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Confucius Institute

Easy Chinese characters and how to understand their meaning

31 October 2017

One of the most frequent questions asked by absolute beginners is how to study characters.

Image of character Tree / Wood
Image of character Tree / Wood

Studying characters will become easier, going from the easiest to more complex ones. Below are some of the most basic, commonly used Chinese characters, the ones that have the least number of character strokes, which makes them the simplest words to write in Chinese. You’ll find them easy to remember as well, since most of the characters actually resemble their meaning.

1.  (yi): One
The character is simply one stroke.
Incidentally, the characters for two ? (èr) and three ? (san) are also simple horizontal strokes.

2.  (rén): Man
The Chinese character for “man” is two simple strokes. It looks like a person with legs apart.

3.  (rì): Sun
The character for “sun” looks like a box with a line in the middle. In ancient bronze script, this character was more circular like the sun.

4.  (yuè): Moon
The character for “moon” originally resembled a crescent.

5.  (shan): Mountain
It looks like a mountain range.

6.  (dà) : Big
It looks like a person with arms and legs spread wide.

7.  (kou) : Mouth
The character for “mouth” looks just like an opening.

8.  (ma): Horse
The horse character resembles an animal with running legs and a long neck.

9.  (yáng): Sheep
Don’t you think this character looks like an animal with antlers?

10.  (mù): Wood
This nature-associated character resembles a tree. Here is the ancient bronze script:

11.  (mén): Door
This character does bear a striking resemblance to a doorway, doesn’t it?

12.  (zhong): Center
This is an important character because it’s part of China’s name. It also looks like what it means: a line through the center of something.

13.  (shàng): Up
Three strokes make up this character that looks like it’s pointing up.

14.  (xià): Down
This simple character looks like a downward arrow.

We wish you the best of luck on your Chinese studying journey!

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