ShaoLan: Learn to read Chinese … with ease!


ShaoLan is an entrepreneur, investor, writer, and creator of ‘Chineasy’.


Chinese characters are part of a beautiful language, but to outsiders can be difficult to learn. A Chinese person would know 20,000 characters, but only 1,000 are used frequently. Knowing 200 will let a traveller get by, to work out road signs, menus, timetables. Shaolan goes through 8 basic characters and explains how to chain them together to form more complicated characters.

8 basic hanyu

From top left, left to right

  • Fire – think of a person flailing their arms while on fire
  • Tree
  • Sun
  • Moon
  • Person
  • Mouth – open wide
  • Door – looks like a Wild West saloon door
  • Mountain

Put 2 people next to each other and it represents follow. Put 3 people in the same character and they are a crowd. You can continue to chain images together to get more complicated characters:


hanyu - fire


hanyu tree


hanyu - sun


hanyu - people


hanyu - door


hanyu - woman

From the first 8 radicals (parts of a character), we have formed 30 characters. We can then chain 2 characters together to form phrases. For example a fire mountain is a volcano,

hanyu phrases


Japan is the land of the rising sun, so sun character combined with foundation. If you take these characters and add ‘person’ character afterwards, it becomes Japanese person.

hanyu Japan


Chinese emperors used to send their political opponents across the mountains, to exile – so mountains represent exile. An opening (mouth) that leads to exile is the exit.

hanyu exit

My Thoughts

As a long time learner of Chinese for ~12 years who came away from it knowing very little, this was a much more interesting way of learning it. To see how the characters are formed makes it more memorable than rote learning.

A wonderful talk that makes me want to learn the language again (and that is quite an impressive feat).

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