Some dictionaries provide a radical lookup for finding characters. Are there other systems available besides radical lookup for finding the meaning of a word when one only has the character?

4 Answers 4


This question could probably best be answered by Wikipedia as there are many, many methods.

One relatively common one is to look up the character by stroke count, then by stroke order. In this system, there are five types of strokes and each is assigned a number.

| Number | Stroke type                  |
|      1 | Horizontal, or rising        |
|      2 | Vertical                     |
|      3 | Falling to the Left          |
|      4 | Dot, or Falling to the Right |
|      5 | Turning                      |

This is the method used to look up characters in 现代汉语通用字笔顺规范, the official character stroke order reference in mainland China. For example, below is the character 永 in this book:

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If you want to look up this character, you will first go to the page with the 5-strokes characters, then you would search for the dot stroke (4), then the hook (5), etc. Basically, its code would be 45534.


My favorite online dictionary, Nciku lets you draw in a character, and then tells you what it is. Super useful if you can't find out what the radical is, or just want a quicker way to look something out.

My favorite iOS app, Pleco has this functionality, along with Optical Character Recognition (OCR) so you can hold up/take pictures of one or more Characters, and it will then give you the definitions of them. It's pretty cool.

Are these the sort of things you mean?

  • Yes, but also, perhaps some kinds that are used in books.
    – Village
    Dec 24, 2011 at 4:22

You can just search it by www.baidu.com which can input character by drawing or search it by any search engine with Chinese input method supporting drawing.


You can also use Wiktionary to look up a word if you know the pronunciation and the meaning but you don't know the character.

Example: ye4

I also quite frequently use Google HK to perform a search, which is useful for when you have a sentence, and type in something like shanshuihua, it will provide you a list of options in Chinese.

  • the OP asked for resources in situations where only the character can be used to look something up.
    – magnetar
    Aug 7, 2012 at 17:36

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