Flashcards for learning Chinese characters the efficient way

Learning Chinese characters may seem to be a hard task. It is true that the Chinese writing system is not as easy as something like German. However, students can adopt a strategy that will help them not become frustrated.

Chinese characters had their beginnings in drawings that represented things directly. The Chinese word for "horse" is "mǎ," and in traditional Chinese characters it is written as 馬. The main stages of its development are as follows:

 Oracle, Bronze, Stone, and Traditional versions of "Horse.:="
(Drawing of Chinese characters after Gao Shu-fan, Xing-Yin-Yi Zong-he Da Zi-dian.)

The earliest examples of Chinese characters we have were inscribed on the shells of tortoises and the shoulder bones of cattle. In the character at the left it is easy to see the hooves, the legs, the body, the tail, the mane, and (since horses have extremely large eyes for their size), the eye. In the next form, engraved on bronze ceremonial vessels, the eye is given a pupil, and the top and bottom lines of the eye are extended to form part of the mane. The rest of the horse has become more of a "stick horse." The third version, a character that was engraved on stone, streamlines things still further. The traditional form, on the right, still preserves the eye and mane at the top, the bottom of the eye is extended to form the back, and the back goes around a corner to form the tail. Below these elements are four short lines that represent the legs of the horse. With this information, students will be able to understand that the character for horse is not ten arbitrarily placed lines.

If every word, every concept, had to be represented by such a drawing, then the Chinese writing system would be very difficult indeed. However, many Chinese characters are made on a sort of rebus principle. For instance, the character for "female human being," which was originally a more realistic picture, is now written  as 女 and pronounced nǚ.  The character for horse, 馬, is pronunced mǎ. To write the character for "mom" or "mama," mā, the character 女 nǚ for female human being is used to give the general class of things involved, and the character 馬  mǎ for horse is used to suggest the pronunciation, resulting in 媽 mǎ。 To write "mama," or "māma" in Chinese, one simple writes the character twice: 媽媽.  

Instructions for printing out and using the flashcards provided as PDF files below.

Note: I am beginning to add a few missing flashcards in the middle of things, so I've added notes to them in this list and also noted when I've moved other characters in the summary PDF document linked at the bottom of this web page.

The first four pages of flashcards presented here provide twenty of the most often used characters that also are used to form other, more complicated, characters.  They are:

目、mù, eye, which you already have learned above.

口、kǒu, mouth, to which you have also been introduced .

耳、ěr, ear, a highly stylized picture of a human ear.

手、shǒu, hand, a simple drawing showing five fingers.

止、zhǐ, to stop,  a drawing of a left foot. (I'm going to put my foot down! Stop this nonsense!)

金、jīn, gold, a picture of an a-frame shed covering a shaft in the earth 土 in which two nuggets of gold can be seen.

木、mù, tree (or wood), a picture of a tree with three branches at the top and three roots at the bottom.

水、shuǐ, water, a picture of ripples in the course of a stream that is going around a couple of bends.

火、huǒ, fire, a picture of a bonfire with flames leaping from it.

土、tǔ, earth, a picture of some plant forcefully thrusting itself up from the surface of the land.

禾、hé, growing grain, a picture of something like a tree but with a heavy head of grain bending down its top.

田、tián, field, a picture of a paddy with four flooded plots.

首、shǒu, head, an eye above which is something that may represent the horns of some animal like a deer or antelope.

貝、bèi, cowry shell, a picture that shows the two feelers of the little sea organism at the bottom, and a pattern on its shell

人、rén, human being, a human being seen from the side.

巾、jīn, scarf, kerchief, a human being (just the vertical line), and the scarf (⼌) draped over his or her shoulders.

宀、 mián, thatched hut, a picture that shows just the roof of a thatched hut. (See the flashcard for a picture of the kind of half-underground prehistoric house depicted.)

戈、gē, a kind of spear-like weapon designed for hacking rather than stabbing. Technically, it is called  a "halberd," or, more properly a "voulge."

刀、dāo, knife. the character is a picture of something like the western meat cleaver, but it is a tool designed to be used for cutting as well as hacking. The blade edge of the knife is now drawn (because it is so thin at that point).

勺、sháo, a ladle or large spoon. The character shows a sort of scoop with something lying in it.

With just these characters, it is possible to construct:

口+土=吐, tǔ, to spit

禾+口=和  hé, harmony

手+目=看  kàn,  (hand shading eye) to look

人+木=休  xiū (亻is the compressed form of 人) to rest (a schematic picture of a human being leaning on a tree)

禾+火=秋 qiū (when grain stalks, leaves, etc. are burned), autumn

禾+刀=利 lì  (刂is the compressed form of 刀) (to cut grain stalks with a knife or sickle) (1) benefit (2) sharp

木+木=林 lín, grove, woods

木+木+木=森 sēn, forest, jungle

目+人=見 jiàn , to see, to perceive

By putting one character after another it is possible to make "compounds" such as:

水手 shuí shǒu, "water hand," i.e., sailor

口水 kóu shuǐ, "mouth water," i.e., saliva

水田 shuǐ tián, "water field," i.e., flooded field
(N.B. Two third tones change into a second tone and a third tone in compounds.)

Click the link below to download four pages of four-sided flashcards. Print the PDF document, next fold it down the center line with the writing on the outside, and then fold down the new center line in the same way.  Cut the cards apart on the horizontal lines. Now you will have 20 cards the will look like little books. The "page" numbered (1) should be on the outside. It will be the English word for the Chinese character. Try to recall the pronunciation for the Chinese term. You may write it down. Then you should open the book slightly and peek at page (2). If you got it right then you may try to write the Chinese character and check yourself against page (4). However, if you get stuck then you can look at page (3) for a hint. Do not just look at the Chinese character you are trying to write without first trying to write it and taking advantage of the hint if you need help.

Flashcard set one (Characters 1—20)

The second four pages of flashcards provide the following characters:

尚、shàng, ascendant; yet, still; [surname]. One explanation says that this character consists of 宀 mián, house, that has a 口 kǒu, "mouth," but here "window," and 八 bā, "eight, but here (as is frequently the case) it is a drawing used to indicate "splitting up." The windows in simple houses with one window and one door would be on the opposite side from the door, which typically would face south for warmth from the sun. So "window in house" suggests "north," and "north" suggests "a direction." A "splitting up" would then suggests "going in different directions," and by extension that would suggest divergence in social positions, nobility versus common status, etc.

言、yán, speech, a saying. The early diagrams seem to represent a flute or horn of some kind being pressed to the lips of someone who is making a sound with it. See Karlgren, Grammata Serica Recensa, item 251.

隹、zhuī, short-tailed bird. The early forms are stylized pictures of some kind of bird.

力、lì, strength, power. The early forms are "stick man" pictures showing only two arms engaged in arm wrestling.

心、xīn, heart, mind. The early characters show cross-sectional views of a four-chambered heart.

大、dà, big, large. The early drawings  is a simple "stick-man" figure with arms outstretched to show how large something is.

+氏、shì, clan. Sometimes this character is used as a substitute for 姓 xìng, surname. The early form of the character depicts a human being carrying a bundle in his or her hand. Possibly the bundle contains a baby, if the idea is to suggest the idea of family and continuity.

+辵 (compressed form 辶)chuò. The early forms of this character seem to show a foot in the center of an intersection where three roads converge and become one wider road. Characters that contain this radical involve the idea of motion. Sometimes chuò is called the "running radical."

+ 一 yī  1. The first three Chinese numerals are similar to the numerically equivalent Roman numerals rotated 90°.

+二 èr 2.  (For expressions involving a measure word, e.g., "two cupsful of water," 兩 liǎng is used. 二 is used for counting things, "One, two, three...."

+三 sān 3.

+四 sì 4. This character is basically IIII. Originally, these four lines were drawn horizontally.

+五 wǔ 5. This character was originally written as an X with lines drawn across the top and bottom.

+六 liù 6. Originally, this character was written as something similar to an inverted V.

+七 qī 7. Originally this character was written as something rather like a plus sign.

+八 bā 8. Originally this character was written as something a little like "> <".

+九 jiǔ 9. Some oracle bone forms look very much like a hand-written 九 of the present.

+十 shí 10. In the Chinese decimal system, one was written as — and ten was written as |. The straight vertical line for 10 was too easy to confused with a line going in the same direction as the entire text, so it was modified into 十 to avoid confusion.

↓𠤎 、huà, change, transform. This character is the inverted form of 人 rén, "human being." Sometimes it appears as the character for 人 mirrored left for right.

↑辶 、chuò, the "running radical," used for ideas involving motion. The early form shows a foot (pointing downward on the page) in the middle of a crossroads.

小 、xiǎo, little, small. The basic character is just three little lines.

矢 、shǐ, arrow, crossbow quarrel, dart. The early forms are all pictures of arrow-like projectiles.

因 、yīn, because, reason for something, The early character shows a "stick man" resting on some kind of a mat. Compare this image with the English idea of "depending" or "hanging from" something.

而 、ér, indicates that the preceding and following elements are related. "↔" The early character is a picture of a mustache and a forked beard. The points of the beard point in to directions, so it is similar to a double-headed arrow.

不 、bú (if followed by a fourth, descending, tone), otherwise bù, negative for non-past events, for intentions, volitions, etc. The early character seems to depict a three-pronged hand tool of some kind. It must have been borrowed to represent this very abstract idea.

見 、jiàn, (1) to perceive, to see, to hear (in certain compounds), etc. (2) to go to see someone of higher status. The character consists of 目 mù, "an eye" on 人 rén , "human being," using a variant showing only the legs. It is almost as though the ancient Chinese has an expression similar to  our, "I'm all ears."

森 、sēn, forest, jungle. Three 木 mù, "trees," suggest the idea of a dense forest or jungle.

林 、lín, grove, wood (as in "wooden desk"), [surname]. Two 木 suggest the idea of a smaller concentration of trees than a forest.

只 、zhǐ, only. Some authorities say this character is composed of 口 kǒu, "mouth," and something like 八 bā, "eight or 'to divide or split'" that represents breath being exhaled downward. However, the oracle bone character is very complex and seems to depict two hands reaching out to grab a swaybacked creature with long hair or a plume that is standing on two legs. (After http://chinese-characters.org/meaning/5/53EA.html#.UBeo60TFmCY) That character is similar on conception to 隻 zhī, "hand holding a bird," which has a very similar pronunciation. So the early form may have been borrowed to write the abstract meaning of "only," and later simplified to its present form.

了 、le, verb+le indicates "did [whatever the verb was]." (It is used, in combination with the verb, to answer positively the question, "Did you do it yet?") The original characters are completely abstract and explanations such as "an armless 子 child" are not helpful. Sentence+le indicates that something that was previously not the case is now the case. "Baby has a tooth le!"

豕 、shǐ, swine, The early characters are drawings that depict a very fat animal.

乍 、zhà, suddenly and unexpectedly. There are other explanations, but to me the oracle bone forms seem to involve a foot and either something catching the foot (as would an untied shoe string) or somebody stubbing his or her toe. But in context of somewhat later forms it may be a tool that takes away a chip of wood with each strike.

