The Art of Strokes

I had never given much thought to the types of strokes I was using when creating chinese characters (hanzi, 漢子). Typically I looked at a character and just tried to figure it out. If the line had a certain type of squiggle, I would be sure to just remember that exact line and copy it in the future. Over the past day or so, I have grown very conscious of the types of lines that are used to create the characters. While the Integrated series used at Mary Washington does cover these strokes, it is more of a footnote than other books. But I now know the names of each basic stroke. It honestly helps to decipher a character as well as write each line correctly. I remember having some trouble throughout my first two semesters in Chinese distinguishing which direction to draw a stroke, did that go from top right bottom left? Or bottom left to top right? Does it even matter?

To beginners, as far as I can tell, the stroke order and direction of said strokes are all the same. I do a very basic exercise now where I look at a character and as I draw it, say each stroke I am drawing. This is particularly helpful when learning traditional characters. For those not in the know, which is a lot of us, there are essentially two sets of 漢子, traditional and simplified. Simplified characters can be found predominantly on mainland China, particularly around Beijing. The Chinese government took some of the more complicated characters and either slightly modified, overhauled, or ditched them in order to expedite the written learning within their borders. However this can get really difficult when the two sets sometimes do not match at all. What do you do when your histories are in traditional but you only read simplified? I don’t know if there is an answer to that question yet. Turning to traditional, these characters can be wildly complex looking to new students (新學生, xin xuesheng). If the mainland (zhongguo 中國) is writing simplified, who is doing traditional? Well, surprisingly a great number! If you go into any Chinatown across the states you will see that all the signs read in traditional and these complex symbols are the mainstay in Taiwan. In response to my new surroundings and with the ICLP’s placement exam approaching, I have been digging into the traditional characters. A familiarity with both are essential, especially if you are doing work with written material that pre-dates all these changes.

So the strokes! Well, I’m not entirely certain how to write them into a word press blog, but we can do this: check out this website’s guide to strokes. While the links are pretty much all outdated, it still offers all the information, including some stuff about components and stroke order. I have rediscovered the basics for myself. One day knowing the name of the strokes probably won’t matter, but by then it will be internalized, so I’ll still be carrying it around with me, I just won’t know it!

I’ve also been looking at the bopomofo system. You can look it up on wikipedia, if you are super curious, but I would like to talk about that later in a larger discussion of different systems representing the sounds that each 漢子 makes. Okay!

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