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Reading and Writing Chinese: A Guide to the Chinese Writing System (Paperback)

Reading and Writing Chinese: A Guide to the Chinese Writing System (Paperback)
Author/Publisher: William McNaughton, Li Ying
Format: paperback
Emphasis: Chinese Characters
Level: Beginning - Intermediate - Advanced
Note: In Traditional Chinese Characters
List Price: $24.95

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Editorial Reviews
Book Description
Reading and Writing Chinese has been the standard text for foreign students and self-teachers of the Chinese Writing System since Tuttle first published it over 20 years ago. This new, completely revised edition offers students a more convenient, efficient, and up-to-date introduction to the writing system.

Language Notes
Text: English, Chinese --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Charles E. Tuttle Co.; Revised edition (September 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN: 0804832064
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1.0 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds.
  • Average Customer Review: based on 26 reviews.

Spotlight Reviews

128 of 130 people found the following review helpful:

Useful for Learners, November 25, 2002

Reviewer: "radagasty" (Sydney, Australia)

McNaughton's 'Reading and Writing Chinese' remains a very useful guide for learners attempting to acquire literacy in Chinese. It comprises two sections, the first listing some 1,062 elementary* characters with its stroke order, Mandarin pronunciation and meaning, as well as a few compound words using the character and the simplified version of the character if it exists. The second section comprises the remainder of the characters in the official list of 2,000 basic characters promulgated by the Chinese government, and gives much the same information as the first section, save the stroke order (which the learner should already be conversant with after learning the first section) and the compound words. The book contains a number of useful indices that may be used to look up unfamiliar characters by pronunciation, stroke-count, etc.

*McNaughton has adopted a largely pedagogical order in the presentation of characters. Unlike many books which present the most commonly-used characters first (although this is not to say that the characters he presents are not, in the main, common ones), characters that are geometrically simplest are first presented, and complex characters are built-up from the simpler parts already presented. This does, in many ways, aid the memorisation of complex characters, if their parts are already known, but it also has the effect of presenting some rare, obscure, archaic or otherwise obsolete characters early on, so that they may be used as a section of a more complex, but common, character later on. Similarly, the compound words are chosen so that they only use characters that have already been learnt.

One feature that I liked about this book is that it gives hints on learning the characters, and etymological information on the derivation of the character if it is useful for helping memorise the characters. As mentioned before, there is great emphasis placed on the building up of a character from its parts.

This edition is a revised version of the 1979 edition containing a number of changes. The most significant change is probably the switch from Yale romanisation to Pinyin. The former was designed for pedagogical purposes, and is perhaps more convenient for English speakers, but the latter is increasingly becoming standard and the switch was probably not unwise. The second notable change is the use of the kaishu (model script) in the head characters in place of the (often idiosyncratically) handwritten characters of the original edition. I thought there was some charm in the handwritten edition, but I suppose, for the sake of standardisation, the new format is better, for the kaishu script is something of a normative standard in Chinese. (The disadvantage is that it looks like it has been written with a brush rather than the pen, whereas most learners would probably use a pen. The differences between brush- and pen-written characters, however, are slight.) The compound words have also been increased in number, and chosen to better reflect the vocabulary of contemporary Chinese, an added bonus, although they really only illustrate the uses of the character, and does not constitute a resource for acquiring Chinese vocabulary.

All in all then, it is a very useful book for a learner beginning on the road to literacy in Chinese. I have not given five stars, not because I discovered any major flaws, but because I did not get the impression of outstanding excellence that merits it. I really have no complaint of note to make about the book. (Inclusion of Cantonese pronunciation in addition to the Mandarin, however, would be a welcome bonus.)


102 of 106 people found the following review helpful:

The Best Way I Found to Learn Chinese Characters, January 6, 2001

Reviewer: Adam Alfert "dufu" (New York, NY USA)

If you are serious about learning the Chinese writing system, this is one of the best books. It's a tough job and no resource should be overlooked, but this is one which can provide tremendous support.

Over ten years ago when I began my studies, this book served as my guide in the absence of formal instruction. There are two unique elements to the book. The first is the etymologies, which serve to make the language-learning process more interesting and fun, as well as an extremely useful mnemonic. For those who wish to explore Chinese literature, both ancient and modern, it is invaluable that this book does not pass over radicals and certain basic characters which are not in common use but which are fundamental elements of the language.

The second wonderful aspect of this book is its explanation, on a stroke by stroke basis, of how to write each character in its complex and original form. Learning to write Chinese is a skill acquired through repetition, and this book provides the background for the necessary rote-work. But if you follow the stroke sequence clearly illustrated in this book, the way to write any Chinese character will eventually come naturally.

This book was my constant companion during the initial period that I was learning Chinese, and now I have a gift the value of which is truly beyond measure.


Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:

Dissapointing., April 9, 2006

Reviewer: J. adams (Salt Lake, UT)

This book makes far too many claims compared to what it delivers. I started learning with this book and have learned about 600 characters so far. Its not near as helpful as it claims.

As for the misleading claims of this book.

The definitions seem to be obscure and confusing at times. I have run across characters that I checked in a couple other dictionaries and couldnt find the definiton giving in this book. Often times the first and sometimes only definition there, was one of the trailing defintions of a character with other meanings in the dictionary. Or else on occasion there was many hard to remember and completely absract definitions for a character in this book and only a few cohesive defitions in the dicitonary. Definitions can be innacurate, incomplete or misleading. If I have a doubt anymore I always look it up in a dictionary.

