Welcome to the first lesson in our series on How to Write Chinese Characters
. Today we cover the two most fundamental rules of writing hanzi, and explain the underlying logic behind them. If you're a premium subscriber, click through to our Writing Pad and practice these basics using our incredible writing tool. This will correct your mistakes in real-time and provide instant feedback on your handwriting style.
Getting to the substance of our lesson for today, the general direction of writing in Chinese is from top-left to bottom-right. This is the most important thing you need to know to write characters, and it helps explain our two fundamental rules of precedence: write horizontal strokes before vertical strokes, and write characters from top to bottom. Let's look at these two rules in more depth:Rule #1: horizontal strokes precede vertical strokes1. 先横后竖：十、干、丰、下、丁、于、开、井
In the above characters, you should complete your horizontal strokes before starting any vertical strokes. But why? The key is noticing the starting position where our brush hits the paper. Our horizontal strokes usually start
furthest left: it makes sense to write them first. The same logic holds when we finally get around to writing our vertical strokes in characters like 川
. We write these strokes from left to right as well.
You should think of these rules as general guidelines, as there are always exceptions. The most common happens by interference with other rules. The character 李
, for instance, combines the two radicals (subcomponents) 木
. When we write any character we typically write its subcomponents in order from top-left to bottom-right without worrying too much about the overall position of each stroke within the character as a whole. This may seem confusing at first if you have difficulty recognizing the subcomponents of characters. In fact, it radically simplifies the writing system: writing more complex characters is usually a matter of combining the subcomponents you already know.Rule #2: write from top to bottom2. 从上到下：二、三、工、土、本、个、王、天、分、全、子、立、它、李、兄、今、奇、春
As these characters illustrate, the general direction of movement is downwards and to the right. Minor differences in our vertical or horizontal starting position (see 井
where the second stroke technically starts further left) are of less importance than the overall left-to-right, top-to-bottom sweep of the character.
And there are two more tricky points we want to call to your attention. We see the first in strokes like 土
where a horizontal and vertical stroke form an inverted T at the bottom of the character. In these cases the bottom horizontal stroke is written last in order to have a more secure joint. The second tricky point we want to mention is found in characters like 千
where our first stroke slopes noticeably right-to-left. In these cases we break with custom and write the initial stroke right-to-left. Once again, there is a method to the madness. You should find this way of doing things more comfortable, as this way of writing puts the finishing point of your first stroke very close to the starting point of your second.