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20 Simple Mandarin Characters to Begin Your Learning

Learning Mandarin might seem like a big puzzle, especially when you’re starting with all those mysterious characters. Imagine staring at a page full of squiggly lines, wondering where to even begin. It’s a common struggle for beginners. But fear not! In this article, we’ll make it easy for you by introducing 20 simple Mandarin characters. These basic building blocks will kickstart your Mandarin journey and make learning a breeze. So, if you’re ready to dive into the world of Mandarin characters, let’s get started!

20 Simple Mandarin Characters to Begin Your Learning - WuKong Education Blog
留资按钮(en): Learn Mandarin Characters freely! – CHINESE

Understanding Mandarin Characters

Mandarin characters, also known as Hanzi, are logograms that represent words or morphemes, each carrying its own meaning and pronunciation. Unlike alphabetic scripts, such as English or Spanish, Mandarin characters do not rely on an alphabet; instead, they rely on a vast set of characters, each with its distinct form and meaning.

The Origins of Mandarin Characters

The story of Mandarin characters traces back thousands of years, evolving from ancient pictographs and ideographs. These early forms of writing conveyed meaning through simple drawings representing objects or ideas. Over time, they transformed into more abstract symbols, laying the foundation for today’s complex characters.

One of the earliest known forms of Chinese characters dates back to the Shang Dynasty (1600–1046 BCE). These oracle bone inscriptions, found on animal bones and turtle shells, provide invaluable insights into the language and society of ancient China. As civilization progressed, characters underwent numerous changes, influenced by factors such as calligraphy styles, regional variations, and cultural exchange.

The 20 Most Commonly Used Mandarin Characters

In Mandarin Chinese, characters form the backbone of written communication. With thousands of characters comprising the language, mastering them is essential for understanding and expressing oneself effectively. Let’s explore a selection of the 20 most commonly used Mandarin characters, each holding its unique meaning and pronunciation. Along the way, we’ll provide simple explanations and examples to aid your understanding. It’s worth noting that while there are over 50,000 characters in total, approximately 2,500 to 3,000 characters are commonly used in everyday communication.

1. 人 (Rén) – Person

The character 人 represents a person. Its simple structure resembles a standing figure with two legs. In everyday usage, this character refers to individuals or people in general.

Example: 他是一个好人。(Tā shì yīgè hǎo rén.) – “He is a good person.”

2. 大 (Dà) – Big

The character 大 depicts a person with arms outstretched, symbolizing something large or big. It’s commonly used to describe size, magnitude, or importance.

Example: 这是一张大桌子。(Zhè shì yī zhāng dà zhuōzi.) – “This is a big table.”

3. 小 (Xiǎo) – Small

Contrary to 大, 小 represents something small or little. Its structure resembles a child or infant, signifying diminutiveness.

Example: 这是一个小狗。(Zhè shì yīgè xiǎo gǒu.) – “This is a small dog.”

4. 日 (Rì) – Sun

The character 日 resembles the shape of the sun. It represents the sun or daylight and is often associated with concepts related to time or day.

Example: 今天是晴天。(Jīntiān shì qíngtiān.) – “Today is a sunny day.”

5. 月 (Yuè) – Moon

Similar to 日, the character 月 symbolizes the moon. It’s used in various contexts, including references to the lunar calendar or celestial bodies.

Example: 今晚月亮很亮。(Jīn wǎn yuèliàng hěn liàng.) – “The moon is very bright tonight.”

6. 木 (Mù) – Tree

The character 木 depicts a tree with its trunk and branches. It’s associated with nature, wood, and forestry.

Example: 那棵树很高。(Nà kē shù hěn gāo.) – “That tree is very tall.”

7. 林 (Lín) – Woods/Forest

Combining two 木 characters, 林 represents a grove or forest. It conveys the idea of multiple trees growing together.

Example: 我们去森林野餐。(Wǒmen qù sēnlín yěcān.) – “We’re going for a picnic in the forest.”

8. 山 (Shān) – Mountain

The character 山 resembles a mountain with its peaks and slopes. It’s used to denote mountains or elevated terrain.

Example: 那座山很美丽。(Nà zuò shān hěn měilì.) – “That mountain is very beautiful.”

9. 水 (Shuǐ) – Water

The character 水 depicts flowing water. It’s a fundamental element in nature and is used to describe bodies of water or liquid substances.

Example: 这个湖很大。(Zhège hú hěn dà.) – “This lake is very big.”

10. 火 (Huǒ) – Fire

The character 火 represents flames or fire. It’s associated with heat, energy, and combustion.

Example: 他在生火做饭。(Tā zài shēnghuǒ zuòfàn.) – “He’s cooking by making a fire.”

11. 口 (Kǒu) – Mouth

The character 口 resembles an open mouth. It’s used to represent the mouth or opening of something.

Example: 他有一个大嘴巴。(Tā yǒu yīgè dà zuǐbā.) – “He has a big mouth.”

12. 手 (Shǒu) – Hand

The character 手 depicts a hand with fingers extended. It’s associated with actions, manipulation, and dexterity.

Example: 我用手写字。(Wǒ yòng shǒu xiězì.) – “I write with my hand.”

