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Essential Rules for Stroke Order in Chinese Characters

Basic Principles For Writing Chinese Characters

In Part 1, I explained the basic types of strokes that make up every Chinese character. Now, before we move on to practising full characters, let’s look at some of the principles behind which order to write the strokes in.

Before I explain this, bear in mind two things 1) These are not ‘rules’, but ‘general principles’ to keep in mind when you are writing Chinese characters, and 2) Don’t worry about how these principles work exactly, because in the next part you will be guided through writing whole characters, and it will make much more sense later, in context.

1) A horizontal stroke normally goes before a vertical stroke. This means, for example, that if you are writing a ‘cross’ 十 , then you do the horizontal part before the vertical stroke to complete it.

Writing Chinese Characters - Horizontal before Vertical


2) A downward stroke slanting to the left should be written before a downward stroke to the right

Writing Chinese characters 3) Generally, characters are written from top to bottom

Chinese character stroke order - top to bottom


4) Normally, characters are written from left to right

Stroke order for Chinese characters, from left to right

So far we’ve got horizontal before vertical, top to bottom and left to right. So far so good, but the other principles are a little more difficult to explain, so bear with me..

5) If the character has a part in the middle and which is ‘enclosed’ by another part (but it is not in a box, it has an open bottom), then the bit that encloses is written before the bits in the middle. See the example below:

Stroke Order for Chinese characters - enclosure before enclosed6)  If there is a part of the character that encloses a middle bit, but the bit that encloses is on the bottom left or right (with an open top), then in this case the ‘middle bit’ should be written first, before the bit that encloses it.


7) If the character consists of ‘something in a box’, then you should write the three sides of the box first, then the bits inside, then ‘close the box’ at the end.

Chinese Stroke Order


8) If there is a vertical stroke in the middle of the character, you should write it first, and then the bits on the left side, then the bits on the right (this is an exception to the left-to-right rule)

Writing Chinese Characters Correctly


9) If there is a vertical stroke in the middle of the character, but it has other strokes crossing it, then this vertical stroke is usually written last.

vert_cross_firstOk, these principles might seem quite complicated, and on their own they won’t be enough to tell you how to write any Chinese character, but they will start to make more and more sense as you continue to practice. Talking of continuing to practice, that is the key to learning how to write Chinese characters, and that is what we will focus on in Part 3, practising writing characters with the correct stroke order. You’ll get the hang of all of this in time!