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What Is Stroke Order?

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  • Written By: Karize Uy
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 15 November 2016
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Stroke order pertains to guidelines on how to write Chinese characters, which are made up of lines, or “strokes.” These rules generally define the sequence in which the strokes are drawn, since Chinese words are represented by an image, not made up of letters such as in the English language. The stroke order is not only used in the Chinese written language, but also in Korean and Japanese, as both written languages were largely influenced by the Chinese during the latter’s ascendancy several millennia ago.

One of the purposes of the stroke order is to create a system where characters can be smoothly and quickly written, as many characters require many strokes that can make writing complex. Another purpose is to encourage readability: Chinese character are often written in blocks, so knowing the sequence of drawing the strokes helps the calligrapher allot enough space for each stroke, making the characters legible and visually pleasing. Legibility was probably a very important objective because China has many spoken languages, but it only has one standardized written language. Being able to read and write Chinese characters well promotes the country’s unification and effective communication among different regions.

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The Chinese stroke order is usually the standard guideline, though the Japanese and Korean orders vary slightly. All stroke orders, however, are joined in teaching the eight primary strokes by using the Chinese character for the word “forever” or “eternity.” One of the first rules in the order is that each character should be written from left to right, somehow indicating that the right hand is preferred over the left hand when doing calligraphy. Characters should also be written from top to bottom.

When writing characters that contain horizontal and vertical strokes, the stroke order requires that the horizontal ones be drawn first, probably in order to position the vertical stroke in the middle of the horizontal one. This is clearly seen in the Chinese character for “ten” which looks like a cross. In relation to this, any vertical stroke that cuts through the character — usually resulting in an equally dissected character — should be drawn last. When it comes to diagonal strokes, the ones starting from the right going to the left should be drawn before the diagonal stroke coming from the left side, such as parts of a character that form an “X.”

The stroke order also includes rules for characters with boxes. According to the rules, the horizontal line at the bottom should be drawn last, especially when there are strokes contained inside the box. Minor strokes such as a dot on the side of the character are also drawn last.

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