By now, you are able to tell everyone that you are American. This is great, unless you aren’t from America. We’ll cover how to say you are from other countries in a minute. But, first, let’s take our first look at the construction of Chinese characters, so that you can begin to make sense of them.
Our first word is 我(wŏ). This character is actually made from two radicals, or 部首(bùshŏu), the chief or head part or section. But, of course, each character in Chinese is only assigned one bushou, because it is by that particle that each character is listed in the dictionary. The bushou also gives us a big clue about the meaning of the character, which we will discuss extensively in our vocabulary building in later lessons. In the case of 我, the bushou is 戈 (gē), which you can see is on the right side of the character. Bushou can occur on the sides, top, bottom, or in the middle of a character. On the left side of the character, we have another bushou, although it does not count as a bushou in this character. The other particle is 扌. This particle is known as 手旁(shŏupáng) radical, which means the “hand (shŏu) on the side (páng)” radical. This is because 扌is a variant of the 手radical that is used when it appears on the side of a character. So, the meaning of the 扌(shŏupáng) radical is the same as the meaning of the 手(shŏu) radical, which is “hand”. If we take a look at 戈( gē), we find that the meaning is “spear”. So, from now on, when you see a shŏu next to a gē, you will know that this is the character for “I, me”. I suppose that, in ancient China, I would have said, “without a spear in my hand, I don’t exist.”
Just be careful. There is an extra little stroke on the top of the 扌in 我. If it is not there, we actually have a different character, 找(zhăo), which means “to seek”. You’ll also notice that 我 has the two horizontal strokes joined into one, while 找does not.
One good place to go to see the bushou in action is choumeizai’s channel on YouTube. A place to see all the bushou, or radicals, along with their pronunciations and meanings, is on the Yellowbridge Chinese Learning Center(The above radicals, you discover, are #62 and #64)
Let’s quickly see what the particles are for the rest of our first sentence.
是9 (shì) am. 部首=日(rì) sun + 疋(pĭ) bolt of cloth
美9 (mĕi) beautiful部首= 羊(yáng) sheep + 大(dà) big
国7 (guó) country 部首=囗(wéi) proud + 玉(yù) jade
[altogether , it could mean “your pride”]
人2 (rén) person. This is a single radical .
On Choumeizai’s channel, you can watch characters develop and see their stroke order. He groups characters by the number of strokes. After each character, I have indicated the number of strokes. From now on, we will refer to the characters by their Chinese distinction, 汉字.
Hàn (汉5) is the character for the Han people, the largest of the Chinese ethnic groups.
Zì (字5）is used for characters. So Hànzì ( 汉字) means Chinese character.
Take some time to see how stroke order is used to write hanzi. Generally, horizontal strokes first, then vertical ones, then angles, curves and dots last.