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Remembering the Hanzi: It’s Here

To all tha haters that sed we wuz whack. That sed “hanzi be rockin’ semantic-phonetic duality, son… ideographic component analysis just won’t work — I played Othello at Cambridge!”; that sed we couldn’t represent no more. Well here’s a big BOOYAKASHA from Timothy “Tha Killa” Richardson and James “Old Kanji Bastard” Heisig, two thugs with PhDs in school but also in life, cousin. That’s right. Thirty years after the first Remembering the Kanji hit the streets of Compton and sparked drive-by arguments [“Oh, Reginaaald…? I disagree!”] from Osaka to Oakland, Remembering the Hanzi is out, just in time for Kwanzaa.

RTHSo for all you Chinese learners out there. Here is the merchandise. This is the detaaaaagent [if you didn’t watch Kenyan TV commercials in the early 1990s…I cannot help you with this one]! This is what you need. There are 1500 characters in this first volume, so it’s just something to get you started up. A second volume, with another 1500, is in the works. Should it be delayed, then, rather than wait for it to come out, I would recommend applying the stories/components in the first volume to the characters in Rick Harbaugh’s Chinese Characters: A Geneaology and Dictionary (, and then move on to sentences. With steady progress, it shouldn’t take very long at all, and you’ll be able to read (comprehend) and write Chinese like a madman, despite not yet knowing how to sound stuff out yet.

Anyway, yeah…FYI, whoomp there it is.

It’s been out for like a month, actually.

  43 comments for “Remembering the Hanzi: It’s Here

  1. Bryan
    December 20, 2008 at 18:26

    So, are you going to use RTH or are you passed that already?

  2. vgambit
    December 20, 2008 at 18:50

    I looked at the sample PDF for this yesterday, but I had to stop the moment I realized that it was giving a hanzi that I learned as a kanji a different meaning. I wouldn’t recommend it for people who haven’t yet gone through RTK.

    Then again, I haven’t actually made an attempt at using RTH, mostly due to a lack of interest in Mandarin.

  3. December 20, 2008 at 19:27

    Mmmm… nice stuff. I did RTK sometime ago, but nowadays I’m not studying Japanese anymore, just English. Chinese is that language you always want to learn, but I don’t know why you would never start learning it. Maybe cos in fact you don’t want to learn….
    I’m wondering if the guys from will update the site for work with RTH.
    Cheers Katz!

  4. saru
    December 20, 2008 at 19:51

    Outta sight.

  5. khatzumoto
    December 21, 2008 at 00:20

    No…I know me kanjees already.
    It’s just much easier to tell people to “do RTH” than…”make up your own stuff from scratch”. If this had been around for in my time, I would have used it.

  6. December 21, 2008 at 00:36

    I know my Kanji, but not my Hanzi. I plan to start seriously studying Chinese next year (planning to study abroad!) so maybe I should get a head start and Hanzi up my brain with this.

    I’ve never done RTK so I shouldn’t get my stories confused either!


    – Harvey

  7. December 21, 2008 at 00:50

    Doh. Note this is for traditional Chinese characters. Like those used in Taiwan I imagine. For mainland style simplified characters we need this.

  8. David
    December 21, 2008 at 03:04

    Wow, this was exciting. I had/have in the back of my head that I’d like to learn Chinese, but I wasn’t sure if the knowledge from RTK would have rolled over. From the looks of it, there’s a bunch of characters that are common in Chinese that aren’t listed in volumes one and three of RTK. I especially like that there is a book for the simplified characters, too. Good news for learners of Chinese.

  9. Juz
    December 21, 2008 at 03:57

    I’m pretty sure Khatz has learned all the characters that this book deals with. That’s why he said he didn’t use RTK instead he used the method an applied it to however many Hanzi he needed to learn

  10. uberstuber
    December 21, 2008 at 04:14

    A list of differences between RTK and RTH (useful if you’ve already done RTK):

  11. 牛juice
    December 21, 2008 at 05:14

    If I am going to learn Mandarin with the possibilty of Cantonese should I start with traditional characters then move to the symplified? Isn’t it easier to start with the more detailed and move down? I have no clue where to start Chinese.

  12. December 21, 2008 at 12:33

    Khatzumoto, how about a review? “We” knew it was out. Is it any good? If you mentioned it in your post I didn’t quite get it. I’d make a culturally-relevant remark but I can only think of daddy-o and such and that’s circa 1930’s.

