to my understanding a radical is the smallest character you can disassemble a word into (correct me if I`m wrong).

However the radical seems to be a combination out of two other radicals: (in the form of ) and .

Can someone explain?

3 Answers 3


Your idea is correct, at least most Chinese people agree with this.

But in this case, is acturally combined of and .

  • means "walk slowly" or "the step with left foot".
  • means "stop" or "halt".
  • means "walk one moment and stop the next“.

While means "plume", obviously having no connection with .

By the way, only is frequently used in daily life; may occur in some poetry; and is never used (unless you are studying the articals or books from thousand years ago).


辵:http://www.zdic.net/z/25/js/8FB5.htm (Chinese)

Sorry, due to my low reputation, I am only ably to post 1 link. You may find explnation for other characters on that website.

  • The other answer is not fully correct.
    – CFSO6459
    Dec 2, 2016 at 18:08
  • is derived from , or, some scholar believe is a variant character of .
    – CFSO6459
    Dec 2, 2016 at 18:10

Not to dismiss most part of @Patrick and @CFSO6459's answers, I want to add that they are not entirely right to try to make too much sense of 部首(radical). The first attempt of modern radical system is 字彙 in Ming era.

Suffice to say, the radical system is only an attempted classification for the convenience, based upon modern looking of Chinese characters. In fact, the Simplified Chinese cannot even fit the Ming's 214-radical-system, and PROC gov't made their own adjustment, and this has always generated some outrage among traditionalist ;)

Radicals does not necessarily (though mostly) conform to the historical composition of characters, nor do they represent a certain meaning, nor can they not split into smaller part. The radical are often nonimportant part, or even nonexistant originally.

First, not all sensical components are preserved. The char. (autumn) is originally the artificial fire to expel locusts and its eggs; see here for Oracle. But the locust is nowhere seen now. If the radical were the most important part, by all means the locust should be the radical.

More striking is , rule or (modern sense) law. If you see the Oracle, it is a deer-like animal with Some scholars claim that the deer-like animal, in the mythology, expel (去) bad guys (compare Anubis in Egyptian mythology). The detail need not concern us here, but to note that the radical now has rid of the most important part --- the deer or whatever. The original shape is preserved in the obsolete word (http://baike.baidu.com/subview/558832/19776045.htm), still seen in calligraphy, or plaques.

Sometime only a portion of the radical appeared. An example more relevant to this question is , an avenue. The original shape is not to stop, but a foot, whose shape tells everything: it still resembles one's foot bones. There is no , but only . No! The radical was invented, in the attempt to systemize.

There are times that the radical does not even exist in the original char. A stranger component was replaced by a common radical to standardize. A still better example is (Oracle). Originally, it was two hands lifting at piece of wood besides a boat, probably meaning mending. At last, it was borrowed to be the homophone "I" (=oneself), and at last used exclusively by emperors. But the now-radical is , meat. The becomes the similar-shaped in the effort of standardize, which is not logical. There is nothing to hint boat, by shape, by sound, by meaning. The link is gone.

Finally let me add as an digression that the view that the traditional Chinese, to be sure, has its own beauty, but it is nonsense to say the original meaning can be seen even in modern orthography. More than often, there is none. You have to just memorize it, period.

  • The guys behind the Outlier Dictionary of Chinese Characters wouldn't agree with your last paragraph. ;)
    – 米好 '-'
    Dec 9, 2016 at 12:41
  • I assume you are not one of the developer of it > __ <||| Dec 9, 2016 at 14:22
  • No, I'm not. Just a prospective user.
    – 米好 '-'
    Dec 9, 2016 at 14:30
  • Wow, just noticed there were several Taiwanese contributor for this app : ) Dec 9, 2016 at 14:41
  • Yeah, the company is based in 臺北.
    – 米好 '-'
    Dec 9, 2016 at 14:53

A radical is not necessarily the smallest character you can assemble a word into, at least not in the purely visual way that you are thinking about it. It is a semantic element used for classification of Chinese characters, which are complex and may have many strokes similar or identical to those found in other characters.

Today the standard for Chinese dictionaries is the 214 Kangxi radicals (康熙部首). These are what is used to classify Chinese characters. An older classification recognized even more radicals (check out 說文解字 if you are curious), but that's not important right now.

So the short answer is that there are 214 radicals (that you can and should look up to get familiar with) recognized as such for convenience of classification, and they are not meant to be broken down into their stroke elements.

Here's another example: 火, which means fire, appears to have 人 in it, but this is a visual coincidence. 火 is the modern character derived from what was once a pictograph of flames (check out http://www.vividict.com/WordInfo.aspx?id=2417). To say that it is made up of a person and two dots would be incorrect. Visually, you could decompose the character in this way, but it would be a meaningless decomposition. If you kept pulling apart characters like this, eventually you would be left with the basic strokes of Chinese characters, which in themselves mean nothing.

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