Chinese Hanzi, or characters, are often considered the most daunting component of the Chinese language. However, many students of Chinese also feel they are the most beautiful part of the language. A writing system that has origins dating back more than 4,000 years, Chinese history has crystallized in the form of the roughly 50,000 characters that make up modern Chinese script.

For most non-native Chinese speakers, Chinese characters look like complex drawings that are hard to extract meaning from; however, Chinese characters are actually made up of a limited number of single strokes that can be learned in just a few weeks. Mastering these fundamental skills early in your Chinese learning will prove extremely useful in the long run.

Chinese radicals are classifying components of a character that help readers decipher meaning and pronunciation. Modern Chinese script has a total of 214 radicals. While most characters have one of these 214 radicals, most commonly used Chinese characters are composed of less than a third of these radicals.



Once you start to break apart these “drawings”, you begin to realize that many characters share similar components, and in turn similar meaning. For example, the radical that means “hand” (the radical version of “手”) often indicates a verb/action involving the hand (to push – 推, to pull – 拉, to throw – 扔, to lift – 提, to grab – 抓, etc.). This means that one who comes across a character they have never seen before, with the knowledge of radicals and a bit of intuition, has a good chance at determining the meaning of the character.

Once you learn to separate a Chinese character into its various components, the history of the character comes alive as ancient tales of past emperors, brave war heroes or famous scholars shed light on its origins. This not only allows one to attach meaning to an apparently ambiguous series of strokes, it also allows for the understanding and appreciation of Chinese culture on a much deeper level, a key component in mastering Chinese.

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