I am trying to learn some vocabulary and am looking at the radicals to help me remember.

The problem is, the radicals in some characters don't seem to make sense to me at all. In , the two radicals separately are meaning the moon, and meaning earth. Somehow "moon earth" does not seem all too related to the stomach to me!

I was curious about how the character came about, so I looked up Chinese character etymology. There don't seem to be very good resources on this, but one website did say:

"From meat 月肉 and phonetic 土. Meaning stomach."

I have not seen meat as 月肉 before, only 肉. So if 月肉 is another word for meat, I'm not sure why the moon radical is in there either! And there doesn't seem to be any significance to the 土 part according to the website, but I fail to believe that part of a character was just chosen at random!

My current ideas are that, sometimes 月 seems to be used for round things like in the character for face 脸, which may motivate its use in the character for stomach.

As for 土, perhaps it dates back to some ancient Chinese belief about the stomach 'grounding' you, i.e. the brain/head represents a connection with the heavens, the heart with the emotional realm, and the stomach with earth? I'm only guessing here, but am very much interested if anyone knows.

Also, I'm curious in general if someone can comment on how well radical content reflects character meaning. As my repertoire of characters is rather limited still, I don't have much to go by myself to evaluate this; but I do suppose that in many cases the radical usage would make more sense to someone with a familiarity with ancient China and ancient Chinese beliefs...

Thank you in advance.

  • For a learner of a modern variety of Chinese (e.g. Mandarin) I wouldn't give too much thought to the specifics of radicals – as you have pointed out they have a long and complicated history that no one individual could possibly have a total grasp of. Rather, remembering the pronunciation of a word, such as 肚子 dùzi and then matching phonetic components of characters is probably the fastest way to learn. Chinese people aren't born knowing how to write or etymologies; the word's pronunciation serves as the mnemonic for writing characters
    – haksayng
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 20:05
  • @haksayng, Is it true people speaking English are born knowing how to write or at least much easier than Chinese? I gather it's easy to figure out the spelling from the pronunciation of a word.
    – dan
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 13:53
  • @dan there are much easier languages to write than English, for example Spanish, Indonesian, Finnish, ... which have much regular written sign to sound correspondences. While English is easier than Chinese, I think English and Chinese are with Japanese at the bottom of the "easy to write" languages list.
    – haksayng
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 16:49

3 Answers 3


Look at the middle parts, they are different.

月 = 月 (moon)

肉 = ⺼ (meat)

- 肉部首



  • Simplified Chinese characters merged ⺼radical into 月 radical

The '土' in '肚' is the phonics component

  • For the record, they look exactly the same in most standard simplified fonts, including official PRC publications regarding characters.
    – Olle Linge
    Commented May 15, 2022 at 8:56

The radical 月 is transformed from 肉, not 月, although we still call it 月字旁(字旁 means radical).

土 represents pronunciation, meaning 肚 has the same vowels as 土.

Many characters belonging to humans have 月字旁, 脑 (brain), 腿 (leg), 脏 (internal organs).

Again, 退 represents the pronunciation of 腿(tui3). But for 脏, vowels are different, maybe it changed, this is very common.

宀 is a character from ancient times, it looks like 'roof', characters with this radical usually mean something related to 'house','home', 'living', e.g. 家, 宾

冖 is also a character from ancient times, characters with this radical usually mean something like 'covered by a piece of cloth ', e.g. 冠

厂 in ancient times means big rocks of mountain which people can live with. Characters with this radical usually means something about 'living', e.g. 厅, 厨

贝: Shell is used as money in ancient times, so it implies the characters mean something about money. e.g. 贱

殳: hit, clash, e.g. 殴

欠: mouth opening, e.g. 吹

匚: container, 匮

纟and 糸: silk, rope, 红, 绿, 紫 (Color is an abstract conception, you can imagine a piece of colored silk)

彡: decoration, modification 修,

礻: worship, ceremony, 祖, 社

广: house, building, 废

囗: wall, surround, 围

口: mouth

页: head of human, 顿(nod), 颇(tiled head)

隹: bird, 鹤

酉: wine, 酒, 醋

卜: divination, 卦

冂: area, scope 同

丷,ハ: splitting, opposition, 兑

阝(at left) : mountain, place, 陌

阝(at right): city, country, 邦

又: hand, 双

廴: walk, 建

士: male, 壮

歹: death, hurt 残

止: foot, walking, 步

攵: hit, beat, 攻,

斤: axe, 斧

方:flag, troop 放

釆: distinguish, recognition, 彩

辛: crime, peppery, 辜

  • Nice answer since it points out the phonetic clue "tu" that the right hand side gives. Memorizing the hanzi without making use of the phonetic hints is IMHO making your life more difficult. Many hanzi 9about 90% acording to Wikipedia) are pictophonetic (a.k.a. phono-semantic) (形声字), the radical defines a category and the rest gives a pronuciation hint. Sadly some of the "memorizing the hanzi" methods overlook this.
    – bvanlew
    Commented Sep 2, 2019 at 13:01

I can offer you another way to remember this word. God made human beings by dirt, in Chinese, 土. I think in this way, it is easier for you remember the word. But it's not the correct explanation.

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