I have seen a couple of shop keepers (in small - mid sized shops) in Hong Kong counting some routine things with this character : "正". The actual tally would start off with the first stoke of that character and increase by 1 according to the stroke order of the character. So, one 正would effectively represent 5 people.

I believe the Western tally also counts to a maximum of 5 per tally.

I'd like to know why that particular character is used. (I have seen it used in stamps before too).

  • It’s also true among Japanese people.
    – Blaszard
    Jul 21 '17 at 13:53

I'd like to know why that particular character is used. (I have seen it used in stamps before too).


  1. 正 is a common character

  2. 正 has five stokes

  3. All five stokes are straight and no overlap, so it is easier to count each stoke.

  4. The character neatly form a square shape, make counting multiple copies easier

  5. The stoke order and stoke type are simple . It just repeat two different straight stokes:

    • Left to right horizontal straight line

    • Top to bottom vertical straight line

One can write 正 faster than most other five stokes characters

  • I would also add that 正 means "correct", so when you get a complete 正 you also get a "correct" sum of 5. (That's what I've been taught when I took Japanese classes about 20 years ago) Dec 26 '18 at 2:56
  • "The character neatly form a square shape" tbh there aren't many 5-stroke characters that don't span a square.
    – SOFe
    Mar 29 '20 at 15:11

The character serves the purpose of easy calculation based on its structure without any misleading portion. Each addition can be traced with each stroke added and five is a very good base for doing counting, so that is why. In the same token, "工“or "王” might be the choice, but one is only in three strokes and the other in four, both are not good in terms of counting. Hope this is helpful.

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