With the characters listed above, it is possible to construct the following characters:

尚 + 土 = 堂, táng, hall (public meeting place)

尚 + 田 = 當,   dāng, ought, should; to hold the position of

尚 + 巾 = 常,   cháng, constant, frequent

言 + 人 = 信,   xìn, trust, belief; a letter

隹 + 口 = 唯,   wéi, only

隹 + 水 = 淮,   Huái, name of a river, a major tributary to the Yellow River

力 + 口 = 加,   jiā, to add

心 + 田 = 思,   sī, thought

大 + 力 = 夯,   hāng, rammed earth construction

大 + 小 = 尖,   jiān, sharp (point)

𠤎+人=化,  huà, to transform

辶+首=道,  dào, the way; a road

矢+口=知,   zhī, to know

不+木=杯,   bēi, drinking glass

豕+辶=逐,   zhú, gradual, sequential

乍+心=怎,   zěn, how (can that be)

人+乍=作,   zuò, to do

By putting one character after another it is possible to make "compounds" such as:

水力, shuǐ lì, water power

人力, rén lì, human power (for vehicles, etc.)

大人, dà rén, adult

大刀, dà dāo, sword

Flashcard set two (Characters 21—40)

The third four pages of flashcards provide the following characters:

又、 yòu, (referring to events in the past) again. (This character is a picture of a hand, and it usually has that meaning as a component in another character.)

衣、 yī, clothing. (The character depicts a short-sleeved garment.)

肉、 ròu, meat, flesh. (The character depicts a hanging piece of meat like a ham.)

𠂤、 duī, pile (The drawing that forms this character has been rotated 90° clockwise. Tt shows two piles lying on the ground.)

中、 zhōng, middle, center; in  (The character shows some kind of a target pierced by spears or arrows with pennants attached.)

+离、 lí (a mythological beast). The bottom half of this character is found in many other characters such as 禹 and it always depicts the hind legs and tail of some animal. Above there is a head (with two eyes) and something projecting from its front or top.

+咅  pèi or pǒu to interrupt; sound of contempt.

+关 guan*, song* Meaning and etymology are both unknown. This charracter currently serves as a simplified version of 關 guān.

+紙 zhǐ paper. This character is composed of 糸 mì, hank of yard, filament, and 氏 shì, clan, which gives an indication of its pronunciation.

+𠂉 (屮) single blade of grass. The early forms are all extremely simple drawings of a small plant.

+倝 or 𠦝+ 𠂉 on the right, the sun rising.
+中 zhōng center, middle,  etc.; inside; when read in fouirth tone, this character means to hit (on center) a target. The early characters resemble some kind of target being hit in the "bullseye" area with a throwing spear having streamers attached to the haft.

青、 qīng, green and blue, with shades to black (The character shows some kind of pot with a plant growing out of it.)

天、 tiān, heaven, sky, day (The character shows a man with a large head, a "head man." The earliest roal ancestor resides in heaven.)

白、 bái, white (The character shows a gingko fruit. immature fruit have a waxy white appearance, and the seeds are bone white.)

日、 rì sun, day  (picture of the sun)

歹、 dǎi  bad, evil. (This character depicts bones broken in half)

至、 zhì, to arrive at  (picture of an arrow falling to earth and sticking there)

谷、 gǔ valley

黃、 huáng, yellow

今、 jīn current, recent

正、 zhèng, square, upright, orthogonal, correct

門、 mén, gate, door (picture of double doors, the kind used in saloons in western movies)

這、 zhè, zhèi this (The character originally had something to do with motion, and was later borrowed to represent the abstract idea "this.")

彳、 chì, short step. (This character shows a human being and a mark above, or ahead, to suggest the idea of taking a short step forward.)

广、 yǎn, cliff dwelling.  (The character 厂   represents a cliff. The dot above the cliff represents smoke coming out of a human dwelling.)

+兆、zhào inkling. The earliest forms only show four marks, and the resulting diagrams are so abstract that it is difficult even to guess what they may have represented. Perhaps they could be something like the footprints of deer. Deer themselves evade detection, so it may have been much more common to see signs of them.

+拉、lā to drag, to pull. 手 shǒu, hand, gives an indication of the meaning of this character, and 立 lì, to stand, gives a rough idea of its pronunciation.

+非、fēi opposed to, not, anti-. Early forms all appea to be wing-like objects in a symmetrical and opposed relationship.

+可、kě can, may, permissible. This character is composed of 口 kǒu, mouth, which gives some indication of an idea of verbal assent, and another element that now looks a little like 丁 dīng, nail, but was more likely to have been an early form of 丂 kǎo, which would give a fairly good indication of its pronunciation.

+子、 zǐ, child  The early forms of this character depict a human being with a proportionately large head, a characteristic of the very young.

characters 41-60

The fourth four pages of flashcards provide the following characters:

女、 nǔ female human being, daughter (The character shows a kneeling female human with upper body rotated so that two breasts are clearly visible)

在、 zài to be located at.

用、 yòng to use; a function. The original character depicts a series of tubes of graduated length. The function performed by these tubes is the production of musical notes of varying frequencies.

父、 fù father. The original character depicts a man with stick in hand.

母、 mǔ mother. The original character is the same as for 女 except that there are two dots to indicate the prominent nipples of a lactating mother.

米、 mǐ rice (uncooked). The original character depicts the orderly arrangement of grains in a head of rice.

也、 yě also. The original character is said to depict the labia and clitoris.

必、 bì must.

乞、 qǐ to beg. This character is a cognate of 气, pronounced qì, and has been borrowed to write the abstract idea of begging.

常、 cháng constant, frequent, often. 尚 shàng, is this character's phonetic component, and 巾 jīn, kerchief, suggests the idea of something long and continuous.

尤、 yóu especially.

易、 yì chameleon, change, easy, the Book of Changes. The original character depicts a lizard. A chameleon changes, and can do so easily.

利、 lì benefit; sharp. This character is composed of two meaning components, 禾 hé, growing grain with a large hanging head of grain, and 刀 (刂), which suggests the idea of a sickle, a sharp tool used to harvest the beneficial crop.

艮、 gèn "hard stare." (The dictionary meaning is (1) to stop, and (2) hard.) The original character depicts a man with an eye nearly closed, as though squinting or glaring angrily at someone, giving someone a "hard stare" to stop them from doing something.

王、 wáng king; [surname]. The original character is similar to 立, which resembles 大 written over a line (stick man standing on something) with an enlarged head. So it depicts someone who stands or has been established as the head man for his country.

兒、 ér infant → child, son. The character depicts a kneeling human with a skull in which the bones have not yet grown fully together and fused, so it depicts an infant.

取、 qǔ to pick up, to grab, to grasp. This character shows a hand, 又, grasping some miscreant by the ear. So the basic meaning is, "to nab."

是、 shì is. The oracle bone character, which was considerably more complicated, has been simplified to show 日 rì, the sun, over 正 zhèng. "upright." The original character depicted somebody going somewhere with a flag oe placard on a pole and planting it there to indicate, "This is it!" Turning the placard into the sun and the 止 (picture of a foot) into 正 (upright) by combining two separate elements into one has created a character the components of which do not any longer have a plausible reason for being put together.

知、 zhī to know. 矢 shǐ, dart or arrow, and 口 kǒu, mouth, when combined suggest vividly to me the way people rush to claim, "I know! I know!"

巴、 bā serpent. (It is not known exactly what kind of snake this was.) The original characters are drawings of a snake coiled and ready to strike.

characters 61-80

西、 xī west. The character depicts a bird on its nest. When the sun goes down in the west, then birds return to their nests.

馬、 mǎ horse. The character is a stylized or "stick" horse. Visible are 目 (the eye of the horse), 三 (the mane of the horse), a horizontal line for the back of the horse, a descending line representing the tail, and four dots that represent the horse's legs.

高、 gāo high, tall. The character represents a tall pagoda.

牛、 niú  cow. The character depicts the horns and powerful forequarters of a bull, its head and its tail.

本、 běn  root, basic, fundamental. The character uses a short horizontal line to mark the root of 木 a tree.

山、 shān mountain. Three peaks are shown standing over the land.

羊、 yáng sheep. The character shows the curved horns of a ram, four legs, and the back and tail.

↑ 可、 kě permissible may, can.  The character shows a mouth and ㄎ (but reversed left for right), indicating the reverse of an obstructed breath, i.e., a relaxed, at ease, and therefore complaisant breath. So the idea is that the mouth released a breath that indicates satisfaction with some proposal or state of affairs.

+何 hé, x thing (what, etc.). This character is composed of 人 rén, human being  and 可 kě, permissible, which give some indication of its pronunciation.

怕、 pà  to fear; fear. The character combines the idea of heart/mind and (a face that has turned) white.

男、 nán male human. The character combines the idea of field (field work) and strength.

生、 shēng to grow; to live; to grow out from, to be produced, to give birth to; to produce; to be produced (as by condensation).  The character shows a plant sprouting up from the ground.

步、 bù footstep. The character shows a left foot out in front of a right foot, indicating one step forward.

曰、 yuē to say. (This character is ordinarily used only in classical Chinese) The character shows a mouth and a tongue.

未、 wèi not yet, never yet. The early form of this character, a tree 木 with many branches,  is similar to another character that shows fruit at the end of each branch. Perhaps the idea of this character is to depict a tree that has not yet produced fruit.

有、 yǒu to have. The character depicts a hand 丆 and some meat 肉, in the  compressed form ⺼.

者、 zhě the one who (pronoun). The character shows a footprint of someone walking away from a basket. Perhaps this fact indicates the one who removed the contents of the basket.

老、 lǎo  old (almost never used to describe anything other than humans).  The earliest character shows an old man supporting himself on a cane. Later the character evolves to depict an individual whose hair is changing to gray or white.

立、 lì to stand, to establish.  The early character involves a "stick figure" human 大 standing on a horizontal line.

、 jiān level, even in length. (Simplified as when it appears as a component of another character. ) The character may represent two things of even length.

上、 shàng up, on, to ascend; upper, top, etc.; to bring (food, etc.) on (The character shows a horizontal reference line and another line rising from it, ⟂. The Western equivalent would be ↑or .)

characters 81-100

下、 xià to descend; lower, bottom, etc. The early form was just ⟙.

容、 róng to contain. The character is formed by 宀, a roof, and 谷, a valley. A covered valley would have a very great storage capacity.

難、 nán difficult. The left-hand component is a compressed version of 黃, yellow or brown, and 隹, a short-tailed bird. When all the earth turns brown birds have a hard time of it.

回、 huí to return, turn back. The early form of this character consists of two concentric circles. The circles suggest the idea of turning and of re-turning.

來、 lái motion toward the speaker (to come). The character resembles 木 because it originally named a kind of grain-bearing plant. It was "borrowed" to write the abstract idea "to come."

才、 cái This character is now written to represent the idea "only then." It retains its original meaning of talent or innate capacity. It depicts a plant growing out of a subterranean bulb.

平、 píng level, even, uneventful. A single horizontal line at the top suggests the idea of "level," and the remainder of the character is an early phonetic.

安、 ān peaceful, tranquil; peace.  A 女  (woman) in her 宀 (home) will be at peace.

寸、 cùn A Chinese inch. The original character shows a hand and an additional mark that points to an acupuncture point that is one "inch" above the wrist. (In acupuncture, one 寸 is proportional to the patient's body, and is defined as the length of the first segment of the patient's index finger.)

圭、 guī a jade tablet that denotes the authority of a feudal lord. Feudal lords received parcels of 土 land that were defined by the king.

+昔、xí ancient times. 日 rì is the sun, meaning "the days of" and ♒ above it represents the ancient waters of the flood. (China has its own flood myth.)

moved 囗、 wéi to surround. The drawing gives the idea of a fence line that surrounds something. As a free-standing character, 囗 is ordinarily given a clarifying phonetic and written as 圍。

、(兌  variant form used in printed texts) duì to exchange money, to barter; to transfer liquid from one vessel to another. This character originally meant "to rejoice" so we see a human (人), a mouth  (口), and two lines indicating "to split into a smile."

