Hanzi Mnemonics Project

あけおめことよろ (Akeome kotoyoro).

Drs. Heisig and Richardson already have one of these going, but just for the heck of it, here are some free Hanzi Mnemonics anyway. The project will take some time to reach completion, but I’ll keep plugging away at it. The eventual goal is 10,000 characters (if the demand is there…4000+ is guaranteed) with funny cartoons, too. The cartoons are probably going to come dead last. I’ll just try (Try? There is no try!…yes, yes) to add at least some new characters every week.

The project is in TiddlyWiki for now because it’s easiest for creating inter-linking content in. At some point in the future it may be migrated to a more “linear” format. But until then…

Anyway, enjoy. If you have any questions or comments add them to this post, which will serve as the official, “collecting point” for this project.


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  35 comments for “Hanzi Mnemonics Project

  1. January 7, 2008 at 13:18

    It’s funny, I was actually thinking about starting something like this after seeing how effective the RTK method is for Japanese.

    There are two difficulties. One is just the scope of the project, and the will to keep going, but you don’t seem to have any problems in this department. 😉

    Second is getting good data mapping characters by their components. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, there is nothing like that around, and so it becomes difficult (especially as you reach deeper into the character set toward characters that are seldom used) to make sure that you’re always teaching primitives before the characters they’re used in, and that you’re teaching the right primitives early based on their frequency of occurrence (this is the way that RTK does it, if I recall correctly, though perhaps not).

    The results of a project like this would be a tremendous boon to learning Chinese. Even if Heisig and Richardson have something like this is the works… it’s been what, 30 years since RTK was first published? Something like this would be invaluable to the Chinese learning community, and having it be public domain would be even more invaluable.

    I am 100% prepared to lend my support to this project. I think it would be a great asset.

  2. David
    January 7, 2008 at 15:59

    Hey, that’s a really great idea! Highly appreciated! How can I share some of my own mnemonics?

  3. ffhk
    January 8, 2008 at 08:27

    This sounds like a great idea. It’ll be really helpful. I’m looking forward to it.

  4. Zod
    January 8, 2008 at 13:55

    People learning these languages need to understand that RTK/etc makes such a big difference. I’ve been doing 100 per day, at 1900 right now, going to ‘graduate’ RTK1 tomorrow and move on to RTK3. Then I’ll go all the way to 3007 (plus quite a few other non-RTK characters I’ve encountered).

    Anyway, being able to simply recognize the characters and know what they mean alone helps -tremendously- (or should I say, ‘甚’), and I feel like I can grasp the language much more than I ever could before.

    Thank you for all your help katz, you’ve done so much to help learners of these languages.

  5. JDog
    January 9, 2008 at 01:13

    Yes, thank you. I am just at 260 kanji, and already I have noticed that I can see all the parts of characters much more clearly than ever before, even if I don’t know them. I will often look at a kanji now and wonder, “I know 2 out of 3 parts of that one, I wonder when I’ll learn that other primitive.” It’s fun to do that, and then when I hit that unknown primitive in the book, it’s cool because it’s like a treat that I get to learn it.

    I recently found an Asian channel in my cable package that has Fujisankei news on every morning at 8! Yay! I have been looking for something that I could watch on a TV screen rather than sitting at my computer and watching it on there (somehow I feel less guilty when it’s on the TV). When I’m reading/trying to read the captions on there, should I just crawl through the katakana that I can read, or just try to look at the kanji, or just scan my eyes across all of it as fast as I would need to to read everything on the screen before it disappears (keeping in mind that this would probably lead me to comprehend the LEAST, at this stage anyway)? Does that make sense?

  6. Dereck Hammond
    January 9, 2008 at 05:16

    Hey Khatz, I’ve got a question about a 漢字.

    www.smashbros.com/jp/index.html

    At the top where it says 「スマブラ拳」, the furigana reads けん. The only dictionary entry I can find for 拳 is the げんこ reading on WWWJDIC or yahoo 辞書 (my electronic has the けん reading, but it’s in the J-J and I can’t read it yet). What does the けん reading mean?

  7. Zack
    January 10, 2008 at 08:24

    (was zod, changed my name to zack instead to sound less.. strange)

    Finished RTK1! Surprisingly, the last 150 were thankfully easier to deal with than I thought.

  8. khatzumoto
    January 11, 2008 at 08:59

    @David
    Thank you. I’m going to just get it up and running for now. Make it so that people can add alternate mnemonics later. I think that’s a great idea, especially since other people’s stories are often really funny and interesting 🙂 .

  9. khatzumoto
    January 11, 2008 at 09:17

    @General Hammond
    (sorry! watched too much Stargate SG-1!) Um…my vote for the 拳(けん)is:
    {名詞}こぶしを振るう武術。「拳法(ケンポウ)」
    Basically, it’s using 拳 as a suffix, to make the name of a “new” martial art/style, i.e. Smash Brothers Ken(pou) [スマブラ拳法] — the Smash Brothers Method of the Fist. If it were in English, we might render the name “Smash Fu”, as they did with “Shaq Fu” (i.e. “Shaquille O’Neal(-style) Kung Fu”), a (Sega Genesis?) game from the early 90s.

