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Thousand-Character Essay

[Qianzi Wen]

YellowTipThe Thousand-Character Essay is another ancient text used to teach Chinese to school children. It really does contain exactly 1,000 characters of which no character is ever repeated. Because of this unique feature, it is also a very popular subject for calligraphers. The characters are arranged into 125 four-character couplets. In addition to being a tool for teaching reading and writing, the essay also incorporated basic facts that would be useful to children.

Since the essay was universally known, its sequence of characters was sometimes used in place of the numbers 1 to 1,000 as a tamper-resistant way to write such numbers. This led to the use of the first 80 characters in the ancient version of Keno, invented over 2,000 years ago. When Chinese laborers brought the game to the US they continued to use the Chinese characters until the game became popular outside the Chinese community.

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