What Is Stroke Order?

Stroke order refers to the order in which Chinese characters, which are made up of lines or “strokes,” should be written. Because Chinese words are represented images rather than letters as in the English language, these rules generally define the order in which the strokes are drawn. The stroke order is used not only in Chinese writing, but also in Korean and Japanese writing, as both were heavily influenced the Chinese during the latter’s millennia-long ascendancy.

One of the goals of the stroke order is to create a system that allows characters to be written smoothly and quickly, as many characters require a large number of strokes, which can make writing difficult. Another goal is to improve readability: because Chinese characters are often written in blocks, knowing the order in which the strokes are drawn helps the calligrapher allot enough space for each stroke, making the characters legible and pleasing to the eye. Because China has many spoken languages but only one standardized written language, legibility was probably a top priority. Reading and writing Chinese characters fluently promotes the country’s unification and effective communication among its various regions.

The Chinese stroke order is usually followed, though the Japanese and Korean stroke orders differ slightly. Using the Chinese character for the word “forever” or “eternity,” all stroke orders are joined in teaching the eight primary strokes. One of the first rules in the order is that each character should be written from left to right, implying that when doing calligraphy, the right hand is preferred. It’s also a good idea to write characters from top to bottom.

When writing characters with horizontal and vertical strokes, the horizontal ones must be drawn first, presumably so that the vertical stroke can be placed in the middle of the horizontal one. The Chinese character for “ten,” which resembles a cross, exemplifies this. Any vertical stroke that cuts through the character — usually resulting in a character that is equally dissected — should be drawn last in this regard. When it comes to diagonal strokes, the ones that start from the right and go to the left, such as parts of a character that form a “X,” should be drawn before the ones that start from the left and go to the right.

Rules for characters with boxes are also included in the stroke order. The horizontal line at the bottom should be drawn last, according to the rules, especially if there are strokes inside the box. Minor strokes, like a dot on the character’s side, are also drawn last.