  13. Amelia
    December 21, 2008 at 15:09

    Woo-hoo! Just got mine in the mail today. This is the best Christmas ever. 🙂

    I plan to be done in a month or so before Spring semester starts ip, but then my life will be empty again. Most of the ones I need to know are in vol. 2, though it’s nice to get a refresher on the ones I’ve forgotten. Heisig is pure AWESOME!

  14. Sam
    December 22, 2008 at 08:32

    “This is the detaaaaagent [if you didn’t watch Kenyan TV commercials in the early 1990s…I cannot help you with this one]!”

    Omo with pawaa foam! haha, good times.

    quick question though, is it worth getting for those studying japanese who already have the first Remebering the Kanji, or are thinking of getting the first remembering the kanji, or is it more focused towards the students of chinese??

  15. Yu
    December 23, 2008 at 04:20

    I’m guessing that they did traditional hanzi because it actually has imagery (sp?) behind it. Simplified characters are… well, simplified versions of the characters. They don’t really have pictures anymore. I think you should start with traditional if you like them more, then for simplified you just need to remember… how to simplify the. :/ But if you like simplified more for some reason and don’t plan on going to Taiwan or Hong Kong or one of those places, you might as well stick with simplified. Just my opinion.

  16. wenhailin
    December 23, 2008 at 17:49

    khatz, totally unrelated but I thought you would be interested in knowing that has started rolling out its Chinese courses, focusing on understanding the news and other chinese media.

    I think you should check it out, it is really good and actually makes SRS reps fun!

  17. アムロ
    December 24, 2008 at 02:12

    I’m not a student of Chinese, but from what I’ve seen the simplified characters can be just as easily broken down into pictures as the traditional letters.

    For example,
    試驗 is 试验
    言 might have changed shape, but it’s no less recognisable than 手 in 把 which is a traditional character. And 馬/马 is 馬/马, the pictures and stories are still there, they’re just slightly different versions of the pictures.

    Also to Sam, I would imagine that the book is aimed more towards Chinese students. I have never done any of the remembering the kanji/hanzi books (by the time I was aware of them I was already sufficiently literate), and you may be able to get something out of a book of Chinese letters as they’re used in Chinese, but if you are learning Japanese and still getting your letters down you might as well stick to Remembering the Kanji. (Although personally I prefer Henshall’s “Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters”)

  18. Ivan the Terrible
    December 24, 2008 at 10:16

    Yeah, THANK you, Mr. Heisig. AFTER I did all the damn work myself, when it’s far too late to make use of it, you publish ‘Remembering the Hanzi’, which would’ve shaved a ton of hours of inputting and brainstorming back in the day.

    Heh. At least the method is well-appreciated.

  19. Ivan the Terrible
    December 24, 2008 at 10:29

    アムロ, you can make stories out of them, but it’s harder and more tedious. There just isn’t as much to work with. All the components of 樂, for example, have unique meanings (threads, white, tree) which can produce an entertaining story, but the simplified version (乐) is so short that coming up with something memorable is kind of frustrating and dull.

    Any serious student of Chinese will eventually have to learn both. Unless you want to communicate with nothing but Taiwanese, Hong Kongers and various parts of the Chinese diaspora, you simply can’t shirk off learning the characters used by over a billion people in favor of the characters used by about 50 million. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have to kick and swear and say terrible things about the immediate relatives of the people who ‘simplified’ the things.

  20. beneficii
    December 25, 2008 at 11:29


  21. Donbert
    December 27, 2008 at 12:03

    Is this what you’re looking for?

  22. December 30, 2008 at 12:42

    I just have to comment that I love this site. I’m a beginner at reading Japanese, learning hiragana at the moment *lol* Just wanted to say thank you for all the hard work, this is very inspirational.

  23. December 31, 2008 at 16:39

    I heard a poem today, and thought you AJATT folks may like it:

    Saber sin Estudiar / Knowing without study

    Admiróse un portugués / A portuguese man was surprised
    de ver que en su tierna infancia / when he saw that since childhood
    todos los niños en Francia / Every little kid in France
    supiesen hablar francés. / could speak Feench.
    «Arte diabólica es», / “Wicked art, this is”,
    dijo, torciendo el mostacho, / He said, twisting his moustache.
    «que para hablar en gabacho / “That to speak “gabacho” (slang for French).
    un fidalgo en Portugal / a gentleman in Portugal
    llega a viejo, y lo habla mal; / grows old, and barely speaks it,
    y aquí lo parla un muchacho». / and here a little boy speaks it swiftly.”

