Mar 20, 2023

5 Essential Rules for Writing Chinese Characters: A Beginner’s Guide (With Examples)

If you’re reading this post, there’s a good chance that you’ve learned how to read Chinese characters. Now, you may want to learn how to write them as well. However, you may feel intimidated by the thought of writing them, as the composition of most Chinese characters can seem daunting at first glance.

Fear not! In this post, we’ll guide you through five essential rules and show examples to help you confidently write Chinese characters. By learning these rules, you’ll be able to write characters correctly and efficiently. Additionally, you’ll gain a better grasp of Chinese vocabulary, as understanding the underlying structure of characters can help you memorize them more easily.

Rule 1: Left to Right, Top to bottom

When writing Chinese characters, following a specific stroke order is important. The first rule to remember is to start writing from the top-most horizontal stroke and work your way down, writing each subsequent horizontal stroke from left to right.

This rule applies to the majority of characters, including those with multiple horizontal strokes. For example, the character for “person” 人 (rén) consists of two strokes, namely 撇 (piě; top-right to bottom-left) stroke and 捺 (nà; top-left to bottom-right) stroke. So, to write correctly, you should start with 撇 (piě) stroke and then finish off the character 人 (rén) with 捺 (nà) stroke. See our animation below for step-by-step guidance.

Rule 2: Horizontal before vertical

The second rule to remember is to write horizontal strokes before vertical strokes. Let’s take the character for “work” 工 (gōng) as an example. The character consists of three strokes which can be categorized into two types: 橫/横 (héng; horizontal) stroke and 豎/竖 (shù; vertical) stroke.

To write 工 correctly, you would start with the top horizontal (橫/横) stroke, followed by the vertical stroke (豎/竖), and finally, the bottom horizontal (橫/横) stroke. This particular sequence also reflects Rule 1 above, i.e. top to bottom.

To help you remember Rule 2 easier, you can also think of the uppercase alphabet letter “I.” How you write this letter is similar to how you would write the character 工.

Rule 3: Left part before right part

This rule applies to compound characters, which consist of two or more single characters or building blocks. Unlike the single-component characters we have seen so far, such as 人 and 工, compound characters can be divided into meaningful units, known as single characters or radicals.

If the composition of a compound character can be divided into a left part and a right part, the left part should be completed first before attempting the right part. For example, the character for “to rest” 休 (xiū) consists of two parts: the left part 亻 (the person radical) and the right part 木 (tree/wood). So according to Rule 3, you’d write 亻first, then 木 to complete the character 休. When writing each part, it’s also important to remember to apply Rules 1 and 2, which specify the order of strokes for horizontal and vertical lines.

how to write 'to rest' in Chinese

Rule 4: Center first in vertically symmetrical characters

Some characters have a “vertically symmetrical” composition, which means they have a central vertical axis that divides them into two mirror-image halves. The central element should be written first in these characters, followed by the elements on the left and right sides.

For example, the character 小 (xiǎo; small) has a vertically symmetrical composition. It has two dots (點/点; diǎn) on either side of a central vertical (豎/竖; shù) line with a hook (鉤/钩; gōu) at the bottom. When writing 小, you should start with the central vertical line together with the hook, then write the left and right dots. Other characters that share this composition include 火 (fire) and 水 (water).

how to write 'small' in Chinese

However, not all three-part compound characters follow this rule. For example, the character 做 (zuò; to do) is composed of three parts: 亻 (the person radical), 古, and ⺙. These elements are not vertically symmetrical but instead are arranged from left to right. In such cases, you should follow the “left part before right part” rule (Rule 3) and write the left part first, followed by the middle and right parts. Other examples of characters that follow this writing order include 川 (chuān; river), 猴 (hóu; monkey), and 班 (bān; shift).

Rule 5: Close the box last and move from outside to inside for surrounded characters

Some Chinese characters have a “surrounded” composition. This composition type can be further divided into “full” or “three-side” surrounded structures.

Examples of fully surrounded characters include 四 (four) and 回 (to return), while 區/区 (area) and 匠 (craftsman) are three-side surrounded characters. When writing these characters, the rule is to finish the inner line before what surrounds it and to close the box or the surrounding structure last.

For example, let’s look at the character 回 (to return), which consists of two boxes, with the smaller one fully surrounded by the larger one. To write this character, start with the left vertical line of the larger box, then move to the top horizontal line from left to right, and take a downward turn on the right. Next, move to the smaller box and follow the same sequence, but close the smaller box by writing the bottom horizontal line before adding the last stroke, the bottom horizontal line of the larger box.

So when writing fully or three-sided surrounded characters, remember to move from outside to inside and finish with the last line of the surrounding part.


In conclusion, learning those five basic writing rules is essential for anyone looking to take that first step in Chinese writing. Because they not only ensure that characters are written correctly but also help with memorization and recognition. As a result, your Chinese reading skill will be enhanced, too. Finally, it’s important to practice writing Chinese regularly so you can review those rules consistently and be on track towards writing with confidence and accuracy.

By Chineasy | A Super Chineasian

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