I'm studying character components using guoxuedashi, a online service/dictionary where you can filter by components, and there's LOTS of them. The thing is, they use a different system of classification, the nested structure.

Entry for Guoxuedashi: http://www.guoxuedashi.com/zidian/4E2D.html ZDic: http://www.zdic.net/z/15/js/4E2D.htm

I find ''nested structure'' makes more sense than ''single component structure'' though. Why does Zdic lists 中 having 丨 as a radical if it's truly a single-component structure? Doesn't a single component structure imply that the radical is equivalent to the word itself?

Disclaimer: I haven't heard of Zdic until I found out about this stackexchange. But since it's highly praised I want also to discuss if Guoxuedashi is viable since I mainly uses it.

  • Both of the links show 丨as being the 部首 for 中. Can you help me understand what you would like to know?
    – sazarando
    Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 5:00
  • 嵌套 is probably better thought of as "overlayed" or "inlayed" in this case. "Nesting" might imply a little too much.
    – sazarando
    Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 5:14
  • Yeah! Closer to inlayed! Both of these sites have a 部件 search engine. Go here guoxuedashi.com/zidian/bujian and put the gun3 丨 on the 汉字结构 field and choose "嵌套" and 中 with a bunch of other characters with gun3 will be displayed. But when I used Zdic engine zdic.net/z/zxjs/?zxjg=%E5%8D%95%E4%BD%93%E7%BB%93%E6%9E%84 中 doesnèt show with the same options I used for Guoxuedashi as Zdic labels 中's 字形分解 as 单一结构. Just noticing the inconsistencies and wonder what qualifies as a "inlayered" structured character or not.
    – Xyd
    Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 6:54
  • And well I was an idiot back then and didn't really looked properly but Zdic has the 嵌套 when filtering for component-specific characters but somehow it just works differently for some characters. Here it is anyway: zdic.net/z/zxjs. I just want to pick the most accurate dictionary to start off with(luckily I'm still not invested too far off) since inconsistencies between entries can be a problem in the long run.
    – Xyd
    Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 6:57
  • Sometimes character classification is a matter of opinion. :P I had used zdict before, but I first saw guoxuedashi with your post. I like it a lot so far It's quite easy to use and it's references are very authoritative. Thanks!
    – sazarando
    Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 7:02

3 Answers 3


The word 'radical' is usually translated from 偏旁 or 部首. But 偏旁 and 部首 are a bit different. People long ago called the left part of a character 偏 and the right part 旁. But later till now 偏旁 refer to components of characters. Some of the components that indicate semantic meanings are called 形旁(semantic radical). Xu Shen(?AD58-?147), the author of the book Shuo Wen Jie Zi(《说文解字》), classified the characters that have the same semantic radical into one category(部). This radical is always placed at the first in the list, so it's called 部首(literally 'category head'). 部首 is always 偏旁 but 偏旁 is not always 部首. According to Xu Shen's classifications, 中 is in the category of 丨 and 丨 is the radical component of 中.

As to the single-component structure and the nested-component structure, it's another classification. There have been several different principles to define if a character is a single-component or not. Single component structure character is translated from 独体字 and nested component structure character 合体字.

According to the theory of 'the six categories of Chinese characters' or 'Chinese character classification'(六书), the ideographic(指事) and pictographs(象形) are single components, the compound ideographs(会意) and phono-semantic compounds(形声) are nested. 中 is an ideographic character so it's a single component structure character.

As the character style developed from 小篆 to 隶书, and further to 楷书 widely used today, the shapes changed. The traditional classification was a bit out of date. Su Peicheng(1935-), a modern Chinese linguist, defined 263 single component characters according to the defination made by the Chinese encyclopedic dictionary Ci Hai(《辞海》, literally diction ocean, edited from 1915 to 1928 and first published in 1936). 中 is included in the category of single-component structure characters.

In 1997, State Language Commission of PRC published a standard on the Chinese character set, which defines 280 single component structure characters, with 中 included, 丨 excluded.

  • I think you used "ideograph" for both 指事 and 会意 in the 3rd paragraph.
    – sazarando
    Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 7:06
  • @sazarando Thanks for pointing it out. But they are a bit different. I quoted the 2 words ideographic and ideographs from wikipedia. After check I will update ideographs to compound ideographs.
    – ElpieKay
    Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 7:17
  • Never thought of the last sentence! I am not living in China and we still consider 丨 as single component structure character while 中 not.
    – user13501
    Commented Jul 9, 2016 at 3:47

Most 漢字 are always categorized the same way, but sometimes there are differing views on how a character should be classified.

One dictionary may list a character in a certain way, and another dictionary will list it differently.


EDIT1: p.s. We usually say “独体字” instead of “单一结构”.
EDIT3: I found that we learned Chinese not as much as some of you. Yea, we didn't consult any historical documents.

I'm a native Chinese speaker (and...maybe my English is not good enough to express my ideas). As a middle school student, I hadn't heard of "nested structure". Yea, never heard of it at all. A long time ago, when I was a little kid, my teacher told me that "中" is single component structure, and its radical is "|". Why? First, its structure is very simple that cannot be divided into independent parts. Then, it cannot be used as a radical of other characters, so its radical isn't itself. So, usually we look for the first stroke (i.e. "|") for its radical. This is what I know. I'm not sure that it may not be 100% accurate, coz our teachers can also make mistakes (she has made LOTS of mistakes in fact).

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