While browsing a number of old magazines, I noticed what I would refer to as punctuations appear way too often to fill the function it does today. I know punctuation has not always been a part of Chinese text, and would therefore not be suprised to find them lacking. The opposite though, the large amount of them, makes me think they are something else. See picture below:

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2 Answers 2


It's called 圈点.

As a mark for stress, they're normally at the center to the right of the characters. If circles and dots both appear, then the author or the publisher has an internal logic for their relative importance, which differ from person to person. Most of the time it can be inferred from the highlighted parts.

The Chengyu 可圈可点 origins from this habit. It says the writing is good, literally worth of 圈点.

As a mark for punctuation, not in terms of the modern ones but of 句读, circles represents a larger pause, roughly corresponding to "。", and the dots correspond to "、". They are normally marked at the right corner of the previous character. Less often seen is between two characters (the previous and the upcoming one) but at the center of the column of words.


These symbols are used for

  1. punctuation, and

  2. highlighting.

There is no consensus on where these symbols should be placed or what they do. The exact location and meaning of these symbols vary a lot from annotator to annotator. Placing a circle at the center to the right of the characters does not necessarily mean highlighting. The full stop and comma-like symbols can be used for either highlighting or punctuation or both.

In the passage you provided,

  1. The "comma" (、) is used as a highlighting tool.

  2. The "full stop" (。) is used for both highlighting and punctuation. The annotator did not distinguish between the two.

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