There's this restaurant in Beijing (approximate location: Baidu Ditu; I think it's called 御仙楼) which has gigantic letters on the front. The letters are around 3 people high.

(Imgur version.)

Question: What does it say in gigantic characters on this building?

My guesses

膳 家 乍
山 御 坐
? ? 皇

The bottom-left looks similar to characters 64011 65188 65194 on http://xiaoxue.iis.sinica.edu.tw/ccdb using the method described by dROOOze. The first three components appear to be 宀王貝.

  • 1
    I’ll post some details on the harder to read ones soon - on mobile atm
    – dROOOze
    Jan 30, 2020 at 9:48
  • 1
    Thanks! Haha. I got four out of eight.
    – Becky 李蓓
    Jan 30, 2020 at 9:49
  • You can’t view imgur, right? I’ll attempt to use that hosting service you mentioned the other time
    – dROOOze
    Jan 30, 2020 at 9:50
  • Well... there are "workarounds" to Imgur not working, e.g. copy/paste the Imgur URL into another site. It's not efficient, but it works.
    – Becky 李蓓
    Jan 30, 2020 at 9:53
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    lol I looked at the upper left character and thought to myself "seriously dude, even if you dont know the character you can at least look up the strokes" and then I looked at the second character, and the third, and I no longer know what I'm looking at Jan 30, 2020 at 10:05

2 Answers 2


Using an excessive number of clericalified variants (隸定字), I would say that the closest characters are


In the Shuowen Jiezi lesser seal standard, the closest characters are


*Actually, the older structure of 「善」 is 「𦎍」 (⿱羊言), and that is what the photo and Shuowen seal form both are

In a more modern orthography,


Treasure Trove (寶) of (之) Royal (皇家御) Chinese (中華) Cuisine (膳)

There is no character where the doorway is, so there are eight characters in total. The rest of this answer will focus on the more difficult to identify characters.







「中」 depicts a military flag with flowing streamers. This was later extended to mean authority (中央), then centre, middle.

The streamers stopped being written as part of the character very early on, but sometimes they were added back in decorative scripts as horizontal lines protruding from 「中」 (𠁦, 𠁩, etc.)

In contrast, 「乍」 looked incredibly different in early scripts.






「華」 (Baxter-Sagart OC: /*qʷʰˤra/) originally depicted a flower, now written as 「花」. The petals of the flower would be stroke-transcribed as 「𠈌」 in regular script (e.g. in the clericalified Shuowen lesser seal variant 「𦾓」). The bottom of the stalk was drawn in the shape of 「于」, which doubled as a phonetic hint (/*ɢʷ(r)a/).

Semantic 「艸・艹」 (grass) was added on later (see second form above).

「華」 was also overwhelmingly used for the meaning flourishing > magnificent, splendid (/*N-qʷʰˤra/) very early on via semantic extension from flower. The character 「花」 was invented later to represent the original sense of 「華」.

You're basically looking at a branch evolution here:

「之」 (/*tə/) originally depicted a foot 「止」 pointing away from an abstract place represented as a horizontal line 「一」, indicating the meaning to go. 「止」 (/*təʔ/) simultaneously hinted at the sound.

  • 「之」 (to go) and 「止」 (foot) are cognate.
  • Foot is now written using the derivative 「趾」.
  • The shape 「𡳿」 is what you find as a character component in other characters, e.g. in 「寺」 or 「志」. Normally, it is further corrupted into 「土」 or 「士」 in the modern form.

  • 「之」 is the stand-alone character.







「寶」 (Baxter-Sagart OC: /*pˤuʔ/, treasure/valuables) actually had about a million variants, mainly because Chinese characters weren't standardised back then and about 90% of bronzeware had the character 「寶」 inscribed somewhere. These variants do share about half their components with 「寶」, however.

The structure which survives today contains semantic 「宀」 (building), semantic 「玉」 (jade), semantic 「貝」 (cowrie shell > money), and doubly semantic and phonetic 「缶」 (/*p(r)uʔ/, jar). The whole character indicates valuables (玉, 貝, 缶) stored inside a building (宀). If you see two or three components out of 「宀」, 「玉」, 「貝」, 「缶」 in a character, you're very likely looking at 「寶」.

The non-standardisation back then affects not only the components' presence, but the location of the components. On a component-transcription basis, the forms displayed here (listed from left to right) are, using ideographic description sequences,

  1. 寶 (same structure as the modern form)
  2. ⿱宀⿰⿱玉貝缶
  3. ⿱宀⿰缶⿱玉貝
  4. Same as 2.
  5. Same as 1.

「王」 and 「玉」 had different histories, but converged in shape later. As a character component, the shape 「王」 almost always represents 「玉」 (e.g. 弄, 玻). The times where the shape 「王」 actually represents 「王」 is mostly on the right hand side or the bottom of the character (汪, 皇), and these characters are pretty rare.


  • 1
    Whoops, forgot 「之」. Hold up...
    – dROOOze
    Jan 30, 2020 at 14:33
  • I really prefer 楚简 之,hhh Jan 30, 2020 at 15:49
  • @TooskyHierot 楚簡文字撇捺太多了,看不清楚 @@
    – dROOOze
    Jan 30, 2020 at 15:52
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    然而我作业抄楚简抄得要吐了。。。 Jan 30, 2020 at 15:54
  • What? 中 was actually a military flag? I had always thought it was a 会意 character, with the vertical stroke being in the middle of the square...
    – Sweeper
    Jan 31, 2020 at 9:56

I am pretty sure that it says: 中華皇家御膳之寶.

The extra strokes are added to balance the character. I'm not an expert, but I do sometimes see extra strokes added, or squiggles added to straight lines to balance a seal character.

This is how I would draw the character normally. As you can see, there is some empty space on the bottom.

*      *      *
*      *      *

So some people do this too. The extra ink on the bottom balances the character. The flourish does not add extra meaning.

*      *      *
*      *      *

As for , I am reminded of this character because of the 宀王貝 components, as you have pointed out. I believe it is an artistic choice to shift places of the components, as I could not find an example of this particular style online.

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