足、 zú foot; sufficient. The original character is a drawing of the leg and foot.

糸、 mì floss, filament. The early characters show a skein of thread that, because of the way filaments are twisted together to spin thread, has twisted into a figure 8, and, to prevent tangles has been secured by strings at the top and bottom.

合、 hé to unite. The early characters show two parts of a clam shell that come together to form a safe shelter, or a bottle and its fitted cap.

冉、 rǎn The bottom shell of a turtle (plastron). The original characters seem to show a cord with tassels on both ends. Since plastrons were used for ritual purposes, perhaps they were held by tasseled cords during storage.

邑、 yì principality, a small state like Monaco. The original character shows a fenced domain and a kneeling human figure. The idea seems to be "territory plus inhabitants."

睘、 huán running wildly in circles. “Alarmed look" is suggested by 目 (rotated 90°). "Running" is suggested by 袁, long flowing garment, and circularity is suggested because of this character's connection with 還 (to re-turn), and 圜 (circle → circle back).

+句、jù, phrase or sentence.  口 kǒu, mouth,  gives the general category of meaning of this character, and ㄐ jiū, to intertwine, gives an indication of its pronunciation.

+𠤎、hua4 inverted, transformed. It is clear in the early forms of this character that it is a version of 人 rén, human being, that is either reversed, left for right, or inverted. it can indicate death.

moved 北、 běi north. This character was borrowed from a character meaning back-to-back. The back-to-back idea is formed by writing 人 and 𠤎 (human and inverted human) side by side. The back-to-back meaning is now represented by 背 bèi, "back."

出、 chū to exit; to emit. The original character shows an enclosure at the bottom and a foot pointed out of the enclosure at the top.

的、dì, target, and de, subordinating particle. This character may reflect a stage of archery when people show arrows at branches, other pieces of wood, etc. In much the same way that people of our time plink at beer cans and the like. The character consists of 白 bái, white, which suggests that the target may have ordinarily been white, and 勺 sháo, which may indicate that they used something roughly shaped like a wooden spoon to shoot at. If the left-hand part was originally written 日, then it may be significant that one very early way to write "sun" was to draw a circle and put a dot in the center, just like a bullseye.

characters 101-120

哥、 gē elder brother.  The character 可 kě is repeated to indicate "affable sound." The character was borrowed to write "elder brother."

跟、 gēn to follow; and; with. 足 zú, foot, gives the general sense of the character, and 艮 gèn gives an indication of the pronunciation.

光、 guāng rays of light; brightness, bright. The character is a drawing of a person carrying some kind of torch.

還、 hái (also read huán with a different meaning, "to return something") still (→ even more). 辶 chuò (the "running radical") gives an indication of the general category of meaning for "to return something," and 瞏 (in a modified form) that indicates staring and running in circles gives the pronunciation huán.

好、 hǎo good. 女 nǚ, human female, suggests mother, and 子 zǐ, child, drawn in beside its mother suggests the good relationship that normally prevails between mother and child.

虍 tiger stripes. The earliest characters are just a drawing of a tiger's head with big jaws and teeth.

↓虎、 hǔ tiger. The original character is a picture of a tiger with big jaws and teeth.

家、 jiā family; home; guild. 宀 mián is a drawing of a house. 豕 shǐ indicates pigs or pork, which have various associations with homes and families.

件、 jiàn measure word (MW) for events and some other things; an article, an item. human beings (人) can divide cows (牛). The modern meaning extends the idea of "parts," or "components."

嗎、 ma (mə) sentence ending that makes a statement into a question. 口 kǒu, mouth, indicates that the character is "just a sound," and 馬 mǎ gives an indication of the pronunciation.

沒、 méi to sink, to confiscate → to not have. The original character has 水 shuǐ, water or stream, a figure that originally resembled 回 and was a drawing of a whirlpool, and 又 yòu, hand. the entire picture was then of a person being sucked into a whirlpool in a river, the hand waving for attention being the only part of the person left to be seen.

們、 men pluralizing ending for certain nouns that can be conceptualized as a guild or special association. Each guild is conceptualized as having its own 門 mén, gate. The several 人(亻) rén, people, who belong together behind a gate or in a guild, are thus a plurality the members of which have a family-like or guild-like relationship among them.

你、 nǐ you, your.  人 (亻) indicates the category of human beings, and 尔 is the extreme cursive (or "grass") form of the classical word for "you," 爾 ěr.

事、 shì event, affair. This character has compressed elements that make it difficult to analyze with certainty. the component that 事 has in common with 聿  is another form of 又 yòu, hand. The remainder of 事 is apparently a version of 吏 lì (but missing one stroke), a character that means "minor official," which itself derives from 史 shǐ, a picture of a hand holding an official document, especially a document that relates to some case being contested or otherwise handled. Just looking at the components, there are multiple references to "hand," or perhaps "handling," and the general context seems to indicate the world of officialdom.

説、 (說variant form used in printing) shuō to say.  言 yán, speech, gives the general category of meaning of this word, and 兑 duì gives a rough indication of the pronunciation. (when it means "to persuade,"  (説 can also be pronounced shuì when it means "to advise," which is closer to duì.) The handwritten form of 兌 normally has the top strokes pointing in the other direction,. Some printed forms also follow the handwritten way of writing this character.

太、 tài too → Mrs., lady.  This character consists of 大 dà, large, and either one mark (which may function like our ditto mark) or two marks, the character 二 èr, two. So the basic sense seems to be "doubly large," "extremely large," and then "too large" or just "extremely."

我、 wǒ i, me, my.  The left half of this character, slightly compressed, is 手 shǒu, hand. The right half is 戈 gē, halberd. The idea of "I, me, my," is communicated by a picture of an individual taking a weapon in hand to defend himself/herself and/or his/her property.

先、 xiān prior, former. 止 zhǐ, a  foot, is at the top and 儿 (a form of 人) rén, human being, is at the bottom. This drawing suggests a foot going out ahead of the body.

自、 zì self; from. The ancient form of this character is a picture of a nose.

古、 gǔ ancient. A story that passes from (口 kǒu) mouth to mouth ten (十 shí) times is said to be an old story.

以、 yǐ to take to do, to take as, to use as, to the (east, north, south, west, higher, lower, etc.) This character has always been very abstract. Tts earliest form is a single curved line resembling an inverted "9." The present-day "grass" form is almost the same as the original character. There appear to be no very plausible reconstructions explaining why the character was originally written as it was. Some suggest that it is a cognate of 厶 sī, which is plausible because it now stands as the phonetic component of 似 sì, to resemble.

characters 121-140

以、 yǐ to take to do, to take as, to use as, to the (east, north, south, west, higher, lower, etc.) This character has always been very abstract. Its earliest form is a single curved line resembling an inverted "9." The present-day "grass" form is almost the same as the original character. There appear to be no very plausible reconstructions explaining why the character was originally written as it was. Some suggest that it is a cognate of 厶 sī, which is plausible because it now stands as the phonetic component of 似 sì, "to resemble."

他、 tā he, she it. (in modern othography, she and it are represented by 她 and 它 or 牠.) 人(亻) gives the general category of meaning, and 也 replaces an older phonetic.

地、 dì earth, land. 土 gives the general category of meaning, and 也 replaces an older phonetic.

最、 zuì most. 冃 mào hat, cover (looks like 日)and  取 qǔ originally were used for their meanings. This character, which now means "the most," originally meant "to steal." Perhaps the idea was the use of a kind of slight of hand in which a thief first casually dropped a cloth or something over a bracelet or other valuable object and then picked them both up.

位、 wèi position, social status, as a measure word (MW), "person of status." 人(亻)depicts the idea of a human being who 立 stands in a position or has a status.

道、 dào road, a way to do something, the Way. 首 shǒu is a picture of a head, and  辶 chuì (full form 辵)indicates motion. People turn their heads in some direction and then walk, so gradually a road is formed.

看、 kàn to look at, to read.  When a 手 shǒu (hand) shades one's 目 mù, (eyes), then onw is probably looking at something.

工、 gōng to work. The ancient character is a picture of some kind of workman's tool. Some say it is a carpenter's square.

作、 zuò to do. 人(亻) human being suggests the general meaning-class of this character and  乍 zuò gives a very general idea of its pronunciation. Early forms of this character indicate that 乍 may originally have been a picture of a hand wielding some kind of woodworking tool that chops out a chip of wood with each strike.

很、 hěn very 彳chuò, short step may give the idea of "a step too far," and  艮 gèn (hard stare) may give both an indication of the pronunciation and also point to the reaction of others to someone who has gone too far.

給、 gěi to give. 糸 mì filament and 合 hé to unite seem to suggest some idea of a bond or a continuity uniting those who give with those who receive.

相、 xiāng mutually, reciprocally  xiàng to examine. When examining a 木 mù tree to determine its suitability as a source of lumber it is necessary to use one's  目 mù eyes.

麻、 má hemp. When hemp fibers are prepared to make cord or cloth, the mature plants are first soaked in water so that the non-fibrous parts are decomposed by bacterial action. Afterwards, the accumulated stalks (林 lín grove) are stacked in a roofed area (广 yǎn cliff dwelling) for drying and curing.

么、 yāo tiny. The ancient drawing depicts a single filament. (Compare with 糸 mì, filaments, the so-called "silk radical.")

夂、 zhĭ catch up with from behind. The diagonal mark represents the person or thing being pursued, and 又 yòu is a drawing of a hand.

↑昔、xí ancient times. 日 rì is the sun, meaning "the days of" and ♒ above it represents the ancient waters of the flood. (China has its own flood myth.)

戔、 jiān smithereens, to hack to pieces, tiny, mincemeat.  戈 gē halberd against 戈 gē halberd produces badly hacked up fighters.

里、 lǐ village, Chinese mile. 田 tián fields and 土 tǔ earth, or shrine to the earth god, suggests the idea of a village; the average distance between villages may have been taken as a unit of distance, the  "Chinese mile," which is about one third of an English mile.

(Top part of 發) bò The ancient character depicts two feet moving in opposite directions.

成、  chéng to complete. O.K.  戊 wù halberd with a big blade like an ax, and 丁dīng nail, as the phonetic, are used to mean to put an end to warfare. The oracle bone characters show a kind of long-hafted battle ax and a single line. That vertical line is taken to indicate the end-point or the termination of hostilities.

此、cǐ this. This character is composed of 止 zhǐ, to stop, and 𠤎 huà inverted human. 𠤎 in the early characters is simply 人 going the other way, so there seems to be the idea of somebody going somewhere, finding "this," and turning around to go back.

characters 141-160

丰、 fēng 丯 jiè originally these two were apparently the same drawing. they represented a plant with its roots (emphasized) growing down into the earth and its stem and branches growing up into the air. 丰 fēng emphasizes the goodness of luxuriant growth, and 丯 jiè has more to do with the the rankness of growth. jiè also resembles the threads of screws. the image of a plant growing from a seed or bulb to form roots that go down and a stem that goes up also suggests the idea of penetration.

功、 gōng meritorious accomplishment.

貫、 guàn pierced coins strung together; anything that is so strung together; to string things together.

咼、 guo* (technically, this character is pronounced kuā or wāi, but it always indicates the sound "guo" when it occurs as a component of a character)  "twisted mouth."

