The Chinese character to beat them all

One of the toughest parts of learning Chinese is learning to read and write Chinese script, or 汉字 (hànzì). Characters have to be learned apart from their pronunciation and meaning – some characters offer clues (for example, 木 (), means “tree” or “wood”, and the character looks like a little tree), but the vast majority simply have to be learned. Once you start to learn the component parts of characters (known as radicals) you can start to piece it together, but how to actually say each character is simply a rote learning task.

Chinese characters are measured in strokes – that is, how many strokes of a pen or brush it takes to write them. Knowing the number of strokes in a given character is essential for being able to look it up in a dictionary.

When I first saw this character (biáng, referring to a type of noodles from China’s Shaanxi province), I thought it was a joke, but as it turns out it’s a legitimate character.

The character is so complex that there are several mnemonics in Shaanxi for remembering how to write it. Since biáng is a combination of many different radicals that all have separate meanings, there’s a traditional poem people use to remember how to write it. At 58 strokes in total, it’s not a bad idea to have an aide-memoire!

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