YellowBridge Chinese Language & Culture
Chinese Language Center

Learn Chinese Chinese Character Inconsistencies

Why does character X in the animated stroke order window look slightly different from the same character in the rest of the webpage?

Why does the stroke order count for character X not match the actual number of strokes as shown in the webpage or as depicted in the animated stroke order window?

Both of these problems are caused by a built-in limitation in the way characters are encoded. Unicode, the standard for international computer encoding, assigns a unique code to characters rather than glyphs. A character is a unique semantic unit which can be visually represented by one or more glyphs. For example, the letter "a" is a character with one unique encoding but can be represented by many glyphs, such as a sample glyphs. Which glyphs is ultimately used to represent a character is dependent on which font is used. Similarly, Chinese characters can be represented by multiple glyphs. Since many characters have a one-to-one mapping between their traditional and simplified forms, you may think that they would share a single character encoding. However, this is not the case. Most characters that have obvious differences in their traditional and simplified forms (such as 國 and 国 or 說 and 说) were assigned different character encodings. However, there are still a number of characters that have a single character encoding although their traditional and simplified glyphs are often (but not necessarily) different. These are characters where the differences are considered minor enough that most people would agree that the character is semantically the same even if they have some visual differences. Consider the following characters 茶 (chá, tea) and 骨 (gǔ, bone).

glyph samplesLine 1 contains six glyphs for 茶. If you look at the top portion of the first three glyphs, you'll notice some differences in the 艹 portion.The first glyph actually consists of two disconnected + fragments requiring a total of four strokes (left-to right, down stroke, down stroke, left-to right). The equivalent portion in the second glyph only requires three strokes (left-to right, down stroke, down stroke). If you now look at the bottom half of the same two glyphs, you'll notice that the second glyph has a tiny upward left hook while the first one doesn't. Comparing the first glyph with the third one, you can tell that in the third glyph the horizontal lines stop at the vertical rather than forming a + sign. The difference in stroke count will affect all characters that contain the 艹 component (or even more than once as in the case of the 華 character, which contains a second 艹 fragment).

Line 2 contains six glyphs for 骨. The main difference between the first three and the last three is that the small inner square at the top of the character is attached to the right in the first three glyphs while it is attached to the left in the last three. The first three are produced with a traditional font while the last three used a simplified font. While visually, the end result seems like one is simply the reverse image of the other, according to the rules of stroke order sequence and counting, the first three requires ten strokes, while the last three requires only nine. Again this difference in stroke order and stroke count will affect all characters containing the 骨 radical.

Just from the cursory comparison performed above, we can see that the number of strokes and stroke order can vary for the same character simply being represented by two different fonts. This is not purely a matter of using fonts with a bias for traditional or simplified characters. Going back to the 艹 fragment, there are many tradtional fonts that use only three strokes.

In the web environment, this condition is magnified by the fact that our website has no control over which fonts are available in your computer or mobile device or which operating system or browser you use.