One of the problems with this book is the fact that it allows the exact same space for every character. In other words, a character can be one stroke and have no meaning on its own. Yet it gets just as much space as a common meaningful character that is fundamental to learning the language. So the dot (no meaning) and the particle de (wich has many uses) get the same little box for their definitions, explainations and combinations. This limited space also cramps the stroke order (one of the most useful aspects of this book) to nine squares. Although most of the limited space that should be used isnt. Youll often come across characters with no useful hints for memorization, no info on origin/history, and no info on the what type it is (sound-meaning, reclarified, symbol, ect.) and then come across one that says, this character is too complicated to get into. Youll think to yourself well then what about the last ten characters??? Thanks for waking up from your nap to type a few meaningless words. I wish atleast half of the time, it would tell you if its a picture, sound-meaning, reclarified, sybmol, or sound loan character. But it doesnt even do this. When it does its always for the overly simple characters like , this is a tree, this a mouth, this is water, and so on. Not much for the more complicated characters and when there is its overly simple (it would be helpful to be told sound-meaning characters are often sound/meaning-meaning characters.) The characters are also printed in a brush style wich gives unnecessary difficulty to those using a pen or pencil. Theres many little overlooked problems with this book.

As for the good points. It's based on the officail list of the top 2,000 characters to know. With the first 1,000 (the only ones with stroke order and "examples") the characters one must master in thier first year of college. So in that way it gives a little direction for those looking for what characters to learn first. Although theres many lists on the internet for free wich seem to be as good if not better for the most common characters to learn. Stroke order is one of the best things about this book. Although theres only nine squares for stroke order. So if you look up a character with more strokes you might have to spend sometime also looking up its components. The indexes are also nice. You can look up a character by alphabetical pinyin or stroke number. Athough it would be better to look up defitions in a good dictionary instead as I stated earlier. The simplified version of the character in the corner is a nice touch. The combinations are useful but sometimes theres characters you havent learned yet wich is strange.

All in all I dont see anything all that useful here. I started learning using this book and found out this might be good for a college student but far less useful for someone learning on thier own. Then I started using other sources as supplements. Then I realized those other sources could completely replace the use of this book. I still use the book though, but more as a list of what characters to learn next rather than for any of the claims on the cover. Bottom line if your looking to learn the top 2,000 and you have a good dictionary and a lot of patience this is an ok choice. Although there are many other options out there and some of them are much more helpful.


4 of 28 people found the following review helpful:

Learning Chinese, January 4, 2006

Reviewer: Mao Ze Dong "Mao Ze Dong" (graveyard)

It is a good book for all you foreigners. Learn some Chinese or else!! :P Good for me even though I all ready know Chinese. Calligraphy!!


19 of 19 people found the following review helpful:

good for learning basic characters, October 18, 2005

Reviewer: Annie (Quezon City, Philippines)

this book is a good guide for those who want to learn how to write basic chinese characters. what's great about this book is that the simplifid characters (if available) of the traditional ones are shown in the same box where the trad. char. are shown. the only drawback is the glossary doesn't show the english meanings of the chinese words in pinyin.if you wanna look up the chinese character for an english word and you don't know its pinyin spelling and tone mark, you'd be lost looking up all the possible characters which are scattered all throughout the book. other than that, this book is a good buy.


33 of 34 people found the following review helpful:

Very well organized and complete - focused on traditional characters , June 26, 2005

Reviewer: Liliana Robu (Boston, MA)

I got this book few months ago, after coming back from China, where I found the characters very intriguing, and decided to study Chinese writing. After extensive research, I thought this book the best one and got it; I also decided to start taking private Chinese classes. I enjoyed the book a lot and find it a very good tool for learning to write Chinese - especially if you want to learn the traditional characters.

The book is very well organized. At the beginning it gives an introduction about the writing system and the way the characters were formed, and offers a student guide on basic principles in character writing and pronounciation. Then it gives the basic 1,062 characters and elements on the writing system, and then the remaining 1,020 characters from the "official 2000 list".
For each character the books gives the radical, the stroke count/order (which is critical in learning how to write them), the pronounciation and tone, the radical information, the character explanation (often including info on how it was formed, and ofering some ways to memorize it), and (most importantly) offers character/radical combinations (0-5 per character), also with pronountiations and meaning. There are about 2,000 characters in the book and about 2,500 combinations. The book is organized by traditional characters, but for each character it also gives the simplified version. (By the way, there is an equivalent of this book - organized by simplified characters. However, as I understood from my Chinese professor, it is easier to study starting with the traditional characters). The book also has an Index (looking-up a character by pronountiation) and two basic charts, for the traditional and simplified radicals. The only shortcoming of the book is that it does not give the stroke order for the simplified characters - I guess because one of the authors has another book dedicated to the simplified characters. However, if you want to focus on the simplified characters, this book may not be ideal - get the same authors, but the simplified edition.

I think the book is very good for for beginners in writing Chinese, it starts with the most simple characters (with low stroke count) and it goes to more complicated ones. It first introduce a radical, then some basic words that use that radicals, and for these words it further presents more combinations and meanings. I like a lot that it gives the stroke order, which is critical - if you don't respect it is very likely that you won't remember how to write the character, plus the character will not look very good.

The book is very well organized and it motivates me a lot, I already made a lot of progress, learning about 100 characters per month. Highly recommended!!!


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