Category: How to Read Chinese Characters

May 13 2011

Hidden Ancient Mysteries Inside Chinese Characters ?

What happened in mans history 1000s of years ago for all intense purposes is a complete mystery.  Sure, we have some ideas and theories about what happened back then based on archaeological findings but can one really be sure that those documents/carvings are telling the truth ?  Of course not, therefore our knowledge of history is based on faith.  Faith that what those people wrote was the truth.  However, history has also taught us that people tend to lie or at least exaggerate the truth.  Therefore in order to get as close to the truth as possible we need to look to many sources to find where these different sources agree.  If we find that many different sources agree, then we feel confident that these consistent points contain truth and the rest are possibly truth or possibly spurious.  With ancient history one can never really know, we just accept what is most likely based on the evidence we have at hand.

Modern history of course is a different kettle of fish.  Modern technology allows us to see videos of things that happened and therefore creates a more reliable and accurate record of history.  The information age too has made it easy for many different people to record their version of history giving us more records to compare in our search for the “truth”.

Regardless, one has to admit that what we learn today as “truth” is only what we think or believe is truth.  Actual “truth”, as in absolute truth, may or may not be known.

What is particularly interesting is the long lost history of the most ancient of humans long ago.  We have few sources of information for that history outside of the Bible and various legends.  These stories, or legends (however you choose to view them) from the Bible are regarding by some as actual history, and by others as fairy tales.  Regardless of whether the stories are true or not they must be taken into account when trying to discover the actual ancient history of mankind.

As a westerner growing up with these stories I never imagined that I would find further cooberative evidence to these stories locked away in the characters of one of the most ancient civilizations on earth – China.

Most, if not all, Chinese regard the Bible as a western book.  The reality is the Bible is not a western but a middle eastern book.  It just so happens that it has become widely accepted by the west and therefore has become regarded as a western book.  However, if we were to consider the possibility that the history in the Bible were true, then that would mean that ancient (the most ancient) of Chinese history would take us to the time in the Bible book of Genesis.   China boasts a history of about 5000 years.  This again is of course impossible to prove, we just have to trust the researchers and the people who wrote those ancient documents to have not made any mistakes when calculating dates.  Regardless, we can be sure that the beginning of Chinese culture and civilization was founded not long after the flood of Noah in the Bible (if we take the history of the Bible as a true reliable reference point).  If the above can be considered true, then we can also expect that the history that was orally passed down to Moses (the writer of Genesis) was also in the minds of the founders of the Chinese civilization.  Now the question that we would naturally ask is why didn’t those Chinese founding fathers write about Adam and Eve and the flood like Moses did ?  Fact of the matter is, they very well may have possibly done so.  There is no proof that they didn’t record that history which ended up getting lost after thousands of years.  It’s interesting to note however that there are strange correlations in Ancient Chinese legends with the bible.  For example Chinese legend has it that the first humans were formed from clay (or earth) which is how Genesis says the first man Adam was created.  China also has an ancient flood legend where people were destroyed except those who were preserved in a vessel.  Not only China, but all over the world exist flood legends that in some way or another agree with each other.  Although it may be hard to believe that such an event actually occurred, according to our method of figuring out what happened in the ancient past we must accept that there was a global flood in mans history.  Otherwise how could we account for the widespread flood legends existing in many different cultures which had no way to communicate with one an other ?

Most interesting of all however has been the hidden stories that I have come to know about in Chinese characters.  Although there is no actual written history by the ancient Chinese confirming the accounts in Genesis, it is extremely interesting to find that Chinese characters may hold the secrets to the past.  Chinese characters in themselves are like little miniature history books.  By analyzing these characters we can almost have a conversation with the very first Chinese people ie the ones who invented the characters themselves.  Therefore, Chinese characters can give us a glimpse into the most ancient of Chinese history, older than any Chinese book out there because Chinese books were obviously written with Chinese characters and logically the characters are older than any book written using them.