  10. khatzumoto
    January 11, 2008 at 09:22

    @Zack
    CONGRATULATIONS!!! You’re the man now, dawg! Seriously, well done. Welcome to the world of kanji 🙂 . I’m going to go buy some Jelly Bellies today and dedicate them to you (and Chiro-kun, who also finished recently).

  11. Rmss
    January 13, 2008 at 00:53

    I’ve been looking everywhere, but so far I’ve only found the sample book of remembering simplified hanzi. Hasn’t it been published yet or something?

  12. Ivan the Terrible
    January 14, 2008 at 08:54

    Ha! All this time waiting for Heisig to publish the Hanzi books, and you beat him to the punch! Well done, well done.

    I have to admit, though, I’m slightly ambivalent about using the Heisig method as an approach towards Hanzi. As I understand it, the Heisig method makes sense in tackling Japanese, as Japanese have lots and lots of different readings of Kanji. But Chinese has far fewer readings of Hanzi, doesn’t it? Not to mention how many of the Chinese characters become easier to remember once you know the pronunciation of one of their parts (由 leads to 油 and 柚, 青 leads to 清, 情, 晴, 精, and so on).

    Regardless, I’m giving it a shot. Great work, and let me know when you get any user input up; I have some of my own Hanzi stories I’d happily donate if people find them useful!

  13. Ivan the Terrible
    January 14, 2008 at 08:55

    Rmss, incidentally, I e-mailed Heisig about this subject. The reply: not published yet. Don’t know when it will be published. They’re still hard at work, though.

  14. Rmss
    January 15, 2008 at 00:01

    Thanks Ivan. In the meanwhile I’ve searched a like further, and I found a date on a Chinese forum. The reply stated that it’s scheduled for July 2008.

    So I guess I’ll pick up Khatzu’s database for the stories, look up the stroke order myself and make my own database and flashcards (for when I’m traveling by train).

  15. Rmss
    January 16, 2008 at 07:14

    I ordered this book in the meanwhile: www.amazon.com/Reading-Writing-Chinese-Simplified-Character/dp/0804835098

    Doesn’t come with a story for every character, and has the pinyin. But I guess it’s better than nothing. A friend of mine who’s studying Mandarin aswell but achieved quite a higher level than me so far, used this book.

  16. Sweatpig
    January 16, 2008 at 19:26

    Most motivating:

    Fluent Japanese natives who can’t do simple arithmetic. (if idiots can do it, hey, you can do it too!)

    Least Motivating (kanji wise):

    Top female announcer COULDN’T WRITE THE KANJI FOR お風呂.. no kidding. In fact she was stumped. Boy that must have been embarrasing for her.

  17. Charley Garrett
    February 29, 2008 at 06:17

    I don’t think I understand the organization of the wiki. Are we trying to get the primatives, and then the characters that use them would be descendant characters? I see that “one” has a descendant of “eternity”. Huh?

  18. khatzumoto
    February 29, 2008 at 14:54

    @Charley Garrett
    久しぶり!!!You were about the first person to comment on this site and the first to email me…way before The Big Crash. Um…the characters are descendants in that they contain their “ancestors” as components. Does that make sense?

  19. Charley Garrett
    February 29, 2008 at 23:25

    That does make sense, and that’s the relationship I was looking for, but couldn’t quite get it on this example. I was wondering if my understanding was wrong, or a mistake or what.

    So, are you implying that “eternity” would be considered to use “one” as a component? The only relationship that I could perceive to “one” is “one drop”, but I suppose there might be some geneological relationship that is not intuitively obvious to the casual observer. Is that the case?

  20. khatzumoto
    March 1, 2008 at 00:22

    >So, are you implying that “eternity” would be considered to use “one” as a component?
    Yeah.
    If you look at 水/water, it doesn’t have that horizontal line at the top (other than the drop) that 永/eternity does. That horizontal line, I am calling 一/one.

  21. Susan
    September 16, 2008 at 12:33

    Khatzumoto, you mentioned using “Remember the Kanji” for Chinese (can’t find that page right). Would you recommend just the first volume, or all three volumes? In a manner of speaking, I’m restarting Chinese and just started the first volume. Thanks!

  22. khatzumoto
    September 16, 2008 at 12:51

    No, I used RTK methods combined with
    www.zhongwen.com/

  23. D
    September 18, 2008 at 19:58

    Khatzumoto, do you have any flash card files or spreadsheets of the zhongwen.com adaption? I’d like to do the same thing but entering 4000+ characters into Anki is an ordeal I’d love to avoid. I’m new to the site so if you mentioned or posted that information elsewhere, apologies.