13. 目 (Mù) – Eye

The character 目 resembles an eye. It represents the sense of sight or vision.

Example: 我看见一只小猫。(Wǒ kànjiàn yī zhī xiǎo māo.) – “I see a small cat.”

14. 耳 (Ěr) – Ear

The character 耳 resembles an ear. It symbolizes the sense of hearing or listening.

Example: 我听见了音乐。(Wǒ tīngjiànle yīnyuè.) – “I heard the music.”

15. 米 (Mǐ) – Rice

The character 米 represents rice grains. It’s used to denote rice or grain as a staple food.

Example: 这是一碗米饭。(Zhè shì yī wǎn mǐfàn.) – “This is a bowl of rice.”

16. 鸟 (Niǎo) – Bird

The character 鸟 resembles a bird in flight. It’s associated with avian creatures and the sky.

Example: 我看见了一只小鸟。(Wǒ kànjiànle yī zhǐ xiǎo niǎo.) – “I saw a little bird.”

17. 草 (Cǎo) – Grass

The character 草 represents blades of grass. It’s used to describe vegetation or foliage.

Example: 草地上有许多小花。(Cǎodì shàng yǒu xǔduō xiǎo huā.) – “There are many small flowers on the grass.”

18. 父 (Fù) – Father

The character 父 represents the concept of a father or paternal figure.

Example: 我的父亲是一位医生。(Wǒ de fùqīn shì yī wèi yīshēng.) – “My father is a doctor.”

19. 母 (Mǔ) – Mother

The character 母 represents the concept of a mother or maternal figure.

Example: 我的母亲是一位老师。(Wǒ de mǔqīn shì yī wèi lǎoshī.) – “My mother is a teacher.”

20. 木 (Mù) – Tree

We reencounter the character 木, emphasizing its importance and frequency of use in Mandarin. As mentioned earlier, it represents a tree or wood.

Example: 那棵树长得很茂盛。(Nà kē shù zhǎng dé hěn màoshèng.) – “That tree grows lushly.”

WuKong: Where Learning Mandarin is a Joyful Adventure

Embark on a thrilling Mandarin adventure with WuKong’s interactive classes, specially crafted for kids! WuKong opens the doors to a magical world of Mandarin learning, where each lesson is a delightful journey filled with fun and excitement. Picture your child immersing themselves in captivating games and stories, effortlessly mastering Mandarin along the way. That’s the enchanting experience WuKong promises—an educational voyage that feels more like play than work.

20 Simple Mandarin Characters to Begin Your Learning - WuKong Education Blog


1. Playful Learning: WuKong transforms the process of learning Mandarin characters into an exhilarating adventure. By blending interactive games, engaging activities, and enchanting stories, every class becomes a thrilling exploration into the world of Mandarin characters.

2. Personalized Attention: With small class sizes, WuKong ensures that each child receives personalized attention from expert educators. 

3. Expert Educators: WuKong boasts a team of highly skilled teachers who are not only fluent in Mandarin but also adept at making the language accessible and enjoyable for young learners. Their expertise and enthusiasm create a dynamic and supportive learning environment.


  • Engaging Lessons: WuKong’s interactive teaching methodology keeps children actively involved and enthusiastic about learning Mandarin characters.
  • Effective Teacher Interaction: The platform facilitates prompt feedback from teachers, fostering a supportive and encouraging atmosphere conducive to learning.


  • No Major Drawbacks: WuKong has earned acclaim for its excellence, with minimal reported issues. This underscores its effectiveness in teaching Mandarin characters to children.
  • Price: For just $349, WuKong offers a package of 12 class credits, ensuring access to high-quality Mandarin education at an affordable price point.

Age Group:

WuKong’s online classes cater to young learners aged 3 to 18, fostering a diverse and inclusive environment where children at various stages of their Mandarin learning journey can thrive.

留资卡片:中文(en): Book Now-Online Chinese Language classes for 3 to 18 year-old students

FAQs about Mandarin Characters

Q1. Can I learn Mandarin characters without learning the language?

While it’s possible to memorize individual characters without learning Mandarin, true proficiency involves understanding the language’s grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary alongside characters for meaningful communication.

Q2. How do I start learning Mandarin characters?

Begin by learning basic radicals, stroke order, and common characters used in everyday communication. Consistent practice through writing, flashcards, and repetition aids in memorization and recognition.

Q3. Is it necessary to write Mandarin characters by hand?

Writing characters by hand reinforces memory and recognition, but technological advancements have made typing characters more common. However, handwriting remains valuable for a deeper understanding of stroke order and character formation.


In this article, we’ve explored the essential first steps in learning Mandarin through characters. By introducing the 20 most commonly used characters and providing straightforward explanations and examples, we’ve laid a strong foundation for beginners. Understanding these basic symbols is key to unlocking the rich tapestry of Mandarin in characters. With dedication and practice, navigating the language will become more manageable and enjoyable. Embrace this opportunity to delve into the beauty of Mandarin characters, and let them guide you on your linguistic journey. Start your learning adventure today and discover the wonders of Mandarin in characters firsthand!