己、 jǐ self.  filaments, straws, etc. can be individuated by bending them or tying knots in them. so an individuated fiber has a self identity.

借、 jiè to lend; to borrow. 人 (亻) rén human being gives the general sphere of meaning of this word since something that is owned by one person is temporarily treated as though it belonged to another person, and   xí gives a rough indication of its current pronunciation.

開、 kāi to open. 門 mén, "gate," is one kind of thing that is frequently opened and shut, and 幵 jiān, "even, level," gives some indication of the pronunciation.

麼、 ma (mǝ) a question-word ending.麻 má,  "hemp," gives an idea of the pronunciation and   么 yāo, "tiny," gives the idea of smallness. Originally, this character meant "small in diameter," "thin," etc. It is now primarily borrowed to represent the "mǝ" sound on the end of certain words in vernacular Chinese.

其、 qí its (in classical Chinese and certain compounds). This character originally was a drawing of a basket on a low table. It was borrowed very early on to write the word for "its" in classical Chinese.

錢、 qián money. 金 jīn, "gold," gives an idea of the meaning, and 戔 jiān, "to hack into tiny pieces," gives an idea of the pronunciation.

去、 qù motion not toward the speaker, "to go." Originally this character had 大 serving as a picture of a human being on the top, and something resembling 凵 below to indicate an enclosure that the individual was moving away from.

什、 shé a squad of 10 men; what. 人(亻) rén, "human being," and 十 shí, "ten," together give the clear idea of a squad of ten people. This character is now often borrowed and used with  麼 to write shéme, "what."

亡、 wáng to perish. There are other explanations, but to me the early forms of this character all look like 人 a human or 𠤎 an inverted human (dead human) resting in a grave as seen from above.

為、 wéi to be, to do; wèi for the sake of. There is one current form of the printed character that has  爪 zhuǎ or "paw," at the top, and a version of 象 xiàng, "elephant," below it. This current character more closely represents the original character, which shows a human hand and an elephant. I think the obvious intention is to show the multiplication of human effort that can be obtained by gaining control of the strength of an elephant. The elephant then serves the human being to do certain things for the sake of its mahout's purposes.

想、 xiǎng to think. 相 xiàng, "to examine, to evaluate," and 心 xīn, "heart, mind."

行、 xíng to go, to travel, the opposite of "no go."  háng a row (of businesses), a specialty, a specialist. The ancient character shows a crossroads.

+几、 jī  low table. The early forms of this character all depict a view from the side of a low table suitable for use by someone seated on the floor.

業、 yè enterprise, work, task, job, business. Originally, this character was a drawing of a rack used to organize bells or other musical instruments. It later came to mean, among other things, a piece of wood upon which a text was engraved (as it would be for printing).   書冊之版

moved 圣、 kū working the land. 又 yòu,  "hand," and 土 tǔ, "dirt," give a clear picture of working the land.

並、 bìng "double-plus" when followed by a negative; moreover. This character is formed by writing two 立 lì characters side by side. 立 is just a picture of a human being standing still. Two of them provides the picture of human being standing together, so the ordinary meaning of this character is "moreover." When it appears with a negative, e.g., 並不, it serves to give strong emphasis to the negative, so 並不 means "certaingly is not."

帛、 bó silk cloth.  白 bó or bái, "white," is written above 巾 jīn, “kerchief."

characters 161-180

到、 dào motion toward a destination; to arrive. The general meaning of this character is given by 至 zhì and the pronunciation is given by 刀 (刂) dāo.

封、 fēng to seal; a seal; an envelope; mw for letters. The left-hand element resembles 圭 guī, "jade tablet that is an emblem of authority," which suggests part of the meaning, and 寸 cùn, "Chinese inch" but also a drawing of a hand with one digit emphasized, gives the idea of pressing a seal onto a document. However, examination of the oracle bone and bronze characters shows that this character was originally formed from 丰 fēng, depicting vegetation penetrating into the earth (and also the phonetic part of this character), 土 tǔ, dirt, and uses 寸 cùn to suggest the idea of planting the vegetation (trees) into a place symbolic of a man's status as feudatory lord.

過、 guò to cross over (a bridge, some distance, some time, etc.); past (in time expressions such as "5 past 3"). 咼 kuā gives a rough idea of the pronunciation, and 辵 (辶) gives the general idea of movement.

害、 hài to injure. the opening of a wound (口 kǒu) produced by penetration (丰 fēng) and covered by a bandage (宀 mián, or maybe in the beginning 冖mì).  (the traditional explanation seems contrived.)

後、 hòu aft (after, behind, etc.)  彳chì "short step" may be a shortened version of 行 xíng "to go."   么 yāo is a drawing of a filament, and  夂 zhǐ gives the idea of catching up from behind. the character depicts someone moving forward while trailing a thread. the thread naturally falls behind the person. someone else follows to catch up with the first person from behind. so the idea of being behind is symbolized in two ways. (There are other analyses that depend on a different understanding of what the part of the ancient characters that corresponds to 夂 may represent in those characters.)

京、 jīng capital. the ancient character shows a tower or a castle. the ancient character is just like 高 gāo except that instead of a mouth (representing a window?) at the bottom there is a 門 mén, "gate. Cities are associated with the idea of city gates that are topped by roofed guard stations.

那、 nà nèi that. 冉 rǎn, turtle shell (plastron), is the character's phonetic component, but pronunciations have changed so much over the intervening centuries that the current pronunciation of 那 and 冉 are now quite different.邑 yì, "principality," suggests the idea of a small country. Originally, this character named a small country in the western part of China.

您、 nín, you (formal). 你 nǐ, "you," gives the basic meaning of this character, and  心 xīn, "heart," indicates the heartfulness of the respect offered by this term of reference.

舌、 shé  口 kǒu, mouth, is one part of the ancient character. the other part, represented by something now looking much like 千, is a picture of the forked tongue of a snake.

誰、 shéi X person, who. 言 yán, speech, gives the general category of meaning of this character. 隹 zhuī, short-tailed bird, gives an indication of the pronunciation.

實、 shí real. 宀 mián gives the idea of a house and 貫 guàn, "coins strung together," suggests the idea of real value.

思、 sī  thought. 田 tián, "flooded field," is a simplified version of 囟 xìn, a character that depicts the skull and fontanelles.   The 心 xīn, "heart," is also believed to be connected to thought and emotions.

些、 xiē several   cǐ, "this," and  二 èr, "two," combine to suggest the idea of "more than one of these.."

炎、 yán flames rising, blaze up.  火 huǒ, "fire," is duplicated.

要、 yào to want, to require, to be required to, to lack. The upper part, 覀. is a drawing of hands on hips, and the hips belong to a 女 nǚ, "human female." The question that needs elucidation is, "Whose hands are those?"

音、 yīn sound. The original character shows some kind of musical instrument being held to 曰 yuē, a picture of the mouth with the tongue also shown.

月、 yuè moon. The earliest characters are drawings of a crescent moon.

真、 zhēn genuine, real, really, truly.  𠤎 huà. "transformed human being," 目 mù. "eye," and  几 jī, "low table" are the components of this character. There seems to be some idea that forming a stable basis for perception can lead to the spiritual tranformation of a human being, making him or her a "true person." This religious idea from early China was extended to refer to all kinds of genuine, as opposed to fabricated, reality.

幫、 bāng to help.  封 fēng, "to seal" with 帛 bó, "silk fabric." The original meaning has to do with the beneficial effect to the entire shoe that is performed by the welt or edging of cloth shoes, i.e., something like twill tape that was used to join the upper part of a cloth shoe to the cloth sole of the shoe. The most frequent points of failure of shoes are the points at which movements of the foot while walking create strong tensions between the upper part and the sole.  The welt of shoes currently in production is designed to be as mechanically durable as possible.

↓ 城、 chéng 土 tǔ, "dirt" is used because city walls were frequently tall earthen embankments. 成 chéng gives both the pronunciation and the idea of making and completing something out of dirt.

characters 181-200

囪、 cōng smoke hole. before humans built chimneys into their houses they simply constructed a hole in the roof to let the smoke from their fires leave the building.

+城、 chéng 土 tǔ, "dirt" is used because city walls were frequently tall earthen embankments. 成 chéng gives both the pronunciation and the idea of making and completing something out of dirt.

都、 dū capital (city); dōu all. (the second meaning just borrows the character to represent something in vernacular chinese.)   者 zhě, "the one who," gives an indication of the pronunciation, and 邑 (阝)

弓、 gōng bow. the ancient characters depict a recurved bow. In the modern form the bowstring has become invisible.

關、 guān to close, to close up, to close in. To connect (as by cords typing two doors together); to lock up. 門 mén gives a general indication of the meaning of this word, and the part inside is regarded as the phonetic component of this character. 丱 guàn, "double pig-tails," is itself a phonetic, which leaves the two 么 above them.
In this character 糸 mì (simplified slightly) is a picture of a filament or thread, and the two of them suggest the idea of tying the two panels of the double door together.

鬼 、guǐ ghost; imp, devil. The original character shows something that looks like 田 tián, "field," which is 甶 fú, a character that represents a large head, or possibly a ceremonial mask used to impersonate the dead or to represent spirits attending the funeral of a dead person, atop ⼉, which represents the legs (and body) of a human, and a small element that now looks like 厶 that is intended to represent the spirit of the dead as it departs from the body.

侯、 hóu (next to highest feudal rank, inferior to a 公 gōng, "duke"). 人 rén human being, is written beside what is the modern form of the most ancient character, 矢 shǐ, an arrow, pointing toward the top element (originally written like 厂), which represents a piece of cloth used as a target. the character originally referred to a seasonal archery contest, and the feudal rank is an extended meaning of this term.

話、 huà word, language, speech; story. 言 n, "speech," gives one of the aspects of meaning of this character, and 舌 shé, "tongue," gives another aspect of its meaning. (the latin word for language is lingua, and that word also means "tongue."

街、 jiē street. 行 xíng, "to go," originally was a picture of a crossroads, so it also suggests the idea of road. 圭 guī, jade symbol of authority, gives an indication of the pronunciation of this word. (Many times characters that are pronounced with a "g" initial consonant will appear in words that now have a "j" initial consonant, and vice-versa.)

就、jiù the fundamental meaning was "to approach," →; then (can imply a very easy transition, "easy as falling off a long"), exactly or precisely the one being described. 京 jīng 尤 yóu.  

忙、 máng busy. 心 xīn, "heart/mind" gives some idea of the meaning, and  亡 wáng, "to perish," is this character's phonetic component.

明、 míng bright. 日 rì, "the sun," is the brightest thing in the daytime sky, and  月 yuè, "the moon," is the brightest thing in the nighttime sky.

殳、 shū a kind of hafted weapon. 又 yòu  at the bottom is the picture of a hand. the remainder of the character represents a sort of long-handled club or mace.

寺、 sì temple (and, originally, an official place of government business). the character on top, now written 土 tǔ, dirt, was originally some version or cognate of 之 zhī, which has, as one of its meanings, "to go forth." The bottom was originally written as 又 yòu, "hand," and was later written as 寸 cùn, which is a hand with one finger given special emphasis. the actions of those who served in the 寺 were done in service of and/or gave directions for some public or institutional goal.

她、 tā she 女 nǚ, "human female," gives an idea of the general category of meaning of this character. 也 yě, "also," is this character's phonetic component.

談、 tán to chat. 言 yán, "speech," gives an indication of the meaning of this character, and 炎 yán, "blaze up," gives an indication of its pronunciation.

