, 7's, or S's. Within a certain limit, variation is okay. It is a question of whether to give priority to minimizing the number of strokes, maintaining consistent patterns, or balancing the placement of the characters.

Examples of characters where I have come across variant stroke orders are: 田 (tian2), 隹 (zhui1), 耳 (er3), 臣 (chen2). Another problem is that the stroke orders among the various scripts is also somewhat different. This means that the stroke orders of 楷书 (kai3 shu1) Regular/Model Script are altered for the sake of economy when forming the strokes of 行书 and 草书.

From a post somewhere else on this board, I recall someone implying that the authorities in mainland China have come up with stroke orders that differ somewhat from what traditional calligraphers prescribed. The poster said that the Japanese authorities have generally stayed with the calligraphic order. I do note that the stroke orders I learned for Japanese Kanji do frequently differ from what my Chinese sources say.

General Rules vs. "Official" Stroke Orders

The advantage of general rules such as "Top to bottom and left before right" is that they cover a large number of cases. The disadvantage is that there are still a great number of characters where the general rules do not tell you what to do. I think the reality is that the best way is to rely on the "rules" until they result in ambiguity, and then to consult with an authority to resolve the ambiguity.

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nipponman

Interesting post Altair. I tried to write the characters 田 (tian2), 隹 (zhui1), 耳 (er3), 臣 (chen2). To see the stroke order that I used, and I had to write slower. For 田 I wrote the horizontal stroke from the left first, then the combination stroke from left to right and up and down (one stroke), then the middle vertical line, and the middle horizontal line, then the bottom horizontal line. I then tried it with other stroke orders and I found I couldn't write as quickly or draw the character as accurately. I must submit that apart from overlap between general rules and official rules, I don't know any official stroke orders. I think, just for those not learning caligraphy, that stroke order is being deemphasized. I think it is more important to know how to count strokes. Plus many kanji have widely differening stroke orders eg. according to 高杉先生 左 is drawn as 一ノ工 and 右 is drawn as ノ一口, from http://www.sf.airnet.ne.jp/~ts/japanese/message/jpnDwSsZiGcDwSSBIyT.html I agree with him that it is pointless to draw the same radical two different ways. He says that the radical writing order is important, and I find that I use this exclusively to determine how I write a character.

Anyway, that and the fact that gahoh.com and ocrat.com show different stroke orders for the same character lead me to believe that stroke order isn't important, unless, that is, you are a caligrapher. Then, stroke order is the world. The general rules for Japanese stroke order are posted on the net somewhere, I think at theJapanesepage.com but its been quite a few years since i've been to that site.

This is a very interesting topic, and I can't wait to see some native opinions on this.

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Altair

I think that 右 and 左 are an interesting example. I think that in older reference works, the top radical was seen as being different and that 有, for instance, was classified with 右, but not with 左. There may also be a difference in how the two strokes might be connected in cursive writing. With 右, you might connect the two at the left, and with 左, you might connect them at the right. Lastly, I think that when I used to draw these two strokes, I did not make them quite identical. With 右, I made the top element more "on top," while I made it more to the left with 左. In other words, I make the proportions slightly different.

The issue of proportion also comes up with the 厂 element of 反 and 成. In 反, the top is drawn first. In 成, the left is drawn first.

With 田, the Japanese order is:

1. left side of the box,

2. top and right side of the box,

3. vertical middle stroke,

4. horizontal middle stroke, and

5. horizontal bottom stroke.

The current Chinese order seems to be:

1. left side of the box,

2. top and right side of the box,

3. horizontal middle stroke,

4. vertical middle stroke, and

5. horizontal bottom stroke.

In Japanese, if there are three or more horizontal strokes, the last two are done last and together. In current Chinese materials, the rule that horizontal precedes vertical seems to be maintained regardless. 隹 is another example of this. In Japanese, the last two strokes are the two horizontal ones on the right side. In current Chinese materials, the last two strokes are the vertical one on the right side, followed by the horizontal one at the bottom.

The stroke orders that drive me craziest are the ones like 書 and 筆, where the 聿 element has to be done differently.

One argument for consistent stroke orders that I forgot is that it can help in memorization. I would have to admit, however, that "consistent" does not have to be the same as "official."

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nipponman

Interesting. Even though that thread is done, but the fact that there are two different stroke orders in chinese and japanese shows that it is not as important as some have made it to be.

One argument for consistent stroke orders that I forgot is that it can help in memorization. I would have to admit, however, that "consistent" does not have to be the same as "official."

Really? How does that work? the only way I can think of is that you could differentiate characters like 書 and 筆.

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Altair

Drawing characters in a consistent way would seem to help with muscle memory and also with recognizing patterns among the various elements.

By the way, you can get a sense of what I was saying about cursive if you compare the hiragana for "a" and "me." (I cannot figure out how to type them on this computer.) Which do you think is actually the 草书 equivalent of 女? If you ignore the stroke order, you are likely to make the wrong guess.

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nipponman

You mean あ and め? I would guess that め is the cao3 shu1 cursive style. Not only because of the stroke order for め but also because 女is pronounced め too.

Drawing characters in a consistent way would seem to help with muscle memory and also with recognizing patterns among the various elements.

Come to think of it, I agree. I guess I have been writing the same characters the same way for so long I forgot how important it is to write them uniformly and orderly. I'm sure most beginners struggle with their characters looking not so good.

