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How to Read and Type Chinese Characters on Your Computer and

Chinese Character Input Methods

I. Reading Chinese Characters

If you use Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator, you don't have to worry about reading Chinese characters because the latest version of both of these browsers can support Chinese without any other programs. All you need is to visit the Chinese pages you want, and the text will be displayed automatically into Chinese.  By the way, if you need a Chinese translator to read Chinese symbols, please contact us.

If you are using previous versions of Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator, you might need a Chinese font, and there are many good free fonts you can download. The best method is to download Microsoft's free language packs and input methods for Simplified and Traditional Chinese.

Installing these language packs will automatically set up Internet Explorer for Chinese. Netscape still needs one more step. From Netscape's main menu, select "Edit", then "Preferences". In the window that appears, select "Appearance" and "Fonts". First select "Simplified Chinese" for the encoding, and choose "MS Song" or "MS Hei" for the proportional and fixed length fonts. For the "Traditional Chinese Encoding", select "MingLiU" as the font. Selecting a larger font size might also be easier on your eyes.

Now as you surf around different Chinese websites, two situations may occur. Some web pages "know" that they are in Chinese, and the browser automatically knows to use the Chinese fonts to display them. For web pages that do not have this information, you can manually change to Chinese. On Netscape, this is done from "View" and then "Character Set" on the main menu. On Internet Explorer, this can be done from "View" and then "Fonts".

These fonts will also allow you to read (in Netscape Messenger and Outlook) and write (in Outlook) Chinese in e-mails.

II. Displaying and Typing Chinese Characters

There are several approaches to working with Chinese on computers. First is to have the entire operating system support Chinese. This is the most popular option where the user only deals with Chinese and not other languages. Microsoft sells both traditional and simplified Chinese versions of its Windows operating system.

If you already have an English operating system, then you can use a program that adds Chinese capabilities to your existing programs. Program like this include TwinBridge Chinese Partner and UnionWay for Windows.  A highly recommended program is called NJStar Software.  Its trial version of the software can be downloaded for free and it allows you to read and type Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.

III. Chinese Character Input Methods

Because the Chinese language is a logographic language in which one "character" corresponds roughly to one "word" or meaning there are vastly more characters, or glyphs, than there are keys on a standard computer keyboard.

To allow the input of Chinese using standard keyboards a variety of keyboard input methods have been designed.

Keyboard input methods can be classified in 3 main types: by encoding, by pronunciation, and by structure of the characters. The following are just some samples of Chinese input methods. Many of those input methods have variations. Full Pinyin and Double Pinyin are variation of the Pinyin input method. In addition, the methods which require the user to select a character from a menu generally have sophisticated methods for guessing which characters the user intends based on context.

Different people are most comfortably with different methods and each standard has its strengths and weaknesses. For example, for someone who is already familiar with pinyin, the pinyin method can be learned most quickly. However, the maximum typing rate is limited, and learning the system is difficult for some who doesn't know pinyin. Wubi takes much effort to learn, but expert typists can enter text much faster than the phonetic methods. Because of these factors, there is no likelihood of a "standard" method evolving.

Other means of inputting Chinese characters are not widely used but include stylus and tablet, with hand-writing recognition software, as the most common alternative, and then OCR optical character recognition (OCR) and voice recognition. As with English language all these methods suffer from high error rates.

1. Pronunciation

Zhuyin (注音)

Zhùyīn Fúhào (注音符號), or "The Notation of Annotated Sounds", often abbreviated as Zhuyin, or known as Bopomofo (ㄅㄆㄇㄈ) for the first four syllables in this Chinese phonetic symbols, is the national phonetic system of the Republic of China (based on Taiwan) for teaching the Chinese languages, especially Mandarin to illiterate Mandarin-speaking children (See Uses). The system uses 37 special symbols to represent the Mandarin sounds: 21 consonants and 16 vowels. There is a one symbol-one sound correspondence.

Pinyin (拼音)

Pinyin (拼音 pīnyīn) literally means "join together sounds" (a less literal translation being "phoneticize", "spell" or "transcription") in Chinese and usually refers to Hanyu pinyin (漢語拼音, literal meaning: "Han language pinyin"), which is a system of romanization (phonetic notation and transliteration to roman script) for Mandarin Chinese used in the People's Republic of China. Pinyin was approved in 1958 and adopted in 1979 by its government. It superseded older transcriptions like the Wade-Giles system (1859; modified 1912) or Bopomofo. Similar systems have been designed for Chinese dialects and non-Han minority languages in the PRC. Cantonese also has a pinyin-type system called Penkyamp, whose name derives from the same word as pinyin, albeit articulated in the Cantonese dialect.