玉、 yù jade. This character is a drawing of three pieces of jade on a string. Because in its original form it resembled 王 wáng, "king," an extra dot has been addedcreate a distinction to  between the two characters.

主、 zhǔ master, host, most important thing, focus of attention. The ancient forms of this character depict something like an altar flame on a stand of some kind, something that would automatically form the center of attention for anyone entering the room.

処、 chù to pursue; to find. 夂 zhǐ, "to catch up with from behind," gives an indication of the meaning of this character. 几 jī,  is "low table." The original character may have depicted a servant following behind a guest or a head of the household to provide a table (or perhaps a bench) to rest against or on.

處、 chù place (in classical Chinese and some present-day compounds).  hu, "tiger," gives some indication of the pronunciation of this character and its meaning is given by 処 chù.

悤、cōng  hurriedly. (currently written 匆). The pronunciation of this character is given by 囪 cōng, "smoke hole," and 心 xīn, "heart/mind," gives this character's general category of meaning.

characters 201-220

當、 dāng to take a position. 尚 shàng, "ascendant," gives an indication of the pronunciation, and 田 tián, "rice fields," gives the idea of an area sectioned off into identifiable positions.

發、 fā ⽨ bò 弓 gōng 殳 shū  癹 + 殳 step forward and strike + hafted weapon. XYY Dict. 1091

住、 zhù to reside, to stay. 人 rén human being gives the general category of meaning of this character, and 主 zhǔ, "master," gives an indication of the pronunciation.

候、 hòu time. 侯 hóu is changed by adding a small vertical line. Early meanings were related to shooting an arrow at a target.

塊、 a lump, a piece, a dollar. 土 tǔ, "dirt," gives the idea of a clod or lump and  鬼 guǐ, "ghost," gives an indication of the pronunciation.

裡、 lǐ lining of clothing; inside. 衣 yī, "clothing," gives an idea of the basic meaning, and 里 lǐ, "Chinese mile," gives the pronunciation.

且、 qiě, moreover

時、 shí  日 rì, "sun," gives the idea of the sun's being our earliest measure of time, and 寺 sì, "temple," gives an indication of the pronunciation of this character.

忘、 wàng to forget. 亡 wáng, "to perish," gives part of the meaning of this character and also a close indication of its pronunciation, while 心 xīn, "heart/mind," gives another part of the meaning. To forget is for something to perish and be lost from the mind.

現、 xiàn now, current. 玉 yù, "jade," gives an idea of something so vivid and beautiful that it is  sure to be 見 jiàn, "perceived" clearly in the here and now.

意、 yì meaning, intention. 音 yīn, "sound," gives the idea of internal dialog, or talking to oneself, in one's  心 xīn, "heart/mind."

竹、 zhú bamboo. The early characters give a clear drawing of bamboo plants with their long, draping leaves.

走、 zǒu, originally, "to run," now, "to walk." The original character has two parts, the character 止 zhǐ at the bottom, which is a picture of a foot, and a version of 大 dà, "large." The version of the stick man in this character shows arms bent at the elbow as they would need to be in the case of someone running. 

固、 gù, sturdy, solid. 囗 wéi, "enclosure," suggests the original meaning of this character, an impregnable perimeter defense, and 古 gǔ, "ancient." gives both an indication of the pronunciation and also suggests that the defensive perimeter is good for the long term.

亥、 hài (cyclical character used to note time periods). The oracle bone and bronze versions of this character are believed to represent the root structure of some plant. Later characters seem to misinterpret parts of the early diagrams as discrete individual things. So the explanations for the present appearance of this character are problematical.

尸、 shī  corpse. This character depicts a person burial in flexed position on his or her side. The so-called "flexed burial position" was a feature of some prehistoric cultures.

頁、 yè head, and by extension heading at the top of a page and then just page. The ancient form of this character shows a kneeling human figure with a prominent head and hair growing out of this  head.

永、 yǒng long term, perpetual, eternal.  The oracle bone and later versions of this character appear to show a tributary joining a larger river. When many tributaries feed one river, the major river will have excellent long-term prospects to continue flowing.

吧、 ba Sentence ending that make a command a suggestion, and an affirmative sentence a tentative declaration.  口 kǒu, "mouth," tells us that what this character represents is "just a sound." 巴 bā, serpent, gives an indication of the pronunciation.

個、 ge Measure word (MW) for human beings and some other very commonly used things. 人 rén, "rén," gives the general category of meaning, and 固 gù, "sturdy," gives some indication of the character's pronunciation.

characters 221-240

各、 gè  夂 zhǐ 口 kǒu p. 203 The early characters all have two basic components facing each other, a foot (moving down from the top) and an opening toward which the foot is moving. The idea seems to be of two things being particularly suited to each other, and implying that each foot must find its own particular hole to fit into.

孩、 hái an infant after the age of being able to smile, a child. 子 zǐ, "child," gives an indication of the meaning, and  亥 hài, a cyclical character, gives an indication of the pronunciation.

會、 huì p. 96 to meet together; to experience mystic union, to know how to do something. The oracle bone form of the character seems to be a drawing of something like a clam and the two shells, top and bottom.

尼、 ní nun 尸 shī, "corpse," and 𠤎 huà, "inverted or reversed person," The earliest characters seem, however, simply to be drawings of two people positioned head to foot. The original meanings were "to approach from behind," and "near, close."

題、 tí topic. 是 shì, "is," serves as the phonetic of this character. Because of the changes in the Chinese language that have occurred over the last 3,000 years,  ancient sounds often have evolved in two or more directions. In many characters the phonetic element 是 indicates that the character has the pronunciation "ti." 頁 yè, "heading," suggests the idea of topics.

問、wèn to ask.  門 mén, "gate, door," gives an indication of the pronunciation. 口 kǒu, "mouth," gives an indication of the meaning. When somebody comes to the door, the first thing that happens is that somebody asks that person, "Who are you?"

樣、 yàng pattern, kind, sort, variety. 木 mù, "tree, wood," gives an indication of the meaning of this character, and 羕 yáng, "water flowing a long way," gives an indication of its pronunciation.  

弋、 yì fishing arrow (arrow trailing a string). Karlgren, Grammata Serica Recensa, p. 242, says that in the Book of Poetry it means "to shoot with arrow and string attached.... The graph must be a drawing of some kind of arrow." See the oracle bone form reproduced at http://chinese-characters.org/meaning/5/5F0B.html#.T_TuonDFmX0, a source that Karlgren did not have.

再、 zài again. 一 yī, "one," is used as a kind of ditto mark.  冉 rǎn, turtle shell (plastron) is the bottom half of another character, 冓 gòu, which is, in all the early forms, a perfectly symmetrical character composed of something resembling 冉 above and below. So 再 stands as a kind of graphic comment on that character—saying that one writes the 冉 character below, and then again writes the same thing upside-down above it.

早、 zǎo early. 日 rì, "sun," is written above a horizontal line that represents the horizon to the east, and a vertical line is drawn to emphasize how near the sun is to the horizon when it is early. The vertical line may have represented the stalk of some plant on which the sun could appear to be growing in the early morning.

怎、 zěn how. 乍 zhà, "suddenly," is the phonetic component of this character and  心 xīn, "heart/mind" gives the general class of meaning of this word. (怎 frequently carries a connotation of incredulity.)

官、 guān official. 宀 mián, "thatched hut," gives the idea of some kind of building, and   𠂤 duī, "heap" suggests there being a large number of people in the same building.

犬、 quǎn canine, dog.  This character does not represent the ordinary word for dog, which is 狗 gǒu. I translate it as "canine" primarily to suggest that it is used in compounds such as 獵犬 liè quǎn, "hunting dog."

气、 qì breath, gas, lifebreath. The early characters consist of three wavy lines that probably are meant to depict the puffs of condensed moisture that one sees after exhaling on a frosty day. This form is now used as a simplified Chinese character, and the traditional equivalent is 氣. The form taught in this lesson is a component in many other Chinese characters.

+北 、bei3, north. The original character meant "back," and the original meaning is now written 背 bei4. The original form was then borrowed to write "north." It is composed of 人 ren2, human being, on the left side, and 𠤎 hua4, human being reversed left for right. So together they picture a human facing left and a human facing right, i.e., two humans back to back.

+啦、la, a particle used at the end of a sentence to indicate approval or a light-hearted attitude to what is being said. It is composed of 口, kǒu, which indicates that "this is just a sound," and 拉 lā, to pull, which give the pronunciation.

+逃、táo to flee. This character is composed of the compressed form of 辵 chuò, which is 辶, and 兆 zhào, inkling. The first component given an indication of the character's meaning because it indicates movement, and the second part gives an indication of its pronunciation.

+舟、 zhōu small boat, dugout canoe. The early graphs depict a dugout canoe. The top of the character represents the prow. There are places for two riders. Just as the character that represents a crescent moon is not properly closed at the bottom (月), so too, this character is also not properly closed at the bottom.

↓ 厂、 hǎn cliff. The edge of the cliff is on the left. The earliest forms are only slightly more elaborate.

代、 dài generation, take over for, represent. 人 rén, "human being" gives an indication of the general category of meaning, and 弋 yì, "fishing arrow with string," suggests the idea of one person taking the place of another because of their being, in some sense, strung together.

拜、 bài to pay respects to (elders, spirits of the dead, etc.) This character repeats the character 手 shǒu, "hand" and adds 下 xià, "down, to lower," to the hand character on the right. (It appears in its original form, ⟙, so that one only sees a single extra horizontal stroke. The idea seems to be that the hands are held down at the sides when bowing.

管、 guǎn a pipe or tube; to manage 竹 zhú, "bamboo," suggests the idea of a tubem and 官 guān, "official," indicates the pronunciation.

+厂、 hǎn cliff. The edge of the cliff is on the left. The earliest forms are only slightly more elaborate.

對、 duì to match correctly. 業 yè, "an enterprise," but also "a board with some text engraved upon it," and 寸 cùn, "inch" (picture of a hand with one finger singled out). A contract would be engraved on a board and the board would be broken in two parts, one for each party to the agreement. In any later inquiry into fulfillment of the contract, the two halves (one in the possession of each of the two parties to the agreement) would be brought together and matched along the broken edge before a judge.

煩、 fán annoance.  火 huǒ, "fire," gives part of the meaning, and  頁 yè. "head," gives the other part of the meaning of this character.

characters 241-260

氣、 qì breath, gas, vapor, lifebreath.  气 qì, has the same general range of meanings as 氣. 米 mǐ, rice, was originally added to make a new character that described the fragrant vapor that rises from cooking rice. Later, that meaning was replaced when 氣 came to be written where 气 used to be written. The actual form being replaced, however, was basically just three wavy lines, so it was a graph that could easily be mistaken for 三 sān, "three," or otherwise misinterpreted.

客、 kè guest. 宀 mián, "thatched hut," suggests the place where the guest will stay, and  各 gè, "each and every," gives an indication of the pronunciation of this character.

找、 zhǎo to search for. 手 shǒu, "hand," gives a suggestion of a hand groping for something, and  戈 gē, "halberd," may suggest the idea of what a warrior might grope for if his army were to be attacked at night.

呢、 ne sentence ending particle giving the sense of matching information being sought, "And you....?" 口 kǒu, "mouth," indicates that this character "just represents a sound," and 尼 ní, "nun," gives an indication of the pronunciation.

阜、 fù plateau, hill, mound. The early characters are similar to the early versions of 𠂤 duì, "pile," but where the latter shows two mounds, this character shows three mounds. To me, the early characters suggest a kind of natural terracing of land rising to a plateau.