    The rhythm and rhyme is lost in translation, but I found it pretty funny. It’s by Nicolás Fernández de Moratín, an 18th Century Spanish poet.

    • Livonor
      February 24, 2013 at 23:05

      LOL amazing, thanks for posting it

  24. January 1, 2009 at 01:47

    interesting Japan site. Just surfed in.

  25. NDN
    January 1, 2009 at 03:55

    Ok, got nothing to talk about. So, “Remembering The Hanzi”, huh? Makes me want to learn chinese right away (seriously) but not now(AJATTing) of course. Well, HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!!!!! 😀

  26. Chiro-kun
    January 1, 2009 at 12:09


  27. David
    January 1, 2009 at 20:23

    明けましておめでとう!!! :)

  28. David
    January 2, 2009 at 23:36

    I found an English website for anyone interested in the differences of standard and kansai dialects:

  29. Amelia
    January 3, 2009 at 00:55

    I’m at 400 or so, and I’ve found that ignoring Heisig’s advice about skipping the pinyin is best. I got this book on mnemonics, “Brain Rules,” for Christmas, and I’ve been learning some interesting things, in addition to Heisig’s insights and the SRS method (which the book also confirms):

    –People who suffer from synthaesia–confusing sensory information so all Ts are blue and all 2s are red to them (or whatever)–apparently have better memories for text because this excess information is so consistently coded to the thing they want to remember. So I’m assigning colors to tones, so all 4th tone characters are red, for example.

    –As Heisig points out, the more detailed your mental picture, the better. So I’m also encoding the tones into the little story I learn for each character. For 享, xiang3, for example, I’m learning Heisig’s story about a tall child who jumps up to look at birds nests, talk to people in second story buildings, see giraffes at the zoo–but I’m adding the words “jumps up *and down*” to signal to me that I should be thinking of up-and-down motion when I imagine the character. Adding these little bits into the stories is almost always easy (go up the road, go down the hill, etc.). Of course, it may not pan out–so far this is just an experiment. Obsessive listening is still the best way to learn tones, but every bit helps.

    –Aromatherapy may be unscientific, but studies show that “aromamnemonics” (my word–no respectable scientist would say this) is totally the way to go. If you smell something when learning and then the same smell is around when you’re trying to remember, you’re likely to remember between 10-30% more than if the smell wasn’t involved. I’m thinking jasmine tea is pretty ubiquitous in Chinese culture, so I’m keeping that around when I study.

    If anyone else has some insights into how to tweak Heisig for Mandarin, I’d love more ideas. Thanks so much to Khaz to spreading the word–I’m telling everyone I know to get the new Heisig. But I’m frustrated the new book’s not coming out any time soon (apparently). I guess we’re on our own for the rest of them in the near term.

  30. Rob
    January 3, 2009 at 08:55

    David, thanks for that site! On my favorite show they always speak kansai-ben so that site will be very helpful.

  31. Ivan the Terrible
    January 3, 2009 at 19:57

    Amelia, I think we both agree to disagree with Heisig on studying pinyin or bopomofo. Throwing sounds out completely may be best for Japanese, with it’s abundance of characters with multiple readings which can only frustrate a learner trying to grab them all at once, but it’s not necessarily such an advantage in Chinese, where 多音字 are rarer.

    In my case, I had started studying Hanzi long before I even heard of Heisig, so I ran into quite a few characters whose sounds I was very familiar with and it helped me to remember with much more accuracy than any story I could think up. I remember staring at 胰 and trying to think of a story. Flesh/Moon + Barbarian = Pancreas. Huh.

    What’s the pronunciation of 胰 in Mandarin? Yi2. And, from past study, what’s the pronunciation of 夷? Yi2.

    At that point, I ended up writing in the ‘story’ column: ‘You aren’t coming up with a good story about the fleshy barbarian pancreas anytime soon. The sound is ‘yi2′, like barbarian, and the flesh radical indicates meaning. Remember those two and you’re set.’

    I don’t know, though. This may be a situation unique to those, like me, who had already spent many long hours desperately banging our skulls against what seemed pre-Heisig to be the impenetrable, unconquerable wall of Hanzi needed for fluency. Maybe, if starting from scratch, sound-based mnemonics would be too much of a pain. I couldn’t say for certain.

