The Mother of Civilization

Hanzi is not the synonym of Chinese character, it is only part of it. There are 57 ethnic groups (while the majorty are Han person who use Han language), some of them have their own language, for example, Tibetan people and Manchu people.

Feature of Han Zi

Every Han Zi contains 3 elements: shape(形), sound(音) and meaning(義).

Every single Han Zi has its own meaning, which is different from English, alphabet itself only has shape, sound and meaning.

Evolution of Han Zi

(1) Oracle bone script (Jiaguwen)

Ancient Chinese characters which were incised (rarely brush-written) on animal bones or turtle shells, while such bones and shells are used in divination about 4000 years ago.

(2) Bronze inscriptions (Jinwen)

Ancient Chinese characters written on Chinese bronze artifacts such as Zhong(bells) and Ding(tripodal cauldrons) from the Shang dynasty(1000BC) to the Zhou dynasty(200BC) and even later.

(3) Seal script (Zhuanshu)

Ancient Chinese characters which had evolved slowly during the Eastern Zhou dynasty(200BC), became standardized and adopted as the formal script for all of China in the Qin dynasty, and was still widely used for seals (name chops, or signets) in the Han dynasty onward.

(4) The regular script (Kaishu)

Also known as standard regular (Zhenkai), is the newest of the Chinese calligraphy styles (appearing around 2nd century), hence most common in modern writings and publications.

Change, change, change...


From picture to text
From drawing to writing

The Construction of Han Zi

(1) Pictograms (Xiangxing)

Pictograms make up only a small portion of Han Zi. While characters in this class derive from pictures directly, their meanings are relatively simple.


Examples:(sun), (moon), (water), (fire), 鳥(bird), 魚(fish)

(2) Ideograms (Zhishi)

Characters derive from the modification of existing pictographs iconically. In comparing with Pictograms,the meanings of Ideograms are more abstract. This category is extremely small.


Examples:刃(blade), 本(root), 末(end), 上(up), 下(down)

(3) Ideogrammic compounds (Huiyi)

These characters symbolically combine pictograms or ideograms to create a third character which has a new meaning.
Characters fall into this category are slightly larger than Pictograms.


Examples:林(forest), 森(jungle)、休(rest)、淼(flood)、好(good), 旦(dawn)

(4) Phono-semantic compounds (Xingshing)

These characters are composed of two parts: one of a limited set of pictographs (while sometimes is the simplified form of such pictograph), which suggests the general meaning of the character, and an existing character pronounced approximately as the new target word.
By far it is the most numerous category.


Examples:鯨(whale), 鯉(carp), 鯊(shark), 鷺(heron), 鷲(condor), 鶴(crane)


Multi-function Chinese Character Database

Uncle Hanzi's Chinese Etymology