Strokes and Stroke Order of Chinese Characters

Now, you know how each stroke should be written. Let’s talk about stroke order. Again, the general idea is still “from left to right” and “from top to bottom,” but it is a bit more complicated than that. As you can see, the character has 7 strokes, the stroke order doesn’t apply the “top to bottom” rule strictly, not only because it is ambiguous to apply the rules when the strokes are mingling with each other, but the fact that all the stroke order rules ultimately serve a main purpose: aesthetics. If you follow the stroke order principles (see below) to write a character, it is more likely that your character looks better, in the sense that it fits in the square box more nicely, the strokes are in the correct length, and each radical in a character should have the correct proportion with respect to the whole character.

If you buy into all these, then spend a bit more time reading the 13 principles for Chinese character stroke order. It should have covered cases for many commonly used characters (both traditional and simplified), but for some really simple characters (with no more than 4 or 5 strokes), or some complicated characters with no separable radicals, you may need to memorize those character by character. But in general, these principles should be enough to get you started, and you may pick up the rest by having more experience down your Chinese learning career.

If you have better examples than the one below, or you have any questions, please leave a comment and let me know. Thanks!

13 Principles for Stroke Order in Chinese Characters

  • 1. Left first, then right

  • 2. Top first, then bottom

  • 3. Horizontal first, then vertical

  • 4. For crossing diagonal strokes, the “top-right to bottom-left” stroke first, then “top-left to bottom-right” stroke

  • 5. For a radical/character with a top enclosure (either 2- or 3-sided), write the enclosure first, then write the contents inside

Principle 6-13