Since then, pinyin has been accepted by the Library of Congress, The American Library Association, and most international institutions as the transcription system for Mandarin. In 1979 the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) adopted pinyin as the standard romanization for Modern Chinese.

Cantonese Pinyin (粤语拼音)

Penkyamp (拼音; Yale: ping1 yam1, Jyutping: ping1 jam1) or Cantonese pinyin, is a romanization system for transliterating Cantonese Chinese. A series of romanization efforts of Cantonese seek to standardize the language spoken by large number of residents in Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Sydney, Auckland, Vancouver and San Francisco, from the status of a vernacular to that of a literary language. On the other hand, the Linguistic Society of Hong Kong adopts another Cantonese Romanization called Jyutping, which is not yet popularized among Cantonese-English or English-Cantonese dictionaries. The current most widely accepted system for Cantonese Romanization are Meyer-Wempe and Yale.

2. Character Structure

Wubi method (五笔字型)

Wubi, short for Wubizixing (五笔字型 pinyin wu3 bi3 zi4 xing2), is an input method for writing Chinese text on a computer.

The Wubi method is based on the structure of characters rather than their pronunciation, making it possible to input unfamiliar characters, as well as not being too closely linked to any particular Chinese dialect.

Cangjie method (仓颉)

The Cangjie method (仓颉输入法) is a system by which Chinese characters may be entered into the computer. Invented in 1979 by Chu Bang Fu (朱邦復), the method is named after Cangjie, the man usually attributed with the invention of the first writing system of China.

Unlike pinyin, Cangjie is based on the morphological aspect of the characters wherein each basic, graphical unit is represented by a letter from the Roman alphabet. Within the letters-to-characters representations, there also exists four subsections of characters: the Philosophical Set (comprised of the letters 'A' to 'G' and representing the elements), the Strokes Set (comprised of the letters 'H' to 'N' and representing the brief and subtle strokes), the Body-related Set (comprised of the letters 'O' to 'R' and representing various parts of the human anatomy), and the Shapes Set (comprised of the letters 'S' to 'Y' and representing complex and encompassing character forms).

In order to input using Cangjie, one must be learned in the construction of each character and its basic mnemonics. A lead character serves as an anchor by which other mnemonics will attach themselves to (in most instances these are radicals). For example, in order to enter the character "车" (Che1), meaning "vehicle", one would input 十 田 十 (the second, "Tian2", is based off the Traditional method of writing this character.

Five Stroke method (五笔划)

The Wubi Hua (五笔划), or Five Stroke method, is a Chinese input method for writing text on a computer. It is based on the stroke order of a word, and can be input using only a numerical keypad. Although it is possible to input Traditional Chinese characters with this method, this method is often associated with Simplified Chinese characters.

Each of the five keys from 1 to 5 are assigned a certain type of stroke: 1 for horizontal strokes, 2 for vertical strokes, 3 for downwards right-to-left strokes, 4 for dot strokes or downwards left-to-right strokes, and 5 for all other strokes. To input any character, simply press the keys corresponding to the first four strokes of a character and the key corresponding to the last stroke of a character. For characters four strokes or less, press 0 after the last stroke.

Wubi Hua is one of the easiest to learn methods, but it tends to be vague (a Wubi Hua code will normally match tens or hundreds of characters), and each character has a unique code (thus, characters whose stroke order are frequently transposed due to a person's writing style cannot easily be found).

Four corner method (四角码)

The Four corner method is a method of encoding Chinese characters using four numerical digits per character (in some situations, an additional digit is used). It began as a method of indexing Chinese characters in dictionaries, and was popular before the wide spread use of pinyin. It was then developed as an input method for computer.

The four digits used to encode each character are chosen according to the "shape" of the four corners of each character, i.e. the upper left, upper right, lower left and lower right corners. The shapes can be memorized using a Chinese poem:


In short, the number 1 represents a horizontal stroke, 2 represents a vertical or diagonal stroke, 3 a dot stroke, 4 two strokes in a cross shape, 5 three or more strokes in which one stroke intersects all others, 6 a box-shape, 7 where a stroke turns a corner, 8 the shape of the Chinese character 八 and its inverted form, and 9 is used for the shape of the Chinese character 小 and its inverted form. Zero is used where there is either nothing in a corner, the part in a corner is already represented by a previous corner, or where a corner has a dot stroke followed by a horizontal stroke.

Several other notes:

A single stroke can be represented in more than one corner, as is the case with many curly strokes. (eg. the code for 乙 is 1771)
If the character is fenced by 囗, 門(门), or 鬥, the lower corners are used to denote what is inside the radical, instead of 00 for 囗 or 22 for the others. (eg. the code for 回 is 6060)

Its use is not common.

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