Chinese Characters You’ll Never Forget

I love thinking about Chinese characters. The Chinese culture dates back over 4,000 years and is the oldest continuous culture in the world. You can imagine that 4,000 years provides ample time to develop incredible depth to a culture! Chinese characters are no exception.

They offer a fascinating view of the past when you consider the elements which make up so many of the Chinese words.

Here’s 5 Chinese characters you’ll never forget.

1. 臭 – Stinky


You have 自 (‘nose’) and below you have 犬 (dog). I guess the dogs in ancient China must have been particularly odorous for this to be assigned the meaning!

2. 船- Boat

This one is eery when you consider the Western context. Although it’s considered ‘pictophonetic’ (meaning it combines actual picture elements with other unrelated elements within the character to indicate its sound), when you add up its elements, it doesn’t take much to see why some people get goose-bumps.

A 舟(boat) is on the left, and the right there’s the number 八 (8) above 口 (mouth). This character seems to point to a ‘boat with eight mouths’ or people in it. So what, right?

Well, the biblical Genesis account of the ark records eight people in a boat. Seeing as a large variety of cultures around the world all talk about an ancient flood, this one gives me the shivers!

3. 明 – Bright or Clear

sun and moon

This one’s cool, too. On the left is 日 (sun) and on the right is 月 (moon). It only makes sense when you consider the two most bright objects in the sky; you get ‘bright!’ Additionally, 明 is also combined with another character 天 (sky) to say the word 明天 (tomorrow). After a passage of the sun and moon in the sky, what do you get? Tomorrow.

4. 好 – Good

This one has a very sweet meaning. On the left is 女 (woman) and on the right is 子 (child). A woman with child is a ‘good’ thing, as it represents the future of the family and people group from ancient times.

5. 十 – Ten

Chinese Character 十

You might already know the numbers 一 (one), 二 (two), and 三 (three). These are pretty logical. But many people get thrown off why ‘ten’ is 十. One intriguing explanation is the horizontal line indicates the number ‘one’ (一). The vertical line (|) shows one person standing up. When one person stands up, how many toes are on the ground?

Chinese never fails to draw me. While not all characters combine elements in a way that makes logical sense to explain their meaning, it’s always exhilarating when they do! These have been just a few which have grabbed my attention over the years!