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A General Guide To Chinese Character Stroke Order 

Have you ever wondered how people write Chinese characters? With so many strokes, it makes you ask if they follow any particular rules or just write as they please? The answer is there’s a standard stroke order, but not everyone writes accordingly! 

This article will explain why stroke order matters and how to write them correctly.  

What is stroke order? 

Strokes are dots and lines – the writing movements of a character. Stroke order refers to the right and proper way to write a Chinese character in strokes.  

Many Chinese-language newbie learners question if the order of their strokes matters at all. After all, isn’t the goal just to write legible Chinese characters? Who cares how you write them?

Well, you should care! Learning stroke order may seem unnecessary, especially in our modern world, when we mostly type things instead of writing them.  

But, handwriting is here to stay, and stroke order remains extremely important. Read on to find out why!

Why should you learn stroke order? 

Learning stroke order is the fastest way to write Chinese characters well. 

It helps your Chinese characters look nice  

A Chinese character can have up to 57 strokes, and the average number of strokes is 12 strokes per character. That’s why it’s quite difficult and complex to space your characters’ components neatly. Stroke order can help you with that. It gives you a systematic guide on where to start and what to write next. Knowing the ins and outs of stroke order enables you to structure any complicated Chinese character and write it quickly with confidence. 

It helps your Chinese writing go smoothly  

There’s a reason why the Chinese stroke order has remained strong over the millennia. The rules have been tested and developed generation after generation, proving that this system makes your writing easier and smoother. 

An easy way to understand how stroke order can hasten your writing is to imagine it with the English language. Take the letter ‘m’, for example. Imagine starting to write every letter ‘m’ from the center. That would definitely slow your writing speed down.  

It helps you read others’ writing, too

When you get used to reading and writing Chinese, you’re likely to get sloppier with your handwriting. It won’t be as neat as before, and the characters change somewhat over time. So if you write the same stroke order like everyone else, the changes will tend to be similar to others’ too. It helps you when you read someone’s handwriting that is not too legible; you’ll have a better chance of figuring out what they were writing based on your own experience. It works the other way when people read your handwriting too!

To conclude: Stroke order improves the speed, accuracy, and readability of your Chinese writing. 

5 Basic rules of Chinese stroke order (With examples)

Here is your general guide to writing with proper Chinese stroke order.

1. Top to bottom, left to right

The most basic and easy-to-remember stroke order rule is to write from top to bottom and left to right. You can think of it the same way we write a paragraph in English: we write from the first line, then move downwards and from left to right.  

For example, character 一 (one) is written with a single horizontal line from left to right. The same rule applied to character 二 (two). Both strokes are written from left to right, and starting with the top stroke. 

Another example is 品 (article, product): you write the upper components first, then lower ones from left to right. 

stroke order: Top to bottom, left to
Source: Visual Mandarin 

2. Horizontal then vertical

When you see horizontal and vertical strokes intersect, write the horizontal one first, then vertical. A typical example is character 十 (ten). It has two horizontal and vertical strokes, so you write 一 first, followed by丨.

Take a closer look at how the strokes order in this character 丰 (good-looking): 

stroke order: Horizontal then vertical
Source: Visual Mandarin 

3. Outside first, inside second, closing last

With characters having outer and inner strokers like 回, 田, 同 and 月, you start writing outside enclosing components first, then inside components, and bottom strokes in the enclosure are written (last from left to right) if present.

Here is how to write the character 日(sun) in the correct stroke order: 

stroke order: Outside first, inside second, closing last
Source: Visual Mandarin 

To remember this stroke rule, we have a fun mnemonic for you: Build a house, buy furniture, and don’t forget to close the door! 

4. Inside out with vertically symmetrical characters

In vertically symmetrical characters, write middle components first, then apply the first rule for the remaining strokes on both sides. 

For example, the stroke order for the character 非 (wrong) is: left-center vertical stroke → 3 left side strokes from top to bottom, left to right → right-center vertical stroke → 3 right side strokes from top to bottom, left to right. 

stroke order: Inside out with vertically symmetrical characters
Source: Visual Mandarin 

5. Diagonals right-to-left first, then diagonals left-to-right

Remember to put right-to-left diagonals (丿) before left-to-right diagonals (乀) when writing Chinese characters. A classic example of this rule is character 入 (enter.) You’ll also apply this rule in characters like 八 (eight), 交 (deliver), and 分 (divide).

stroke order: Diagonals right-to-left first, then diagonals left-to-right
Source: Visual Mandarin 

How to practice writing strokes in the correct order

Before you start practicing, make sure you remember all 5 basic rules above. There are some other rules and variations, but learning those five is enough to start with. When you successfully encode them in your mind, practice writing common and easy characters with less than 10 strokes.

Doing so will help you memorize the rules even better and solidify that knowledge. When you start feeling comfortable writing strokes, and your accuracy is pretty high, level up with more complex characters.  

Keep in mind that whenever you’re unsure about the stroke order, check them immediately from your textbook or in any Chinese stroke order online dictionary like Visual Mandarin, Yellow Bridge, or   

Make learning Chinese easier today!

Stroke order is a great traditional method to write Chinese characters with ease. Once you master your stroke order, focus your mind on building your vocabulary with Pandanese! It’s a web-based app providing mnemonic flashcards and Spaced Repetition System (SRS) curriculum and reviews. Both features are proven memory techniques, helping you remember 6000+ Chinese characters and vocabulary in just a year! 
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