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Chinese Character Profiles

Chinese character profiles are about the history, structure and meaning of Chinese characters. The profiles include information about how the characters evolved, their present usage, and related vocabulary.

Bei - Shell
The Chinese character for shell also means money, since cowrie shells were used as currency in ancient China.

Cao - Grass
The Chinese character for grass is cao, which in its radical form is used in many Chinese characters related to plants and growth.

Chi - Teeth
The Chinese character for teeth is chi. The character looks like a mouthful of teeth, or one tooth in the case of the simplified version.

Chong - Insect or Worm
The Chinese character for insect or worm is a pictograph showing a snake. As a radical, it is the basis for many other Chinese characters, many of which have to do with the animal world.

Er - Ear
The Chinese character for ear is pronounced er. It is a pictograph, and the earliest forms where a naturalistic depiction of an ear, but the modern form is more stylized. Learn Mandarin vocabulary related to er.

Gong - Work
The Chinese character for work is gong, which is used in many compound Mandarin words related to work and industry.

Gu - Ancient
The Chinese character for ancient is pronounced gu and is composed of two elements - the number 10 and a mouth. The character gu represents ideas and speech that have passed down ten generations.

Hao - Good
The Mandarin Chinese character Hao is made up of two radicals - Nu and Zi­. Hao means 'good' in English, and also functions as an intensifier.

Hei - Black
The Chinese character for black is evolved from the original character which showed a window or vent over a fire, giving the idea of the blackness of soot.

Hua - Speech
The Chinese character for "speech" is made up of two components - the character which means "words" and the character which means "tongue".

Huo - Fire
The Chinese character for fire is a pictograph showing the flames of a fire. The character is also a radical and is used in many characters related to fire, burning, heat, and anger.

Jia - Home
The Mandarin Chinese character Jia is made up of two radicals - Shi and Mian. Jia means 'family' or 'house' in English.

Kan - Look
The Chinese character for look is a compound of two characters and shows a hand over an eye.

Kou - Mouth
The Chinese character for mouth is kou - which is a pictograph of an open mouth. Kou is also a radical and is used in many characters related to the mouth and the voice.

Lao - Old
The Chinese character for old looks like an old man with a cane and is pronounced lao. It is used in many words relating to aging and respect.

Ma - Horse
The Chinese character for horse is a pictograph showing the body and legs of a horse. It is a radical which is used to form other, more complex characters, and is often used as a phonetic in foreign names.

Mu - Eye
The Chinese character for eye is a pictogram showing a stylized eye standing on end. The earliest versions of this character where more naturalistic.

Mu - Tree
The Mandarin Chinese character mu is a radical as well as an independent character. It is a pictograph representing a tree.

Ni - You
The Mandarin Chinese character for 'you' is made up of a combination of characters representing a person who has equal stature.

Niao - Bird
The Chinese character for bird is pronounced niao, and is a pictograph of bird. The character niao is also a radical which is used in other more complex characters, most of them related to birds.

Ren - Person
The Mandarin Chinese character meaning person shows the two legs and torso of a human body.

Ri - Sun
The Chinese character for sun is a pictograph showing a square sun with a stroke through it. This character is also a radical and is used in many complex characters related to the sun, days and brightness.

Shan - Mountain
The Chinese character for mountain is a pictograph showing three peaks of a mountain range. The character is a radical and is used in many other more complex characters related to mountains and height.

Shi - Stone
The Chinese character for stone is pronounced shi. As a radical, it is used to form more complex characters which often have something to do with stones, geology or strength. Learn related vocabulary based on the Chinese character shi.

Shui - Sleep
The Chinese character for sleep is constructed of the eye radical and character meaning droop, which also supplies the phonetic component.

Shui - Water
The Chinese character for water is a pictograph depicting a central current of flowing water with whirlpools to each side.

Shuo - Speak
The Chinese character for speak is shuo, made up of the radical yan and the character dui. Its literal meaning is an exchange of words.

Tan - Chat
The Chinese character for chat shows words beside a fire. Since the fireside is a nice place to chat, the Chinese character provides a nice image for this activity.

Tu - Earth
The Chinese character for earth or dust is pronounced tu. It is a pictograph showing a mound on the earth, and as a radical is used in more complex Chinese characters relating to soil, the earth, and features on the landscape.

Wo - I
The Mandarin Chinese character meaning 'I' or 'me' is made up of the radical for sword, and depicts a hand holding a sword.

Xiao - Laugh
The Chinese character xiao means laugh or smile. The character xiao is composed of the radical for bamboo, which provides the meaning, and the character yao, which provides the sound.

Xin - Heart
The Chinese character for heart is a pictogram showing a human heart. The character for heart is also a radical and is used in many other more complex characters.

Xin - Trust or Mail
The Chinese character for trust or mail is composed of two elements - the radical for person and the radical for word. This character shows a person standing by his or her word - a symbol of trust.

Yan - Words
The Chinese character for words consists of the mouth radical combined with four horizontal lines. In its original form, the character for "mistake" was used, showing how easily it is to make errors when we open our mouth.

Yang - Sheep
The Chinese character for sheep is a pictograph showing the head, body and horns of a sheep. The Chinese character for sheep is also a radical which is used in other, more complex characters. It can add a phonetic or semantic element to the new characters.

Yi - Justice
The Chinese character for justice is pronounced yi. It is composed of two elements - the character for sheep and the character for the personal pronoun I or me.

Yong - Eternal
The Chinese character for eternal contains the eight essential strokes of Chinese calligraphy. It is based on the radical for water, itself an appropriate metaphor for eternal.

You - Have
The Chinese character for "have" originally represented a hand holding a piece of meat. The character evolved to its present form, which is a hand on a moon.

You - Right
The Chinese character for right is composed of two elements - a hand and a mouth.

Yu - Fish
The Chinese character for fish is a pictograph pronounced yu. The earliest form of this character clearly showed a fish, but the modern forms are more stylized. Learn Mandarin Chinese vocabulary related to the character for fish.

Yu - Jade
The Chinese character for jade is a pictograph showing a string of jade pieces. As a radical, it is used in many characters related to gems and things of value.

Yu - Rain
The Chinese character for rain is a pictograph showing raindrops falling from a cloud in the sky.

Zao - Morning
Zao means "morning." The Chinese character for zao is is a pictogram showing the sun rising over a soldier's helmet.

Zheng - Straight
The Chinese character zheng depicts a foot marching in a straight line, from which the character zheng derives its meaning of straight, correct,...

Zhu - Bamboo
The Chinese character for bamboo is zhu, a pictograph showing two shoots stems of bamboo.

Zuo - Left
The Chinese character for left shows a hand holding a carpenter's square.

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