LEIGH FORBES: Books of all Sorts


by Shaolan Hsueh,
and Noma Bar (illustrator).

Chinese writing has always been such an enigma for me, so when I first came across this concept via a TED talk (shared on social media), I was hooked. It was a while before I bought the book (it was quite expensive for me), but eventually I treated myself. And what a treat!

Each Chinese character is illustrated using a picture that helps to represent the meaning. Thus a person 人 is pictured with a head and two feet. The character for fire 火 is shown with a flame superimposed (the cover picture), but can also be seen as a person waving their arms as though in a panic. The character for tree 木 is shown as a trunk with branches and leaves (Google will show you many more examples).

The book continues in a similar vein, with many, many characters all illustrated and explained in a simple way to help you remember them, finally lifting the veil on Chinese writing. These are only simplified characters – and this book does not teach you to speak the language – but since discovering it, I suddenly find I recognise, and can understand, the odd bit of Chinese writing here and there – e.g. I can understand the numbers on my Mahjong tiles now. 🙂


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