Chinese Characters for the 99%

Learning to read and write Chinese characters known as hanzi in Chinese, and kanji in Japanese has to be one of the hardest things a non-native adult can do. There are around 80,000 of them in total and functional literacy requires remembering approximately 3,000.

Rote Learning Kanji

As I discovered to the detriment of my brain last year, the way everyone is taught to learn them is by rote – you’re shown how to draw the character once and then you copy it hundreds of times on grid-lined paper until you remember it. While this is ultimately effective for those who stick it out, it’s not much fun, nor informative.

Enter entrepreneur ShaoLan Hsueh, a native of Taiwan, who now lives in the UK and has been developing simple mnemonic illustrations which build on the pictographic roots of the characters to convey their meaning and aid memorisation. Starting with the simplest characters (such as tree 木, fire 火, sun 日, person 人) students can quickly begin to build many new words, characters, and phrases.

Chineasy Character Designs

As someone struggling to remain motivated in their language studies I absolutely love this, not to mention the beautifully minimal design of each character which has been created based on its definition, origin and history.

Chineasy Characters

After a successful Kickstarter campaign last year, a basic set of building block characters, compounds and phrases are already available on the Chineasy website and a book/app is due to be released in March this year (2014). I really can’t wait to get my hands on this and it’ll be interesting to see how some of the more complex characters are presented.

David avatar

6 responses

  1. It’s great design but no sure if it works for adults since theoretically you need to remember more information while looking at the pictures. Also, not all Chinese characters are pictographic. Perhaps these designs can help with the very basic ones. Anyway, looking forward to this project and hope it helps you!

  2. Mnemonics are great. I used the Hiragana42 mnemonics ( to learn hiragana and found the technique worked really well.

    I’ve started using mnemonics to remember new English words. Very useful technique!

  3. Dongzhe avatar

    YEAH ,that’s true ,
    but it is also hard for us to remember these English words and phrases ~
    Trying to recite the GRE words is the most boring thing in the world ~

  4. Derek avatar

    I’ve worked at learning Hanzi all my life starting as a kid attending Chinese school on the weekends (with little success). As an adult I’ve tried a variety of techniques, flash cards, computer programs. I’ve found that mnemonics is a great method for the first 100 basic level characters, but once you progress to level 3 and beyond it becomes very impractical due to the complexity of the characters and more often than not the combination of two characters doesn’t equate to the combined meaning of the words. Unfortunately, with Chinese the only way to progress is by rote, constantly copying and writing the characters over and over again.

  5. Really enjoy your work, just stumbled on it. Regarding this method of learning hanzi, it’s a nice novelty and probably helpful for people who are intimidated, but it’s not really practical for a serious learner. As pointed out, it doesn’t scale well because there are some very complicated characters, even in the first 500. More importantly though, you’re missing out on the color-coding based on tones. I’m am adult learner at HSK L4 and for me the color coding was absolutely essential to learn the character’s meaning AND predominant tone at the same time. It just takes Pleco (free), the HSK flashcard database (free) and a lot of time (not free :).

  6. Markashia avatar

    Oh I think this is just fabulous! I hate to see the negative feedback. Anyone learning Chinese would prefer this over trying to memorize and learn symbols that’s not related to their native language! This is brilliant! Thank you for this. I’m looking forward to ordering them and any other related product.

    All the best,



Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *