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I often see people having a big focus on correct stroke order for writing Chinese characters.

My question is, for most learners, is it important to know the stroke order, and if so, why is it important? Where does the rigid adherence to stroke order stem from?

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Well I can tell you that many native people either don't know or forget or don't bother to follow the standard order when they're writing on paper and typing in computers using Pinyin or 注音, doesn't rely on order neither. So if you can't do it well on remembering order for all of characters, don't worry. Yes it's GOOD to know the order and the theory backing it (e.g. @Petruza's answer), but that's optional to people (who presumably just wanna get it going) in the early times of learning. That's the recommended priority from me, based on my experience. Cheers! –  congliu Aug 25 '13 at 2:40

7 Answers 7

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I could think of some reasons why the stroke order is important.

  1. In modern times, especially in the digital times, there should be a standard of the stroke order, so that when people input characters with "stroke order" method, it's useful to program the input method consistently.

  2. We have some general rules of the stroke order, such as "from up to down, from left to right". I think this is reasonable, because you will feel comfortable when writing that way.

  3. Remember, you are not a machine or computer, you can't precisely control the positions of each stroke, so you can't write the strokes here and there to get a beautiful character.

Also, I want to say that there are really official standards of stroke orders. In mainland, it's 《现代汉语通用字笔顺规范》,and in Taiwan, it's 《常用国字标准字体笔顺》.However, I know 《现代汉语通用字笔顺规范》is a recommended, not a mandatory standard.

When I was a student, my teacher taught me the correct order for some characeters, but not all characters. I just reviewed the standard, and found I had some mistakes in the order against the standard.E.g. the standard says that “heart" radical(left part of 情) is written: /,、,|, but my order is:|, /, 、.
I think minor "mistakes" are acceptable, because the stroke order is not something like math, you can't set up a definite system to specify everything. I think that's why the standard is not mandatory.

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Oh, I write 忄 in the same order as you do. –  fefe Jan 4 '12 at 14:26
    
very interesting, I tend to write it as /,|,、. Personally I feel the standard should only be regarded as a guideline and not something to be strictly adhered to. Calligraphy experts may feel otherwise –  prusswan Jan 6 '12 at 2:53
    
@fefe Me as well. –  Alenanno Jan 6 '12 at 14:57
    
@Alenanno That's why I can't input such radical on my phone by using "stoke input method" :) –  Huang Jan 6 '12 at 16:00
    
If a computer requires the operator to memorize pointless lists of facts (such as stroke orders for thousands of characters) then the computer isn't doing its job properly. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jan 7 '12 at 4:45

The stroke order is important, yes. The main reason that explains why the stroke order is so important is that the it helps to write the character correctly, with better speed and in an easier way.

Pick a character, and try to write it with the official stroke order, and then with another one: you'll find out that in the second case it will be sometimes harder to write it and mostly it will come out with a different shape, i.e. incorrect shape, and also ugly sometimes. This is because when using the official stroke order, the character will appear with more harmonious proportions and therefore, more beautiful.

Also, I'm not sure the following are "official reasons", but I suppose that:

  • it helps to memorize the character and retain it too, because your muscles "remember" the movements and so does your brain;
  • when reading someone else's handwriting, the shape changes a lot and the movement of the pen/brush can help you to read since you know the stroke order.
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Hey, would you be able to reference your first point there? I can understand that for cursive writing stroke order could influence the shape, but if you are writing 一笔一划, I can't see why it would make a difference, and surely if you can write the characters, it doesn't matter what the order is? –  Ciaocibai Jan 5 '12 at 4:04
    
@Ciaocibai Are you referring to what I said about "illiteracy"? –  Alenanno Jan 5 '12 at 9:08
    
Exactly - I just don't see the correlation, that's all. –  Ciaocibai Jan 5 '12 at 12:29
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If someone can write a character from memory when they need to, wouldn't that be a sign of LITERACY instead of illiteracy (because the stroke order is "wrong")? Sheesh, what a pointless, snobby rule! The first sign of illiteracy is when someone can't read, not when their handwriting is bad. Honestly that notion offends me so much I feel like I should learn an incorrect stroke order for every character just to stick it to the snobs who feel it's intrinsically important. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jan 6 '12 at 14:36
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@Alenanno: No, I'm talking about stroke order. It's mostly invisible after the character is on paper and thus if other people consider me to be illiterate because I write my characters differently than they do, then I consider their opinion of me to be baseless, false, and worthless, and offensive. If I produce a legible, correct character, who cares what order I wrote the strokes in? –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jan 6 '12 at 14:50

The order of strokes affects the "evolution" of the character when writing in high speed. In high speed the character shape shifts and one can often recognize the character even after extreme deformation because the general flow of the character is there. But if the stroke orders are changed, the deformation doesn't conform to the expected shape and it may be unrecognizable to other people.

For example, imagine the "s" in the word "best". If written in high speed the end of the "e" touches the top of the "s" and the "s" deforms to look like a "backwards C". Imagine if people wrote "s" with the "e" touching the bottom of the "s". i.e., the "s" is written from bottom-up. Now under high speed, the "s" actually looks like a well formed "s" but the "e" and "t" are deformed, make the word "best" look weird.

High speed writers can make characters look almost nothing like it's proper counterpart, but people have learned to recognize them and recognize other people's handwriting because the stroke order affects the form.

Also, following stroke order helps computers recognize characters better. Under high speed, a character will look totally different from it's proper form, but a trained computer can recognize the direction and order of the strokes and can recognize the character based off of that alone, rather than trying to recognizing the end image. I would imagine that that results in fewer false positives than recognizing by image alone.

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Stroke order is important, but the rigid insistence on a single correct stroke order appears to be a product of modern universal education. The Japanese and Chinese have actually standardised different stroke orders for some characters (e.g., 必).

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I'm a chinese. For my point that stroke order is necessary but not very important.It's a way to write them just like we write English. And the last question, I think less people could know

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My teacher says there are two main reasons for stroke order:

  • Depending on the stroke order, the character will look one way or another. This is mainly a matter of style from times when writing was made exclusively with paint brushes. Now in the era of computers, stroke order is definitely not important for writing.
  • As it's been said, for systems that rely on stroke order to lookup and input characters on a computer, a standardized order is mandatory.

Remember that Roman letters have also a standard (maybe more than one standard) stroke order and direction, which is taught at school, although I don't think most people is aware of this when writing (I know I'm not).

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+1 on the brushes answer –  cburgmer Jan 6 '12 at 22:21
    
Well, today stroke order is important for handwriting, if you are writing on a computer screen for OCR, which in fact is the main way I write Chinese. And my Chinese friends do it a lot. –  Colin McLarty Aug 24 '13 at 12:18
    
Yes you are right, I meant when writing with a keyboard with a method as typing Pinyin, for example, there's absolutely no need to remember the stroke order to write successfully. –  Petruza Sep 14 '13 at 13:35

The single most important reason for stroke order being adhered to is probably the handwriting problem:

Imagine, if you will, someone writing an english text in cursive, consistently crossing the t's and dotting the i's before writing the stems; and making it part of the flow of the line.

Now imagine that same scenario, only with each character having dozens, if not hundreds of potential cursive shapes…

Essentially, the stroke order allows writers to make simplifications when writing the character; and readers to understand same. (Squiggly line at the left? 水 radical, etc.)

Secondary to this is the use of stroke order in memorization techniques, etc.

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I think this is the right answer ^_^ –  Stumpy Joe Pete Sep 4 '12 at 4:04

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