失、 shī to lose. This character was originally composed of 大, serving as a stick man, the character for hand (手), and an additional stroke indicating something leaving the hand. (That part is the little dot or short line on the very top of the character.)

共、 gòng together. Early characters show the hands of two people holding onto the same object.

moved 舟、 zhōu small boat, rowboat, nacelle. The early characters are drawings of a dugout canoe.

+船  ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++In Progress+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

惪 dé upright character or behavior 直 zhí , straight, gives some indication of the meaning of this word, and 心 xīn, "heart/mind," gives another part of the meaning.

昨、 zuó yesterday. 日 rì, "sun," gives an indication of the meaning of this character, and 乍 zhà, "suddenly and unexpectedly," gives an indication of the pronunciation.

夬、 guài One of the hexagrams of the Book of Changes,  ䷪, the emblem of breakthrough or of breaking apart. The original character shows some kind of a stick, represented by a vertical line, and a hand on each of its two ends. See 形音義, p. 486.




段、 duàn a paragraph, a section of a road.  手 shǒu 殳 shū

攴、⺙ pū (the second character is the compressed form) to hit with a stick. The part that looks like 上 was originally written as a single upright line depicting a stick, and 又 yòu, "again," is a picture of a hand in profile. The entire character depicts a hand holding a stick.

川、 chuān stream, river.  The earliest graph seems to represent water flowing between two banks, with some indication of turbulence.

冖、 mì (bottle or jar) cap. The early drawings show something like a bottle cap in cross section.

欠、 qiàn to owe; gasp. The original graph shows a kneeling person being choked, leading to a deficiency of breath and a gasping sound.

重、 zhòng heavy. One component of this character is 壬, which in its early form looked like 工 and provides the top and bottom strokes of 重. The remainder of this character is a distorted form of 東 dōng, east, is this character's phonetic component. Some authorities say that the oracle bone form was a picture of some kind of weighing device, and others say that the original character meant "heavy" in the sense of "thick."

全、 quán entire, complete. 玉 yù jade is 入 rù (to enter) put into safekeeping so that it will remain whole.

ㄐ、 jiū intertwined vines; entangled.

奇、 qí to be strange and marvelous. 大 dà serves as a stick picture of a man, and 可 kě (permissible) stands for an exhalation or gasp of surprise or wonder.

characters 261-280

牙、 yá tooth. Picture of top and bottom teeth meshing.

辛、 xīn acrid. The early characters lack the dot found on the modern version. They show a spiky plant with its top two needle-like termini plunging into some other body, suggesting the offensive nature of the plant and, by extension, its odor or taste.

雨、 yǔ rain. The earliest form writes the four dots below the first four lines of the character, depicting a cloud above and rain drops falling down from those clouds.

襄、 xiāng    (1)to complete, accomplishment, (2) to ascend, to climb over, (3) to get rid of. The structure of this character has always involved 衣 yī clothing, but there are many explanations for its remaining components.

理、 lǐ pattern, pattern behind activities of things, "principle." 玉 yù, "jade," gives the idea of pattern 里 lǐ, "Chinese mile," gives the pronunciation of this character.

半、 bàn half. 八 bā, "eight," but also "to split," and 牛 niú, "cow." The ancient characters show a cow being split into two halves.

壬、 rén, "the ninth heavenly stem," but also is a version of 工 gōng (work) with and additional horizontal line to indicate the burden of work assigned to someone.

方、 fāng square, region, place, part of the country. The oracle bone characters depict a person carrying two carpenter's squares. The early drawings of squares are usually something like ⌶. It is unclear why such a structure would  be needed unless it were done that way to provide more mechanical stability. Some similar squares in use today are simpler, being merely on rail to lay along the edge of a plank and one extension at 90° to draw the line where the plank should be sawed: ┴. If and additional square of this type were to be combined (mentally, at least), ┬,  then one would have an instrument shaped like ┼, and that instrument could point to the four cardinal directions, to the four corners of the world, etc., and so it would be an appropriate symbol for talking both about geometrical squares, squared edges, but also regions, places, and parts of a country or even of the world.


↓瓜、 guā melon. The early characters show climbing melon vines, their tendrils, and fruit.

尹、 yǐn to govern, to rule. This character is composed of a variant of 又, yòu, a hand, and a line going diagonally to the left. It may be a straightedge and therefore a symbol of conformity to a standard, or it may be a stick used to compel conformity to rules. Possibly, like our oaken ardsticks, it could serve both purposes.

夕、 xì evening, dusk. The oracle bone form shows a drawing like that for 月 yuè, "moon," except that it is short one of the horizontal lines. The features of the moon are clearly visible at night, but when it is just getting dark they are generally obscured to some degree.


士、 shì a knight, and, because knights had to be educated to perform some of their duties, any well-educated, literate person. The character is similar to 王 wáng, "king," but lacks the prominent head signified by the top line of the character for king. 士, 王, and 皇 all depict seated officials. The first is without any special details, the second has a prominent head (for head man), and the third adds a crown (now simplified as 白). 皇 was the title of the three legendary rulers, Fu Xi (culture hero to whom fishing and trapping are attributed), Shen Nong (culture here to whom agriculture and medicinal use of herbs are attributed), and Huang Di (culture hero who invented centralized government).

曲、 qǔ bent, twisted, convoluted. The original graphs all show objects with one or more bends in them. The current form obscures this idea by adding an extraneous line in the top middle position.

把、 bǎ to take in hand. 手 shǒu, "hand," gives an idea of the category of meanings to which this character belongs, and 巴 bā. "serpent," gives an indication of its pronunciation. This character is rarely used as a verb. One can 把 the wield the tiller of a boat, for instance. However, this character is most often used to indicate that something has become the subject of special ministrations, usually with the kind of negative consequences appropriate to sentences that begin something like, "When I get my hands on you...."

間、 jiān interval; gap. One part of the meaning of this character is suggested by 門 mén, "double door," and the remainder is given by 日 rì, "sun." The entire character depicts the sun being seen through the crack between double doors.

同、 tóng fit together; same. This character depicts a bottle opening by using the character 口 kǒu, "mouth," and 冖 mì, cover or bottle cap. The two must be at (一 yī) one with each other to work well.

等、 děng equal, classes of things (e.g., railway tickets). 竹 zhú, "bamboo," was used to refer to the bamboo slips originally used for written records, and 寺 sì, "government office," but also "to serve," was used to indicate the work of "evening out the records." The superficial meaning would have been to put all bamboo slips of the same length together, but government officials producing these records would surely have had the slips all manufactured to a standard length. To do otherwise would have made it impossible to string them together into a bound volume constituting a single document. So the meaning must have been figurative, to find and balance the evidence as given in one document against the evidence given in one or more other documents.

與、 yǔ to give; and. The oracle bone characters show two hands at the top (belonging to one person), two hands at the bottom (belonging to somebody else), and in the middle there is a picture of something that appears to be a 舟 zhōu, "boat." So this character seems to depict two people exchanging property. In later versions of this character, the part that appears to be 舟 is replaced by 与. 与 yǔ itself means to pass something from one person to another, to give.


↑舟、 zhōu small boat, dugout canoe. The early graphs depict a dugout canoe. The top of the character represents the prow. There are places for two riders. Just as the character that represents a crescent moon is not properly closed at the bottom (月) so this character is also not properly closed at the bottom.

比、 bǐ to compare. This character is composed of two identical characters, both being 𠤎 huà, which represents an inverted human being. There is another character that places two 人 characters side by side, so when they wanted to use a picture of two humans being compared, e.g., as to height, they chose the alternate kind of picture of a human being to use instead.

flashcards 281-300

車、 chē chariot, cart, vehicle. This character is a drawing of a two-wheeled vehicle seen from the top. The single horizontal lines represent the wheels, the single vertical line represents the axle, and the part that looks like 曰 represents the bed of the vehicle.

死、 sǐ to die.  歹 dǎi bones broken in half, and 𠤎huà  an inverted (= transformed in substance) human

表、 biǎo outer surface of a garment; to represent (on the outside what is inside). The part that looks like 丰 is an altered 毛 máo, hair or fur character, and 衣 yī below it means clothing. So as a whole it represents the fuzzy outer surface of clothing that is presumably lined with some smooth fabric.

帶、 dài belt; to lead along (as at the end of a leash). 巾 jīn, scarf, represents a length of cloth below the picture of a belt buckle along with 冖 on top.

由、 yóu from  The part that looks like 曰 represents the outer part of some seed such as a bean, and the vertical line represents the sprout emerging from inside.

虫、 huǐ (a kind of small venomous snake or snake-like invertebrate; critter,“insect radical.” The part rectangular part represents the prominent eyes of a snake and the rest of the character was originally one stroke that looked something like and represents the body and tail of the snake.

坐、 zuò to sit; to ride (in a vehicle, airplane, boat, etc.) This character shows two  人 rén (humans) on the 土 tǔ ground. They were perhaps seated to enjoy a meal or conversation.

哪、 nǎ x person, x place, etc. (which (one)). 口 kǒu (mouth) is used in a conventional way to make another part of a character into a question, and 那 nà  means  "that," so when it is made into a question it means "which."

記、 jì to record, to commit to memory; to remember.    言 yán (speech) gives the idea that what is to be kept in memory has something to do with words, and 己 jǐ serves to give an indication of the pronunciation.

和、 hé to harmonize; with, and.  The inventors of this character seem to have had vocal harmony in mind so they used  口  kǒu (mouth) to suggest singing and they used  禾 hé (a head of grain hanging from a stem) as an indication of the pronunciation.

网、 wǎng a net, specifically a seine; web.  This character is a drawing of two light poles, one on either end, a fairly heavy piece of cord or a light rope stretched between them on the top, and netting hung beneath them to depict a seine. In practice, any net or web can be called a 网.

興、  xīng to arouse; to reawaken; xìng elated.  舁 yú, to lift, is combined with 同 tóng, together, to suggest the idea of elevating things to gether.

無、 wú to not have (classical Chinese).  This character borrows and simplifies 舞 wǔ, to dance, to write an abstract word with similar pronunciation.

買、 mǎi to purchase, to buy  网 wǎng, net, suggests the idea of acquiring someting and  貝 bèi, wampum, cowry shells, suggests the idea of a payment's being made.

爿、 qiáng, split log, left half.

准、 zhǔn to permit. The apparent components of this character are 冫 bīng, ice, and 隹 zhuī,  short-tailed bird. It is an alternate form of 準, but this simplification seems to be preferred when the meaning is "to permit."

斤、 jīn ax; a chinese pound. This character is a pictograph of an axe. The single vertical stroke represents the axe handle.

旦、 dàn dawn, daybreak.  This character shows 日rì, sun, over a horizontal line that represents the horizon.

弔、 diào to pay one’s respects (by attending a funeral). The long vertical line in this character is a distorted version of  人 rén, a human being holding a 弓 gōng, bow, to guard a dead body against scavengers.

專、 zhuān sole, single. The oracle bone characters picture a hand holding something like a potted plant, a tree dug up and its roots protected by cloth, or the like. If it does represent a sapling given such special care it may explain its current meaning of sole, single, or something taken to the exclusion of other candidates.

flashcards 301-320

阿、    ā a vocative prefix, for instance a little boy may be called by saying, "阿弟!"  阜 (阝) plateau, gives some sense of elevated status, and 可 kě suggests the pronunciation.

將、 jiāng to take in hand; [title] a general or admiral; in the future. Jiāng  consists of half a tree one the left side, and a hand holding a joint of pork or beef on the right.

