Chinese Corner

Radical Characters

The real building blocks of the Chinese writing system – John Renfroe

If you’re learning to write in Chinese, you’ve probably been advised to learn the 214 standard “radicals,” those alleged “building blocks” of the character system. Perhaps you’ve tried to discern the meaning of an unfamiliar character through dissection, prying the “roof” 宀 off the “house” 家 to see what’s inside. Perhaps you haven’t gotten very far.

There’s a reason for your frustration: what you’ve been taught is all wrong.