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malinuo

A major reason to stick to the standard stroke order today is computer character recognition. Dictionaries for Palm and the Windows IMEs use the stroke order as a help to find the right character. PAdict Japanese dictionary for the Palm is very sensitive in this respect and will never recognise a character if you draw it in the wrong order. This unfortunately means that you will have to learn both Japanese and Chinese stroke order for the same character to find it.

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dean2000

I bought the tool from abcconcept.ca, and here are the stroke order rules it lists with a few examples:

1. top before bottom

2. left before right

3. horizontal before vertical

4. right-left diagonal before left-right diagonal

5. outside before inside

6. middle before two sides

7. outside before inside, then close

8. top before inside, then left and bottom

are those all the rules?

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atitarev

Knowing the rules is important but you get a lot of confusing characters still and various sources can give you different version. E.g. how many strokes are in 了? Apparently 1 but it's 2. What's the direction of the top stroke of 任 - right-to left? It's from right to left. Is the left part of 亻written from top to bottom or otherwise - it's from top to bottom. These examples are not complex and I can't think of the complex ones right now with complex stroke order but you know what I mean.

Wenlin software is good for showing stroke orders - it's pretty unique in this sense. I wish I had a Chinese book dictionary to show stroke orders - there's an excellent Japanese dictionary for this and other stuff.

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Jose

A very common character where there seems to be a discrepancy between the stroke order prescribed by textbooks and the one used by most people is 里. I always write it by starting with something like 旦 and then adding the vertical and the final horizontal stroke, in that order. This is basically what textbooks generally say. However, I've noticed that most Chinese people write it as 甲 followed by the two horizontal strokes at the bottom, so maybe I should correct my habit. How do you guys write this character? Does anyone know whether one way can be considered more correct than the other?

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atitarev
...However, I've noticed that most Chinese people write it as 甲 followed by the two horizontal strokes at the bottom, so maybe I should correct my habit. How do you guys write this character? Does anyone know whether one way can be considered more correct than the other?

The same stroke order is prescribed by Wenlin software.

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laohei

I've studied chinese for over two years in china and have come to realise that the stroke order is very important. You see with the stroke order the most important part is where you start and where you end the stroke. If we try and copy it like a drawing it just doesn't look right, its not proportionant and looks like a right mess compared to a standard chinese persons writing.

I remember when i first went for lessons and i couldn't keep up with the teacher writing on the black board but the guy next to me was keeping up. Here he told me it takes longer if you try and copy rather than write, really it does make hell of a lot of difference.

the basics are you start from top left and work your way down to the bottom

e.g

口 kou. the left line from top to bottom first

the line across the top and without lifting the pen off the paper you should continue right down to right bottom corner. for the final stroke it should start from left to right.

国 guo. so once again from left to right and top to bottom.

hope you can understand this.

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adrianlondon

I write 里 as explained in the first option (don't know how to enter the parts of the character in WinXP), in other words ending with the vertical line then the bottom horizontal stroke.

I'm sure it'll look just as fine done the other way.

However, when I tried it, it "felt" wrong. Not because it's not as good, but because it's not what I'm used to.

It was mentioned above by someone else, and I strongly agree ... once you've learnt a way to write the character then, unless it doesn't look right, stick with it. That way, you'll instinctively know when you write the character correctly in future as it'll "feel" right just as much as it looks right on paper.

When testing myself, I know I've got a character wrong even if I stare at it and think it's ok. It just "felt" wrong to write. If you don't have a rigid stroke order then you lose that feedback.

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Quest
However, I've noticed that most Chinese people write it as 甲 followed by the two horizontal strokes at the bottom, so maybe I should correct my habit. How do you guys write this character?

That's how I write it.

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xiaojiang216

I was searching the forum to see if anyone had posted any links to help me study stroke order before I started a new thread... I am SO glad I did that! I have found perhaps the most helpful website to help me study 汉字!

Thanks to Dean2000, who provided the website:

http://www.eon.com.hk/estroke/

Phenomenal! :D I never realized how many characters I have been writing in the wrong order! 难怪我写的汉子是这么难看的哦! :oops:

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mrtoga

I think stroke order is more important for memorization rather than aesthetic reasons. I am realistic enough to realize that my Chinese characters are never going to be artistic masterpieces, however until you can write in a "flowing" manner it is very difficult to keep characters in your head for longer than a few days. As long as you "flow" in a relatively consistent manner and follow the basic rules your writing should be legible.

The ones I have trouble with are the ones that have bits that don't conform to the patterns you see in 95% of characters. Recent examples are 瀣 xie4, 肆 si4, 焉yan1, 殷 yin1, 撰zhuan4 Whenever I come across these I write them out several times, but am resigned to the fact that in a week's time they will once again evade my best efforts to reproduce them. Then I give thanks to the God of Software Developers for the gift of the wordprocessor.

Has anyone found a good method for retaining particularly awkward characters in their memory?

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amego

HiHi, my fav example: 女, if u don't follow the stroke order, its gonna be extremely improportional and ugly :mrgreen:

Also, as a left-hander, I write all my horizontal strokes from right to left, muhahaha:)

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nipponman
HiHi' date=' my fav example: 女, if u don't follow the stroke order, its gonna be extremely improportional and ugly

Also, as a left-hander, I write all my horizontal strokes from right to left, muhahaha[/quote']

Hey, me too!

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mrtoga

Thanks guys - after 10 years studying Asian languages I finally learn the correct stroke order of 女, perhaps the most important word in the whole world. :mrgreen:

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