Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 10: 267–292, 1998.
Children’s stroke sequence errors in writing Chinese characters
NANCY LAW, W.W. KI, A.L.S. CHUNG, P.Y. KO & H.C. LAM
Department of Curriculum Studies, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, PR China
Abstract. Each Chinese character is a two dimensional logograph and if character writing is
seen as drawing a diagram, then there is no obvious ‘correct sequence’ in the writing process.
However, over the ages and to this day, Chinese children have been taught the proper stroke
sequence for forming the characters based on some calligraphic rules when they begin to
learn to write in Chinese. The rationale for the teaching of stroke sequence has traditionally
been argued on the basis of facilitating better calligraphy and as a memory aid for the exact
reproduction of the correct form of the character. This paper reports on a study that tries to
determine how far young children can master the correct stroke sequences in writing and the
common kinds of errors children made. It further explores the importance of and the possible
educational implications for the teaching of stroke sequences in the teaching of handwriting
based on the empirical results.
Key words: Children’s errors, Writing Chinese, Character decomposition, Stroke number,
Stroke sequence, Teaching implications
C.K. Leong & K. Tamaoka (eds.), Cognitive Processing of the Chinese
and the Japanese Languages, pp. [113–138]
© 1998 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
A Chinese character is a two-dimensional logograph composed of a number
of strokes. One may thus suppose that the writing of Chinese characters can
be done very much like the drawing of a diagram where the sequence and
combination of strokes may not matter very much as long as the ﬁnal product
looks the same. Such a view might be strengthened by the observation that
while Chinese script was traditionally written downwards in columns from
right to left, they are now also written in rows going from left to right, in
the same way as English is written. However, this assumption is not true and
there are sets of rules specifying the production and sequencing of strokes in
the writing of Chinese characters. For hundreds of years, the learning of the
basic strokes and the correct sequence rules for the execution of strokes have
been regarded by Chinese people as an essential component in the learning
of Chinese character handwriting.
Compared to research on the reading of Chinese characters, there has been
relatively little research on the writing of Chinese characters. Where research
has been done on the learning of writing, their foci were generally on the
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