I am able to read quite a few Chinese characters and can recognize most of the elements (combinations of radicals and other stroke sequences) which make up the 3500 or so or more characters found in Chinese dictionaries, even in those cases where I find myself not knowing the pronunciation or meaning of the character itself. I am also familiar with some traditional character variants for some of such simplified characters. I have acquired such knowledge by going through a couple of dictionaries while memorizing some patterns, characters, words, and idioms.

  1. However, whenever I come across Chinese calligraphic paintings or any sequence of characters which happen to be displayed as though composed with a traditional brush I have a hard time reading such artistic compositions. I was wondering whether there is an easy way to learn how to read and master these as well.

  2. Also, when Chinese people write characters written with a normal pen or pencil carry some differences when compared to those same characters as they appear in a dictionary. I would like to be able to read these as well. Where can I learn how to read and write these latter characters (as written with a pen or pencil as opposed to with a brush). I have once seen a dictionary which lists these alongside the printed versions of such characters but I cannot recall the name of the publishing company that printed such dictionary.

As an example of a calligraphic writing which I struggle reading, take the following brush handwriting on a box of medicinal Chinese tea:

enter image description here

Quite clearly the last character is 茶 (cha2). However, I cannot figure out from the picture what the first two characters are. What are they may I ask?


  • 3
    A tea lowering your body fat? You probably don't want to drink it. Most of such products are fraudulent and secretly contain illegal drugs which may induce cardiac failure. Cases of deaths are reported every month.. Nov 26, 2014 at 0:35
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    Keep in mind that reading handwriting is in fact more difficult than reading the more regular shapes of print-style writing—as true in C. as it is in E. Second, when faced with examples as the above, take all the help you can get—in this case, both E. and Russian hint at it having to do with tea, fat, counteracting / caring for / lowering. Spoiler: the Chinese reads 降脂茶. Third, now you can go and compare how the individual parts of those characters come out in handwriting; with that knowledge, more characters become readable. Four, read a lot; five, write a lot.
    – flow
    Sep 18, 2015 at 15:51

3 Answers 3


It really boils down to the very point: your knowledge of characters and especially how familiar you are with them. I have a hard time reading a lot of things handwritten in Chinese, while at other times I notice that I can just spell out all the characters, even if I have never seen a single character from that person.

Some people have easy to read handwriting, some don't. Obviously that's something subjective, but you cannot do anything about it. What you can do is to practice handwriting a lot yourself and notice how your handwriting shifts from the school kids' stroke-by-stroke pattern to a more sophisticated, mature handwriting, where things start to become more fluid and less accurate. Probably you have a nice handwriting in your own language, whether it be Latin or any other script. And probably your handwriting has matured from a school kids letters to a more elegant and fluent script. This process has subconsciously helped you not only to read your own handwriting but to have a grasp of other people's handwriting, too.

There are three things you can do to make progress:

    1. Write Chinese by hand. Write a lot. Try to write faster and faster and observe how your handwriting evolves into something more sophisticated and "calligraphic". It will not necessarily look "talented" at first, but that doesn't matter. What really matters that you see how your strokes change and become more fluid, until they eventually get "simplified" and even merge.
    1. Install some calligraphic looking Chinese fonts on your computer and play around with them. Fire up MS Word or any word processor, set the font size to something larger than 36pts, set the typeface to the installed font and type something. This way you will know what you are typing, since you type it, but you will also see how the characters actually look like in that specific font, sometimes you will feel like "what-the-hecko", at other times you will immediately recognized the strokes of that specific character. Here is a site to look for some fonts: font.chinaz.com (although I think most fonts here are copyrighted protected but uploaded by anyway, be sure to only use fonts for study, you should be on the safe side)
    1. Improve and expand your vocabulary. Many multi-character words have at least one character that is easier to recognize and your vocabulary will help you to make a guess, what the other character(s) could be. Also, the more characters you know, the more likely that you will recognize parts of characters, since character components pretty much repeat all the time.

EDIT: the characters on the package are 降脂茶. If you don't recognize a character, try to recognize at least a part of it. E.g. in the second character it is obvious that the left side is 月 (肉) while the bottom-right part of it 日. You can assume that any part of it you can recognize could be the radical, with which you should be familiar, of course. Now try to give an estimate for the unrecognizable part, how many strokes that could be. Add or take one stroke and you can look it up in a character dictionary, it takes a while but it's not that hard.

As for 降 the tricky parts here are probably the left side and the top-right part, eventually to me it is a recognition process based on the characters and character parts I already now. If you have seen 夅 as a right-side component of any other character (e.g. 逄)then you should be able to recognize it just by observing its shape or if you are advanced by the composing strokes.

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    Thanks. Now I can read the characters on the tea package. Nov 25, 2014 at 22:15
  • I also have trouble with recognizing handwriting. I have dysgraphia, so it is very frustrating, slow, and discouraging for me to try to write handwritten Chinese (just like I avoid handwriting English like the plague), much less learn to write it quickly. I do just fine at typing it on the computer. I am more interested in everyday handwriting than calligraphy, but I have not found a simplified handwritten font - only calligraphy fonts. I tried adding such a font to my standard Anki cards but often the character was so abbreviated and different that I abandoned that. Nov 25, 2014 at 23:41
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    @MattChambers Fonts are designed to be look good, hence calligraphy. Most Chinese start learning writing with 楷体字, called KaiTi or BiauKai or STKaiti or DFKai-SB depends on the system. These fonts should be downloadable from the internet. People's writings, be it good or bad, all starts from this font, so I think it is where you should go. Nov 26, 2014 at 1:00

So sorry for bringing up such an old thread, but I want to put something here that might be useful for anyone searching this thread later on. I used Google Translate and with my limited knowledge of Chinese writing character radicals and strokes I tried to write the characters I see with the handwriting feature. The thing is that the software does a good job guessing what characters you write even if it looks pretty much illegible. It shows a range of possible characters on the keyboard.

I was able to guess this text : the calligraphy

Just a bit of scribbling and I got 上海博物馆

Keep in mind that this is largely about guessing and you kind of have to match the characters based on the context as well. But hey, it worked for me so it is maybe worth trying~


it seems the difference between 楷写/Regular script writing and 行书/cursive writing is mainly due to 连写(在速记中笔不离开纸地写)

http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XMTcwNDEwMTY4.html has a more than 68min video: 行书教程 demonstrating 行书/cursive writing,

in the right margin users can find additional videos of the same type

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