First one must understand how Chinese characters were invented.  They obviously don’t use letters like Latin based languages.  There are 10,000s of different characters in Chinese.  They are made up of various “radicals” or components.  Many of these are very basic like man, water, fire etc.  These different components are then combined in order to convey abstract ideas.  ie it’s very easy to invent a character for “man” or “tree” because you can just draw something that looks like a man or tree and that’s exactly what the ancient Chinese did.  However things got a little tricky when you wanted to create a character to describe a concept or verb ie something non material or abstract for example “rest”.  In order to solve this problem the ancient Chinese just used logic or common knowledge to create characters.  A prime example is the character for “rest” it is simply a man beside a tree.   We can see the logic here that when one was tired he would likely find a tree to rest by as it would give him shade from the sun.  Similarly the character for “good” is a boy and a girl.  We can therefore deduce that the ancient Chinese thought it was “good” to have a son and a daughter.  Further the character for “home” is a pig under a roof, allowing us to know that it was common for ancient Chinese people to have pigs in their houses.   To the chagrin of feminists, the character for “wife” is a woman under a broom.  So obviously the ancient Chinese viewed a wife’s primary duty to be cleaning.

The list of characters and their meanings could go on for hours.  There are many books about this topic which make for a very interesting read.  But what is most intriguing is the characters that seems to support the history recorded in the Bible book of Genesis.  If those stories are true then it is perfectly logical that the ancient Chinese had such stories fresh in their minds, since the Chinese characters would have been invented before Moses actually wrote the book of genesis.  Which means it’s actually possible the Chinese were the first to create a basic written account of mankind’s earliest history.

Take for example the ancient Chinese character for “garden” (we are only referring to traditional characters here of course, simplified characters are a modern alteration and are of no use when trying to understand the minds of the most ancient Chinese people).  The character for “garden” is a square which could be understood as a location and inside that square we see some dust, a mouth and 2 people, the 2nd person appears to be coming from the first person.  This may be the ancient Chinese’s way of telling the story of the “garden” of Eden and the creation of Adam and Eve.  Adam was formed from the “dust” and God used his “mouth” to blow life into the first man.  The second person, Eve, was created from Adam (using his rib) so it could be said that Eve came from Adam.  This story appears to be told in a pictoral way in the ancient Chinese character for “garden”.  Further, the Chinese refer to their wives as their “inner/inside” person, i.e “nei4 ren2”, but the husband is never referred to in this way.  So again we see this concept of the wife coming from “inside” the husband.  So one has to ask himself why did the ancient Chinese choose to create the character for “garden” in this way ?  What was common knowledge back then 1000s of years ago that would strike a chord with other Chinese who would see this character and try to deduce it’s meaning by seeing the components “dust” “mouth” and 2 people ?

Of course such reasoning can never be proven, as the inventors of the Chinese characters and their counterparts are long gone.  However, it also must be admitted that such reasoning and theorizing cannot be dis-proven either and is worth considering based on its logic, just as all ancient history is based on logic and cannot be absolutely proven without a shadow of a doubt.

Some more characters that have strange common characteristics with the Genesis account are as follows.  First of all we have the character for “forbid/ban” it consists of 2 trees and the radical for “show/indicate”.  According to Genesis the first time humans were ever forbidden from doing something is when they were forbidden from eating from one of the two special trees in the garden ie the tree of knowledge.   This “2 trees” theme is found in other characters.  For example the character for “devil” consists of the radical meaning location or place, and in the location or place there are the 2 trees and the radical for “ghost”.  So we ask ourselves why did the first Chinese person think that a ghost in a certain location where there were 2 trees have anything to do with a “devil” ?  The next character is “greed” which consists of 2 trees and something else, can you guess it ?  Who was the first greedy person in human history according to Genesis ?  It was Eve and she was a woman, hence the character for “greed” is a woman underneath 2 trees.

