The unit of Chinese writing is the chinese character. This one is also called sinogram, but it is not very correct to say sign. There are now, in Chinese dictionaries, 214 basic characters called radical. By combining the radical, we can form a multitude of sinograms. The first Chinese dictionary, the Shuowen jiezi of Xu Shen, written around 100AC contained 9353 characters distributed in 540 radicals. Now, chinese characters are more than 60 000. But this account variations of the same Chinese character. The total number of different chinese characters should be around 20 000. To read Chinese fluently today, we must master between 2000 and 3000. To read the classical Chinese, we need 10,000.
Classical Chinese was the written language used since antiquity. The use of writing the spoken language really broadcast just since the last century with the fall of the empire.
More than an image, the Chinese character is a suite of strokes. The order of writing strokes is very important, as well as the meaning of each stroke. It is essential to comply with the order. Just as if a Chinese learned to draw our letters upside his writing would soon become unreadable, the one who writes the Chinese can not ignore this rule. Otherwise what he writes is not Chinese. This is especially important in calligraphy styles increasingly cursive as the current style and the style of Grass.
The Chinese Character can be divided into four main categories:
Pictograms : they represent stylized and symbolic reality. For example, the tree character with its trunk and branches:
Ideograms: they are associations of ideas from simple elements. For example, forest sign is composed of two shafts.
Phono-semantic compounds. They are composed of two kinds of elements: one suggests the meaning and the other bearing the pronunciation.
For example, the mom sinogram:
consists of the woman character at the left:
and horse at the right:
The woman character obviously carries the meaning. The horse character, pronounced
is the phoneme. Mom is also pronounced , only the intonation changes.
Borrowings : Words that do not have character, we borrowed characters of the same pronunciation as we changed to distinguish them.
One more thing very important for the apprentice calligrapher: in the fifties, the Chinese mainland began a simplification of Chinese characters while in Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan and those in the diaspora have kept the classic characters. We are talking now of simplified characters and not simplified characters (or classic characters). In calligraphy, we prefer the classic characters that are much more aesthetic.