  32. Chiro-kun
    January 4, 2009 at 04:56

    @Ivan – I would tend to agree. It works wonders with names in my case. I always associate 雛(chick) to 雛見沢(name of a village in the anime Higurashi no Naku Koro ni) and 沙(sand) to 沙都子(Satoko). That way, I get both the meaning and pronunciation bagged. Then again, this process is extremely slow (though the characters remain very sticky for a long time).

  33. David
    January 4, 2009 at 17:33


    Noooo problem. I have a friend from 奈良 that I’ve been talking to, and she’s indirectly forced me to pick up some Kansai dialect. ^ ^

  34. Amelia
    January 5, 2009 at 04:31


    No, I’m like you–I’m celebrating my 10th year with these characters. I totally agree with you, but I’m trying it Heisig’s way just to see if it works. If not, then I’ll ditch it and go back to “the part of the body that sounds like ‘yi'” (which makes much more sense).

    So far Heisig’s method has played with my head quite a bit. “Elementary” for example, just confuses me, but then I think through his story (cloak and dagger / “Elementary, my dear Watson”) and I find myself writing the character I know well, 初. Since I’m doing this because it’s easy characters like 初 that I find myself forgetting how to write and feeling like an idiot for it all the time, I’m inclined to believe that ditching the phonetics in remembering the strokes may be a good thing. Or it may just mess me up. Only time will tell.

    I do feel it’s helping though. The color-coded characters by tone is amazing useful. Now I always think of 辉 as bright orange (my 1st tone) and 守 as dark purple. (Incidentally, I think they have to be ugly colors, else they’re harder to remember.) I may start putting the colors in the stories, too.

    I don’t think it would be hard to do this starting from scratch. I mean, Chinese kids learn tones and writing simultaneously, so how hard can it be?

  35. Hashiriya
    January 6, 2009 at 12:51

    Amelia, are you reading Heisig’s book and getting the stories from it? if you are, i would advise to stop and give ‘s study section a try… users created many new easier to understand stories on there…

  36. Amelia
    January 8, 2009 at 04:44

    Thanks for the tip! I really like ditching Heisig’s and making my own stories up. Since I don’t have time to write fiction (I, like, have all this Chinese to learn), it’s my favorite time of the day. Plus, I get all 头疼 trying to figure out when the Japanese is different and when it’s the same. I occasionally look at Japanese references and there are so many tiny little differences that just drive me crazy. Sometimes it’s like traditional and sometimes it’s like simplified, and sometimes it means something completely different.

  37. January 14, 2009 at 11:57

    I used RtK to learn me some japanese…. and I bought RtH for my half-chinese friend :).

  38. February 26, 2009 at 16:06

    I’m just now diving into Mandarin, but I’m wondering why in Remembering Simplified Hanzi they offer the mnemonic tie of 勺 with “ladle” instead of “spoon”. Which applies to the eating utensil, 勺 or 匙? And where does 柶 come into the picture?

  39. Chris
    January 24, 2010 at 10:48

    Infuriatingly, after an e-mail to Heisig, he and Tim will be meeting up in JUNE 2010 to give the final push to book 2. Yep, about 6 months. Good thing I bought Rick Harbaugh’s dictionary, cause I am not waiting that long.

  40. Bart
    May 22, 2010 at 01:49

    I’m currently working through Heisig’s simplified Hanzi 1, and will soon be finished. There’s no way I’m waiting for the next one to come out; I’m planning on using Does anyone have any advice on how to approach using it for learning (simplified) hanzi? Also, does anyone have any tips about what new primitives to look out for, things not included in simplified hanzi 1?

    For what it’s worth, I’ve also been incorporating pronunciation in my mnemonics, and I would recommend it to others because I actually find it very easy. I assigned the tones colours, and giant/fairy/dwarf/teddy as in Tuttle. I also link it to either a similarly pronounced English word, or hanzi with the same pronunciation (note – if you do this make sure you keep the tone cue separate from the sound cue or you might end up in a confused mess!)

  41. Nick
    June 9, 2010 at 13:10

    So I *had* to comment on this, because I’ve been wondering something for a while. Is it possible to learn to read Chinese and completely ignore the spoken language? Can I learn to read Chinese texts without knowing what they sound like? Or will semantic-phonetic duality prevent me?

  42. khatzumoto
    June 9, 2010 at 14:44

    >I’ve been wondering something for a while. Is it possible to learn to read Chinese and completely ignore the spoken language?
    In my experience…it is, actually. Especially 文言文 😀

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