Next we have the character for “naked” which is actually written in a few different ways however they all have 1 common radical in all of them which is “fruit”.  So what does fruit have to do with nudity ?  In the Genesis account it wasn’t until after they had eaten the forbidden fruit that they realized they were naked.   In the Genesis account nakedness and fruit are closely linked, the same as they are in the Chinese character for nudity, why ?  Perhaps we will never know.

Next we have the character for “righteousness”.  It consists of the character of “me” below a “sheep”.  It paints the mental picture of someone holding a sheep above their head.   In the Genesis account the very first righteous man was Abel and he was famous for sacrificing a sheep to God.  The sheep held above the head could easily be understood as giving the sheep to the sky or sacrificing it to above.  So why did the early chinese think it was righteous to hold a sheep up to the sky ?

Now we come to the flood.  The Genesis account says that 8 people survived the flood.  The Chinese character for flood has the radical for “water” (of course) and the number 8 in the bottom right corner.  Further, the character for “boat” has the radical for “ship” and “8” and “mouth” ie 8 mouths or 8 people.  Striking resemblance to the Genesis account.  What is more is the Chinese have a famous proverb about “8 immortals crossing the sea each displaying their unique talents”.  The modern meaning and usage of this proverb is that people today have their own unique abilities and can work together to achieve a common goal.  No need to compare our abilities.  Naturally one wonders if this proverb has ancient roots in the flood story.

Finally we have the tower of Babel.  Famous for when God confused the languages of the people.  If this story is true then it would be at this time that the Chinese language (or it’s ancient counterpart) was born.  This is when people apparently started spreading around the earth, of which China wasn’t too far away.  Interestingly the character for “tower” includes the radicals “person”, “one” and “mouth”.  This could easily be understood to mean people having 1 language or “mouth”.  The first tower to built in history was the last time that humans spoke 1 language.  This concept appears to be conveyed in the Chinese character for tower.

Naturally after this point in history the Genesis account and Chinese history part ways as the Chinese leave Babylon with their new language but with the same memories and history that everyone else has.  It looks possible that this history, which would have been common knowledge to the very first Chinese, may have played an influence on some of their character creations as those concepts would have made logical sense to those ancient Chinese.  Today, we can only speculate as to whether this is true or not.  Either way, it’s a very interesting, mysterious coincidence.

Jan 01 2010

Best & Fastest Way to Learn How To Read Chinese Characters

Chinese Mandarin Frequency Dictionary

USA & Canada

Chinese Mandarin Frequency Dictionary


UPDATE OCT 28 2014 – I have developed a piece of online software that teaches Chinese character recognition.   It is based on the way I learned to read characters and if you use it correctly (ie daily) you should be able to read 50% of all written Chinese within 1 month and 90% of all written Chinese within 3 months

You can try my software for only $5 via paypal by clicking HERE.  This will purchase the top 50 most frequent characters enabling you to read about 30% of all written Chinese.

If you find this method effective (which I am SURE you will) you can then purchase Characters in quantities of 50 for $10 each up to as many as you want.  There is no time limit on usage of the software.  This is a limited time offer to get feedback and testimonials from students.

If you want to learn how to read Chinese Characters then this book is definitely one to buy (the software mentioned above already has the characters from this book in it, PLUS MORE).  I bought it a few years ago when I was finding my progress rate in the language was beginning to slow down.  I thought that by adding a new skill to my Mandarin Chinese ability (i.e. reading) that it would help me break through this plateau that every language learner reaches eventually, and usually more than once.

I don’t quite remember what brought me to buying this incredible book.  I think I was speaking to someone who was already well along in the language and I asked him “What is the best way to go about learning how to read Chinese?”, he mentioned the phrase “frequency dictionary” and I went online to look for one, and this is the one I found and bought.

Logically speaking this is the best way to leverage your efforts.  This book presents the top 500 characters in order of their frequency (the software I have developed has as many characters as you want, not just the top 500).  As with any language there are some words that are used more often than others.  There is no point learning how to read a Chinese character that you might only see once a year (at least not in the beginning anyways).