名、    míng given name. This character is composed of 夕 xì (dusk) and 口 kǒu (mouth), which suggests the idea of calling someone by name.

咸、    xián  all.  戌 xū depicts a war axe of some kind and 口 kǒu is a mouth. The original character may have depicted some kind of battle injury done to the mouth. The present meaning is far from the original meanings.

呀、    yā a final particle at the end of a sentence to add emphasis. 口 kǒu, mouth,  gives the idea of a sound, and 牙 yá, tooth, gives an indication of the pronunciation.

分、    fēn to divide.  八 bā at the top depicts a single thing that has been cut in half, and 刀 dāo, knife, gives the idea of cutting something.

戶、    hù single-paned door. This drawing of a door is similar to the left half of 門 mén, a double door.

活 、   huó alive.  水 shuǐ, water on the 舌 shé tongue is needed to keep a person alive.

已、    yǐ already.

單、    dān simple, single-layer (sheet, etc.)

匝、    zā to converge. The ancient characters show converging lines.

叫、   jiào to call.  口 kǒu, mouth, gives the idea of making a sound and jiū, the right side of the character, gives the pronunciation.

信、    xìn  belief, trustworthiness. The left side is the compressed form of 人 rén, human being, and the right side is 言 yán, word, so it suggests the idea of the desirable state of agreement between human beings and their words.

字、    zì chinese character.  the top, 宀 mián depicts a house, and within the house are 子 zǐ, children, who are to learn their Chinese characters. the second component also gives an indication of this character's pronunciation.

動、    dòng to move.  重 zhòng, heavy, suggests the pronunciation of this character, and 力 lì, strength, gives an indication of the meaning.

第、    dì this character introduces an ordinal number (first, second, etc.) 竹 zhú, bamboo, on the top suggests the idea of bamboo slips on which information is recorded. These bamboo slips need to be kept in proper sequence.  弟 dì, younger brother, in its original form (the vertical line is an abbreviation for 人) gives an indication of its pronunciation.

星、    xīng star.  日 rì, sun, gives an indication of the meaning of this character, and shēng, to be born, gives an indication of the pronunciation.

感、    gǎn to be moved emotionally; feelings, sentiments.  咸 xián, all, gives an indication of the pronunciation and 心 xīn, heart or mind, gives an indication of the meaning.

另、    lìng separately, on the side.

但、    dàn but  人 rén gives an indication that this abstract idea pertains to human affairs, and 旦 dàn, daybreak, gives the pronunciation.

flashcards 321-340

轉、    zhuǎn to turn, to revolve.  車 chē, chariot, suggests the idea of rotation with it wheels, and 專 zhuān gives an indication of its pronunciation.

農、    nóng agricultural, farming. 曲 qǔ, coiled, seems to be on the top. 辰 chén, is the "fifth earthly branch." The oracle bone forms of this character are fairly different in their details from the modern character. the ancient forms seem to show two hands holding a seed, a bulb, or some other thing that is being planted, and below it there appear to be garden plots, some of which even seem to have markers on one end.

義、    yì righteousness. 羊 yáng, sheep, is placed above 我 wǒ, my, so perhaps there is some basic idea of the right that one has to one's own livestock.

啊、    ā, a  a particle used at the end of a sentence to give a sense of presumptuousness to the utterance. It is formed from 口 kǒu, mouth, to indicate the idea of something that is "just a sound," and 阿 ā that gives an indication of the pronunciation.

艸、    cǎo This character is a picture of two sprouts of grass.

吃 、   chī 口 to eat. kǒu, mouth, indicates where this activity occurs, and 乞 qǐ, to beg, gives a rough indication of the current pronunciation.

跌、    dié to trip and fall.  足 zú, foot, and 失 shī, to lose, combine to indicate that someone has lost his or her footing.

反、    fǎn, to turn over, to overturn. 又 yòu represents a hand seen in profile, and 厂 hǎn represents something in two different orientations. It also gives a rough indication of the pronunciation of this character.

僉、    qiān all, all the people, everybody, etc.

  sui phonetic    suì  八 bā on the top just indicates things going off in different directions ( like / \ ), and 豕 shǐ, pig, is below.

从、 cóng from.  This character shows one 人 following another, so the basic meaning may have been "to follow." now, however, it means "from."

多、 duō many. This character contains two copies of 夕 xì, dusk, which is a picture of an indistinct 月 yuè, moon, so it may be said to represent two moons. to have more than one moon would be to have too many moons.

定、 dìng definite. this character may be a cognate of 丁 dīng, nail. if one "nails something down," then it becomes definite. the earliest known forms of this character show 宀 mián, thatched hut, and 定 dìng, upright.

戰、 zhàn warfare. This character is composed of 單 dān, which gives some idea of the pronunciation. 戈 gē, halberd, gives the general category of meaning of this character.

師、 shī teacher, but its earlier meanings were, first, army, and second, instructor of the army. It is composed of 𠂤 duī, pile, and 匝 zā, to converge. so it is possible that the original meaning was "a pile of people," or "people converging on one place and piling up into an army."

所、 sǒ, place (dedicated to one special purpose as in 派出所 pài chū suǒ, police precinct station). the left half is 戶 hù, single-leaf door, and the right half is 斤 jīn, which means axe. However, the oracle bone forms of this character have an element that only vaguely resembles 斤, it seems closer in appearance to 水 shuǐ, water. possibly this element was used because dwelling places are frequently associated with sources of water.

电、 diàn, lightning, electricity.  This diagram originally had a left bending part on top to balance the right bending part on the bottom. It is a picture of a lightning bolt zig-zagging down the sky. In its early form it has a fork like a handwritten y at the top and a fork like an h at the bottom. (The two parts are symmetrical.)

卜、 bǔ to make divination by cracking a tortoise shell or sheep scapula with a sort of wooden hammer. The early characters seem to be drawings of cracks in a shell or bone that crack and go in two different directions.

巠、    jing-    underground stream. This character is composed of a horizontal line on the top, representing the surface of the ground. Under that line there is a variant of 川 chuān, river, and below that there is an abbreviated 土 tǔ, soil, character. So this is a sort of schematic diagram of an underground river.

少、    shǎo few, little in quantity. This character is closely related to 小 xiǎo small. In the oracle bone form of these characters, 小 is three dots, and 少 is four dots.

flashcards 341-360

爸、    bà  papa.  This character is composed of 父 fù, father, which gives an indication of the meaning, and 巴 少 bā, serpent, which gives an indication of the pronunciation, ((384

得、    dé   to get, to acquire.  彳 chì, short step, gives the idea of going somewhere to get something, and the right side is a compressed form of 貝 bèi, hand, and 寸
cùn, which is a drawing of a hand with a finger marked, but the oracle bone form of 得 has a picture of a hand, so it is a hand grasping a cowry shell (wampum).

快、    kuài happy; fast.  This character is composed of the compressed form of 心 xīn (heart radical)  and 夬 guài, to judge, which gives a rough indication of the pronunciation.

令、    lìng command. The oracle bone characters show a human being kneeling under a figure that looks like an A. Some authorities say the A figure represents a mouth issuing a command. Others say the three lines are drawn to indicate bringing people together so that commands can be issued.

前、   qián fore (before). The present character has a modified 止 zhǐ, foot, at the top. The part that looks like 月 beneath is actually 舟 zhōu, nacelle, and the 刂 compressed dāo, knife. However, the bronze form of the character shows a foot on the boat and the character for crossroads surrounding it. The composite picture gives the idea of a person on a boat moving along a determinate path, perhaps even a canal.

騎、    qí    to ride (a horse, bicycle, or other thing that is straddled). 馬 mǎ, horse, gives an indication of the meaning, and 奇 qí gives the pronunciation.

牠、    tā    he, she, it (applied to animals). 牛 niú, cow, gives an indication of the meaning, and 也 yě is regarded as the phonetic component of this character..

戠、    shi or zhi phonetic   Zhí refers to a watchtower. The oracle bone character depicts a trumpet and a halberd, which is consistent with the meaning of "watchtower."

別、    bié other.  This character seems to be composed of 另 lìng, "on the side," and 刀 dāo, knife, in its compressed form.  The knife may suggest the idea of cutting something lose from the main body and thus making it other than that main body.

公、    gōng male (animal), duke.  The oracle bone characters seem to be a kind of schematic diagram showing the uretheral opening of the penis at the bottom and the foresin above and surrounding it.

從、    cóng    from.  this character consists of the fundamental 从 cóng, from, along with 彳 chì, short step, and 止 zhǐ, (foot but here just its graphic nature) foot.

升、    shēng to ascend. the bronze characters are already highly abstract and are structurally different from the modern form.

飞、    fēi  this element of a traditional character is a component of the traditional character 飛, and it serves as a simplified character by itself. it is a depiction of a bird's wing.

告、    gào   (to bawl like a cow), to tell, to inform. 牛 niú, cow, gives the idea of an animal capable of making a loud noise, and 口 kǒu, mouth, suggests the idea of making a sound.

種、    zhǒng, seed; kind, sort, variety.  禾 hé, grain on a stalk of growing grass, gives the general meaning of this character, and 重 zhòng, heavy, gives an indication of its pronunciation.

𢛳、   dé  This character shows a 心 xin1, heart or mind, that is 一 yi1, integrated, and 直 zhi2, straight.

命、    mìng  mandate, commandment; to order, to command.  This character is composed of 令 lìng, to command, and 口 kǒu, mouth. the addition of the mouth element suggests the oral nature of the issued instructions.

臉、    liǎn face.  The compressed form of 肉 ròu (⺼) gives an indication of the meaning of this character, and 僉 qiān, everybody, gives an indication of the pronunciation.

岡、    gāng ridge.   The top part of this character is a distorted version of 网 wǎng, which gives an indication of the pronunciation, and below wǎng there is 山 shān, mountain, which gives an indication of its meaning.

爭、    zheng1 to struggle.  爪  zhăo represents a paw being used to sieze something, The element 肀, minus the vertical stroke, is a picture of a hand. The vertical stroke in this character represents the up and down motion involved in the struggle between something's paw and somebody's hand. Presumably they are fighting over something.

flashcards 361-380

巳、 si`    A cyclical character. (This character is typically only used in dates given in ancient documents.) The picture might be a tadpole at an early stage, or some other embryo or newborn creature.

午、wǔ    meridian. (So 中午 is noon.) This character is extremely simplistic. The oracle bone forms might represent the center post of a sundial.

外、wài    outside. The earliest oracle bone forms only contain the right element. That element resembles 卜 bǔ, to prognosticate, but that character was originally just a main crack and a smaller crack veering off to one side. Later 夕 xì was added. That character is a picture of an indistinctly seen moon, the moon as it appears at dusk when the sky is still fairly bright. The traditional explanation is that when somebody is outside the home and it is getting dark then people who are anxious will perform a divination.

垂、    chuí    to drape down. The early forms of this character seem to be drawings of a piece of cloth draping down from the corner of a table.

打、    dǎ    to hit, to strike, to tap out (on a telegraph set, a typewriter, or other keyboard device) .

包、    bāo    a sack. The oracle bone form shows a sort of cross-section of a pregnant woman with a fetus inside her enlarged abdomen.

曼、    màn    delicate, beautiful; graceful.  It is unclear what the 口 on the top is intended to stand for. but bronze characters show a hand under an eye with prominent eyelashes. The top element may represent a hat, perhaps a stylish hat.

