The Fundamentals of Chinese Stroke Order

Many people are often fascinated and attracted by Chinese characters. At first glance, characters may look like bizarre pictograms, randomly drawn at will. But did you know that Chinese characters all consist of different stroke orders and follow a specific set of rules?

What is Chinese stroke order, and how important is it?

Chinese character stroke order, called 笔画顺序 (bǐhuà shùnxù) or 笔顺 (bǐshùn) for short, refers to the order in which the separate strokes that make up Chinese characters are written.

Many new learners often wonder whether stroke order is even important. After all, if you can successfully write a legible version of a Chinese character, then surely that's all that matters, right? Especially today, when Chinese characters are often digitized and most people rarely need to write anything by hand, learning stroke order may seem irrelevant.

Although these points are valid, stroke order is still critically important. Knowing stroke order accelerates the memorization of characters and unlocks a deeper understanding of the structure of every Chinese character you encounter. Understanding Chinese stroke order rules is also incredibly useful when trying to find less commonly used characters in dictionaries or via text prediction on your keyboard.

Correct stroke order also ensures good form and presentation of the character, and is deeply connected with the history of the Chinese language itself. After all, Chinese characters are an art form, and the rules of stroke order are especially important when it comes to writing Chinese calligraphy.

Understanding stroke order allows you to find characters via stroke type on a Sogou keyboard.

Note that stroke order can actually vary depending on the language in question. There are several different languages that still use some Chinese characters and derivatives (also known as CJK characters). These include Japanese and Korean and classical Vietnamese.

When Chinese characters are used in these languages, they may be written using different stroke order rules. This article, however, will focus on the standard stroke order rules used to write Chinese characters in China.

How many total possible strokes are there in Chinese?

There are 41 basic and compound Chinese strokes. However, they are generally categorized into eight basic types, also known as the 永字八法 (yǒngzìbāfǎ; Eight Principles of Yong). This name derives from the fact that the character 永 (yǒng) encompasses all eight of the main Chinese strokes.

The eight basic strokes used to write Chinese characters are as follows:

animated gif showing the stroke order for the chinese character 永

The character 永 (yǒng) makes use of all eight Chinese stroke types.

Each Chinese stroke type has a different name associated with it.

NameStrokeDescription
横 hénghorizontal stroke
竖 shùvertical stroke
撇 piě丿left-slanting downward stroke
点 diǎndot stroke
捺 nàright-slanting downward stroke
提 tíupward lifting stroke
折 zhé𠃍folding stroke
钩 gōuvertical hook to the left stroke

To see the Eight Principles of Yong in action, check out the following YouTube video:

The six main rules of Chinese stroke order

Here are the main stroke order rules for writing simplified Chinese characters:

1. Top to bottom

Chinese: 从上到下 (cóng shàng dào xià)

Example characters: 言, 方, 茶

2. Left to right

Chinese: 从左到右 (cóng zuǒ dào yòu)

Example characters: 位, 林, 红

3. First horizontal, then vertical

Chinese: 先横后竖 (xiān héng hòu shù)

Example characters: 干, 丰

4. First right-to-left diagonals, then left-to-right diagonals

Chinese: 先撇后捺 (xiān piē hòu nà)

Example characters: 八, 人, 交

5. Center comes first in vertically symmetrical characters

Chinese: 先中间后两边 (xiān zhōngjiān hòu liǎngbiān)

Example characters: 水, 承, 小

6. Move from outside to inside and close frames last

Chinese: 从外到内 (cóng wài dào nèi),先进后关 (xiān jìn hòu guān)

Example characters: 回, 田, 建

 

Although at first glance these rules may seem daunting, they are actually very intuitive once you get some practice!

How to practice stroke order

The best way to learn stroke order and to get a natural feel for the correct method is to practice, practice, practice! As you write a variety of different characters, you will naturally become exposed to the different strokes required and, over time, they will become second nature.

Many online Chinese dictionaries such as Pleco and MDBG allow searching for specific characters and provide stroke order animations. Using printable worksheets with stroke order exercises are another great way to practice.

Repeated practice is one of the most effective ways to internalize Chinese stroke order. Some students find that writing characters over and over by hand the old fashioned way works for them. Others prefer to receive a helping hand from technology.

If you’re in the latter group, be sure to check out the Chinese handwriting app Skritter. Using Skritter to practice stroke order is one of the fastest, most effective ways to learn to write Chinese characters.

When it comes to learning Chinese stroke order, practice makes perfect!

Bonus fun fact: What Chinese character has the most strokes?

If taking into account Chinese characters and derivatives used in the Chinese, Japanese and Korean languages, then the character with the most strokes is the Japanese “Taito” Kanji, which consists of 84 strokes!

If we only consider Chinese characters within the Chinese language, however, the winner is the infamous biáng character. This character was invented for the Shaanxi-style Biang Biang noodles and consists of 58 strokes in its traditional form!

The biáng character shown here has the most strokes of any Chinese character.

Putting it all together

Ready to take your Chinese to the next level? The best way to improve your Chinese is to incorporate all aspects of writing, reading, listening and speaking into one. Whether you want to learn to write traditional or simplified Chinese characters, CLI’s teachers are here to help.

Feel free to check out our online one-on-one Chinese classes by scheduling a free trial class today!

Stroke order provides Chinese characters with structure and good form, and can be very fun and satisfying to practice. Don’t be discouraged if stroke order seems confusing at first. After a little practice, many students find that Chinese stroke order actually starts to feel quite intuitive. 加油!

Chinese stroke order vocabulary

ChinesePinyinEnglish
笔画顺序bǐhuà shùnxùstroke order
笔顺bǐshùnstroke order (abbreviation)
永字八法yǒngzìbāfǎEight Principles of Yong
作用zuòyòngpurpose
重要性zhòngyàoxìngimportance
次序cìxùorder
字形zìxíngform of a Chinese character
基本规则jīběn guīzébasic rules
影响yǐngxiǎngto influence
书写速度shūxiě sùdùwriting speed
美观性měiguānxìngaesthetics
练习liànxíto practice
bèito memorize
差异chāyìdifference; discrepency
教育jiàoyùeducation
电子化diànzǐhuàdigitalization
书法shūfǎcalligraphy

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