  24. hp
    December 3, 2008 at 01:19

    I started my own Hanzi project – in German – 1 1/2 years ago:

    taeglich.chinesisch-trainer.de/index.php?alle=2

    Until now, 1067 characters are decomposed and explained (sorry, in German).

  25. IrishJohn
    December 20, 2008 at 20:38

    hi Khatzu and everybody,

    I’m posting all over the shop cos I can’t quite navigate my way around your site as effectively as I should be.
    I dunno if this is the right place to post this, but if you’re into Hanzi mnemonics, you could do a lot worse than try Tuttle’s ‘Learning Chinese Characters volume 1’. It’s by Allison and Laurence Matthews and it rocks. They have lots of strange stories to get characters in your head and they even have mnemonics for remembering the tones. Thus if a character is first tone, you imagine a giant in the silly story, but if the character is a falling tone (4th tone) you imagine a dwarf doing the actions.
    Eventually, your whole dang head is like a crowded fairy tale of dwarves, giants, fairies and teddy bears doing everything from fending off pirates to delivering medicine to kings and queens. It’s like a G-rated version of the Woodland Critters South park, but damnit it sticks in your head really well. The first volume is about 800 characters, and I emailed the publishers and they say they are coming out with volume two in 2009. I await it with great excitement!

  26. January 9, 2009 at 21:53

    >>>I started my own Hanzi project – in German – 1 1/2 years ago:

    taeglich.chinesisch-trainer.de/index.php?alle=2

    Until now, 1067 characters are decomposed and explained (sorry, in German).<<<

    I *think* I landed there from something on ChinesePod.com, but I am not entirely sure. Nevertheless it is a great project, but I can’t possibly understand the German language. Ohhhhh, I DO understand a bit of German: I mean using German instead of the slightly more common English?? (My impression is that Germans are VERY good at English.)

  27. January 9, 2009 at 22:00

    Okeydokey,

    Great stuff! Will link to this page as soon as I write my next post over at the HUB.

    Question: Would it be too much trouble to add the simplified versions too? like 腦(S脑) I know the mnemonics will get screwed up here and there, but people will 1) be able to enter a simplified character, look at the traditional version and hopefully try to learn THAT TOO (which I actually think is a pretty good idea).

  28. martin
    January 27, 2009 at 00:13

    Can you make the characters a bit bigger? I can’t really see them properly. Maybe it should be an option.

    There are various sources of character splits around, eg TKAnn, Matthews, and of course Harbaugh and Heisig.

  29. Kira
    February 3, 2009 at 07:49

    Thank you so much for putting up this site!

    I was wondering if I should learn Chinese in high school along with Japanese on my own.
    I heard that some Chinese characters and kanji look the same, but have different meanings. Is this something I shouldn’t worry about?

    Thanks again!

  30. Nfwu
    February 18, 2009 at 21:29

    If you’re learning Chinese, note that the hanzi aren’t the only things to remember. 成语 plays an important role in proficiency; 俗语 also but to a lesser extent.
    (For 俗语, I mean, how many times do you hear someone say “他们的“自扫门前雪,莫管他人瓦上霜”的态度真要不得。” instead of “真是的,这些没良性的家伙真要不得。”)

  31. Kira
    February 20, 2009 at 09:17

    Thanks! I read the article about “laddering” your languages, so hopefully I’ll have a strong enough Japanese base by the fall for Chinese (or whatever language I’ll take).

  32. IrishJohn
    February 27, 2009 at 22:47

    Hey Everyone,

    There is a list on the web of 20,000 sentences in Chinese. The list contains hanzi, pinyin, and the English translations. Could this be the Holy Grail of Chinese practice? The supercool thing is it would give you twice as many sentences as Khatzu reckons you need to be good, but you avoid the extremely time consuming process of sentence mining! All the sentences have already been mined!
    www.mnemosyne-proj.org/node/115
    www.mnemosyne-proj.org/files/chinese_sentences.zip
    I am terrible with software and what not, but does anybody know how to take this extremely long list and put it into a digestible Anki file? I tried doing it myself by copying the hanzi sentence and pasting it into one side of an Anki card. On the ‘reverse’ side of the Anki card, I copied and pasted the pinyin, and then below that, the English translation. My brain went mushy doing all that copying and pasting. Surely there is a faster way of making an Anki file out of this bad boy?

  33. March 25, 2009 at 12:47

    That is great that you are doing this. I have actually started a similar project where people can share their mnemonics (kanjihacks.com). I’ll be interested to see your stories. Keep up the good work!

  34. kristofv
    April 2, 2009 at 02:13

    Why I am not sure, if it is smart or not to use a sentence list made by others (I leave that for khatzumoto to decide :)), why would you bother loading it into Anki?
    Why not just use mnemosyne? But I believe that Anki can import mnemosyne files, if you really would like to use Anki.

  35. August 6, 2016 at 20:35

    Just wanna say that this is extremely helpful, Thanks for taking your time to write this.

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