My favourite Chinese characters

Most people think learning Chinese is difficult. Every time I’m back in Spain and I tell someone I can speak Chinese, they invariably reply with a: “Wow! Isn’t it super complicated?”. Some (weird) people claim that it is in fact very easy, though normally these people are just trying to sell you their “learn Chinese in 3 months” courses. I agree that the grammar is in general not very difficult, although remembering the correct classifier for each noun can be difficult at times, and I remember I had a very hard time grasping how some verbal constructions work (I’m looking at you, 出来 and 起来). Some people say they learned to speak fluent Chinese in the street and I’m happy for them but I’m not so language-gifted (6 years in Suzhou and the local dialect still sounds like Japanese to me). There’s one thing I know for sure, though: in my opinion, if you can’t write the characters, you can’t really say you know Chinese.

When I was studying Chinese, we had to learn to write all the characters by hand. I guess it’s still like this. If you don’t practise writing each new character 20 times, it’s practically impossible to remember all the strokes. Nowadays writing by hand is not really that important, as everybody uses pinyin or wubihua to type on computers and phones and no one really writes by hand much (except students, of course) but I am really glad I got to learn how to write lots of characters. At the beginning you are taught the easier ones, the ones that used to represent graphically a tangible thing, like moon or sun, and you think: “Hey! This is very easy and fun!”. Then things start becoming complicated and it is not fun anymore when you have to spend 6 hours practising new characters  (i.e. me when I had just arrived to Beijing).

The title of the most difficult character in simplified Chinese is usually given to biang, a type of noodle dish. Luckily it is not commonly used and the only ones who would have to write it would be the waiters or owners of restaurants serving these noodles. However, it is so complicated that they sometimes write the pinyin instead because, really, why would anyone bother to write this?

This is not a joke, it’s a real character! And the traditional version is even worse…


I prefer simpler characters. My absolute favourite is undoubtedly this one:

Can you guess what it means? It is very easy: skewer! Isn’t it great? You don’t need to know Chinese to understand it because it’s super clear! It is pronounced chuan and if you are in the north of China you will need to add many r behind it to be understood: chuanrrrrrr.

Another character that I like is san:

Do you know what it is? It’s also very obvious: umbrella!

Another one that I like is a combination of two characters (it’s the third image, the first two are just to explain how you get to the third one):

Mu means tree or wood (it’s normally used with the meaning of wood). It looks a bit like a tree, right? The horizontal line is the ground and the three strokes below are the roots.

Lin is a surname and it also means wood, as it’s two trees.

Senlin… five trees. What can this be? Well… it’s decidedly a forest!


I wish all the characters were this easy! Then I would never forget how to write them by hand…