By using this book and learning the Characters in the exact order they are presented in this book you will think you are learning how to read Chinese at an alarming rate.  For example if you learn how to read only the first 100 characters in this book you will be able to read about 50% of all written Chinese.  That’s incredible considering there are an estimated 10,000 characters in the Chinese language.  So by knowing how to recognize only 1% of the total number of Chinese characters you will actually be able to read about 50% of whatever you see.  Incredible leverage !  It is said that you need to know about 2000 characters in order to be able to read a newspaper.  I am sitting at around 1000 characters and I can read at least 90% of everything that I see.  So as you can see, the next 1000 characters are only going to give me a few more percentage of reading ability.  This is why learning the first 500 is incredibly satisfying as you can actually see your progress by simply picking up a Chinese newspaper or book and highlighting the characters you recognize.

Further you don’t need to know how to write the characters in order to read them.  It’s simply a memory game.  The method I used was to create flashcards of each character and drill myself.  I would learn them in batches of 10, but you could do smaller batches of 5 or so to make it easier.  (The software I designed was based on the method I used years ago and I improved upon the method to increase it’s efficiency)

Once I mastered a batch of 10 I would learn the next batch of 10.  Once I learned the next batch of 10 I would be sure to review all the characters I had learned to date from the very beginning.  If I found that I was getting some of the earlier characters wrong I would wait until I was getting all my characters correct from the very start before moving on to the next batch of 10.  There’s no point in learning 10 new characters if you are already forgetting the first 10 you ever learned.  Especially when you consider those first 10 are the most frequent and therefore the most important 10 characters you will ever learn.  (The software I have designed does all this automatically.  When I learned I had to keep track of everything manually which slowed me down and reduced my efficiency, but it still worked well all be it slower than necessary)

You will be very surprised at how quickly you can learn to read using this method.  You can easily learn 10-20 characters per day just by spending 15-30 minutes using the flashcards.  What is really important though, and I can’t stress this enough, is to practice at least once per day.  Even if only for 10 minutes.  If you learn some characters and then take a break for a few days you will find that your brain has decided this info isn’t very important and then puts that info towards the back where access is slower.  By spending just a few minutes per day reviewing what you have learned and perhaps adding a few more characters each time you will be reading Chinese in no time.  It’s this regularity that tells the brain this info is important and needs to stay at the front for quick access.

A simple rule to remember with language learning is that 10-20 minutes per day is better than 10 hours in one day and nothing for the rest of the week.  10-20 minutes per day only equates to 1-2 hours per week.  Spaced out over time those 1-2 hours are more effective than 10 hours all in one day and then nothing for 6 days.

Another thing I would stress is be sure to learn the meaning of each character and not just how to pronounce it out loud.  This way you aren’t only learning how to read but you are also expanding your vocabulary.  This will of course slow down the rate at which you learn how to read, but you will be glad you did it this way in the long run.   So when using the flash cards (or whatever method you think up) don’t only practice how to say the character but also test your ability to remember what the character means.

This is another great aspect of this book.  It presents each character in order of frequency and also shows how that character is used.  It gives the definition and also many examples of how to use the character in a word or sentence.  Extremely useful stuff.

I can’t stress enough how satisfying it is to be able to read Chinese.  It’s a skill I never imagined I would ever have, and now that I can read most of what I see (I still only know about 1000 Characters) I feel like I have conquered a mountain.  What is more, it was much easier than I had ever imagined.

Be sure however not to run before you can walk.  If you are just getting started in Chinese make sure you have mastered all of the basic sounds and phonetics before you embark on the reading aspect of Chinese.

I have to admit that I have wasted a lot of money on various “learn Chinese books”  over the years and they haven’t done much for me.  This book however is the exception.  I owe my ability to read Chinese to this book.  I hope you find it as useful as I did.

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