氐、    dī    the third zodiacal constellation; the foundation (of a building, etc.).  representing roots + a horizontal line representing the ground = fndn. The early seal forms seem to represent something going into the middle of 土 tu3, earth, and then forming something that covers over the top of the earth. If the diagonal line going from the upper center to the bottom right in the present-day character were made into a simple vertical line, one would then have 土 and the remainder of the characters

象、    xiàng    elephant. The oracle bone form is a clear drawing of an elephant.

刃、   rèn    blade (of a knife, etc.). This characters shows 刀 dao1, knife, with a mark to indicate the blade.

免、    miǎn    to avoid. The traditional explanation is that this character represents a 兔 tu4, rabbit, that has gotten away — symbolized by the missing dot, which may have respresented a hand as seen in one seal character.

史、    shǐ    history.  The original meaning of this character was "chronicler," and the ancient characters all show a hand holding something that is presumed to represent some kind of a writing instrument.

經、    jīng    the warp of a woven fabric; the constant; a canonical text; to pass through. This character is formed from 糸 mi4, skein of thread, and 巠 jing1, underground river. There appears to be an analogy between the passage of streams of water through the earth and the passage of threads of the woof, in cloth being woven, through threads of the warp.

食、   shí   feed; to feed, to eat.  In the oracle bone characters the part resembling the letter "A" at the top represents a mouth, and the rest of the character is a drawing of a vessel with legs that is full of food.

占、    zhàn    to perform a divination. This character uses 口 kou3, mouth, to indicate that there is an oral telling of the interpretation of 卜 bu3, a reading of cracks in the plastron of a turtle of the shoulder bone of some mammal such as a sheep used for divination.

交、    jiāo    to intertwine. The bronze forms of this character all depict a human with crossed legs.

号、    hào    to cry out, to roar.  This character is composed of 口 kou3, mouth, which gives an indication of its meaning, and ㄎ kao3,  which diagrams breathing against or  into an impediment.

故、    gù    cause, reason for something being the way it is. This character is composed of 古 gu3, ancient, which both gives an indication of its pronunciation and also indicates that it represents a factor that already existed in the past, and the right half pū, which shows a hand driving something forward with a stick. So the character is designed to indicate things from the fast that have driven forth events in the present.

飛、    fēi    to fly. This character is composed of two 飞 fēi characters depicting the two wings of a bird and 升 sheng1, which means to ascend. To ascend by use of two wings means to fly.

聽 、   tīng    to listen, to hear. Ancient characters showed one or two 口 kou3, mouths next to one 耳 er3, ear. Its modern form retains 耳 to which it adds 壬 rén , a cyclical character, and 𢛳 underneath

flashcards  381-400

干、    gān    to encroach upon. The oracle bone characters are said to be drawings of a shield.

夭、    yāo    early death. The oracle bone forms of this character show a young person with arms raised and bent at the elbows as though waving or throwing a ball.

羽、    yŭ    feathers. Each half of this character appears to represent a bird's wing. Later characters  use lines resembling 彡 shān to represent the feathers on the trailing edges of the wing.

雁、     yàn   wild goose. This character has three components. 厂 han3, represents a cliff and may function only as a phonetic component in this character. 隹 zhui1, short-tailed bird, gives an indication that 雁 is some kind of bird, and 人 ren2 depicts the shape of a flock of these birds as they fly.

穴、     xuè   crevice. This character shows 宀 mian2, thatched hut, and 八 ba1, eight (but also diagrammatic of divergence). No oracle bone forms have been found, and the later seal characters are fairly enimgatic. One of them  shows the outline of mian2 with a circle (hole) at the center point, which may indicate a leak in the roof. It seems fairly clear that the character is intended to depict a protective surface with some kind of drawing away from one point of damage.

像、     xiàng   to resemble. This characters is composed of 人 ren2, human being, and 象 xiang4, elephant. 象 can be used to mean "image," so the character makes reference to a person and an image, and an ideal image would greatly resemble the person depicted.

吏、    lì    someone whose job is to regulate the people, a minor official. This character is composed of 一 yī, one, and 史 shǐ, history but also chronicler.

化、     huà   to transform, to change. This character is composed of 人 rén, human being, and 𠤎 huà, transformed human or dead human. There is a transformation  from one to the other.

軍、     jūn   military. This character shows a 車 chē, vehicle, that is 冖 mì, covered.

連、     lián   even, all the up to, all the way down to. This character is composed of the "running radical" 辶 chuò, which indicates movement, and 車 chē, which may suggest a linked column or convoy of vehicles.

忍、    rrěn   to endure. This character depicts something to endure by combining the characters for blade, 刃 rèn, with the character for heart or mind, 心 xīn, suggesting something cutting into one's heart.

昜、     yáng   resplendent. This character shows 日 ri4, sun, with beams descending from it. The oracle bone forms show 日 with 下 xià, to descend, drawn below it.

飯、     fàn   cooked rice; food. This character contains 食 shí, food, and 反 fǎn, to overturn, is given to indicate its pronunciation.

虎、     hŭ    tiger.  The top part is 虍 hu1, tiger stripes, which indicates its meaning. The bottom part was 刀 dāo in the earliest characters. Currently it is 几 jī, low table, which does not seem to have any substantial reason for its use.

邊、     biān   edge; side. This character has a complicated history of development. Two of its components are fairly consistent, 辶 chuo4, "running radical" and  自 zi4, "self," but here it probably has its original meaning of nose. In meanings such as "east side," "west side," etc., the nose component may indicate the direction that somebody is moving in. One of the seal forms appears to contain 而 er2, which as an early schematic ↔ would suggest "left side" and "right side." The modern form includes 穴 xue4, crevice, and 方 fang1, direction, which might be thought to include the ideas of the nose pointing in a certain direction and entering a crevice or channel of some kind.

做、     zuò    to make.  there are no oracle or seal forms for this character. it appears to be a cognate of 作, which has the same modern pronunciation and basic meaning. 做 is composed of 人 rén, which suggests human activity and 故 gù, causes, so to 做 can be understood as meaning for a human being to do one thing that causes something else.

文、     wén   pattern, decoration; written language. The early forms seem to depict a human with the thorax emphasized. Sometimes there appears to be the character 心 xin1, heart, placed on the thorax, and at other times some simpler figure is drawn there. None of these forms seem to support the belief that this character originally indicated a human with tattoos or other forms of ornamentation on the body.

長、     zhăng    to grow; elder. One of the oracle bone forms seems to be a clear picture of a human being with long hair. Other forms are more abstract and might be intended to represent something else.

穿 、    chuān    to don clothing, to penetrate. One of the seal forms clearly depicts two hoops with a rod running through them. The other early forms are similar to the present form, containing 穴  xuè, crevice, and 牙yā, tooth. Here the image seems pretty clearly to be that of a tooth fitting into an indentation (or creating the indentation in the act of biting).

flashcards 401-420

媽    mā    mama. 女 nǚ indicates, in a general way, the meaning of this character and 馬 mǎ gives an indication of its pronunciation.

晚    wǎn  evening, late. 日 rì, sun,  gives 免 miǎn, to avoid, gives an indication of the pronunciation.  

孝    xiào filial piety. 老 lǎo, older person, and 子 zǐ, child, shows an adult standing in a superior position to a child, demaning respect.

聿    yù  nimble.       Variant of 又 yòu, hand, holding a brush. 

面    miàn face, surface. Early characters showed a head and one eye (目), or a head and a nose.

場    chǎng field.   土 tǔ, earth, gives an indication of the meaning. 昜 yáng, resplendant, gives an indication of the pronunciation.  The earliest characters were similar to 田 tián, field.

認    rèn to acknowledge, to recognize. 言 yán, speech, gives a very general category of meaning and 忍 rěn, to endure, gives the pronunciation. 

民    mín  people, humans, the ordinary people.
識    shì  to identify, to recognize,      言 yán, speech, gives a very general category of meaning and 戠 zhí , watchtower, gives an indication of the pronunciation.

運    yùn to transport, to move something around, to use.  軍 jūn, military, gives an indication of the pronunciation and is itself a picture of a closed wagon used to transport matériels, and 辶 (辵)chuò indicates that this character represents something having to do with movement. 

館    guǎn guesthouse for government officials, restaurant, embassy or consulate building.   食 shí, to feed, gives an indication of the meaning, and  官 guān, official, gives the pronunciation.

豆    dòu bean.  Picture of a bronze food container with something in it.

年    nián year    Early versions of this character show a person carrying reaped stalks of wheat or other grain crop.

新    xīn      辛 xīn, acrid on which is superimposed 木 mù, tree, and 斤 jīn, ax, are the components of this character. Axes chop trees, and a new cut may have a somewhat acrid or nose-stinging odor.

剛    gāng tough or firm; just now   岡 gāng, mountain ridge, gives the pronunciation and 刀 (compressed form, 刂) dāo gives an indication of the meaning.

石    shí  a stone, a rock. this character consists of 厂 hǎn, cliff, and a roughly cubical rock that has fallen below.

屮    chè  a single sprig of grass.

𦥯    xue/jue  (this is just a common phonetic.)   臼 jiù, mortarm 爻 yáo, lines in the hexagrams used in the book of changes, and 冖 mì, cover.  In the earliest forms it seems to consist of two or four crossed sticks, two hands, and, below that, a house. The sticks may be counting sticks or sticks used to prognosticate.

近    jìn nearby   斤 jīn, ax, gives the pronunciation and 辵 辶 chuò indicates that the meaning of this character is connected with movement.

及    jí    人 rén  human and an element that is related to 又 yòu and indicates a hand reaching out to catch the man. Early characters show a hand grabbing somebody by the ankle.

flashcards 421-440


它    ta-    523  
教    jiao`  孝 xiào 攴 攵 pū  468   moved
假    jia^    469
書   shu1
它    ta-    523
訴    su`    472
幹    gan`    473
向    xiang`    474
豐    feng-     475
豆    dou`    476
站    zhan`    477
旗-其    yan^    478
黑    hei-    479
骨    gu^    482
舄    xi/    481
元    yuan/    443
甬    yong^    483
爬    pa/    484
朋    peng/    485
友    you^    486
或    huo`    487
使    shi^    488
=================441-460 waiting for flashcards, sorry

果    guo^    503
學    xue/    490
研    yan/    491
究    jiu`    492
草    cao^    493
親    qin-    494
寄    ji`    495
幾    ji^    496
身    shen-    497
體    ti^    498
點    dian^    499
情    qing/    500
寫    xie^    501
陽    yang/    502
系    xi`    551
然    ran/    504
底    di^    505
房    fang/    506
辦    ban`    507
丁、 dīng nail; surname. This character is a drawing of a nail. The head of the nail is on top, and the point is at the bottom.
=================461-480 waiting for flashcards, sorry

頭    tou/    508
級    ji/    509
更    geng`    510
深    shen-    511
於    yu/    512
世    shi`    513
色    se`    514
通    tong-    515
隊    dui`    516
倒    dao^    517
電    dian`    518
法    fa^    519
清    qing-    520
收    shou-    521
朮    zhu/    548
臣    chen/    546
送    song`    522
望    wang`    524
睡    shui`    525
該    gai-    526

===============481-500 waiting for flashcards, sorry
應    ying-    527
覺    jue/    528
路    lu`    529

765 flashcards

Compounds 1-20

Compounds 21-40

Compounds 41-60

Compounds 61-80

Compounds 81-100

Sets 1 & 2 w/ examples (Characters 1-40 with examples to trim away)

For more help on the origins and structures of Chinese characters see Zhong Wen Dot Com.