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Classy Chinese Characters



Classy Chinese Characters
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 9 to 12
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   8.58

Vocabulary
     challenging words:    inkstones, malachite, proper-sized, vatman, pictograms, decipher, cuneiform, cinnabar, mulberry, scary-looking, silkworm, revolutionary, well-guarded, spunky, viscosity, calligraphers
     content words:    Yellow Emperor, Ts'ang Chien, Hui Zong, He Di, In China, Diamond Sutra, Thousand Buddhas, Lotus Sutra


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Classy Chinese Characters
By Colleen Messina
  

1     According to ancient Chinese legends, the mythical Yellow Emperor invented many things from silkworm farms to music. He had an equally brilliant (although scary-looking) official. Ts'ang Chien had the face of a dragon and four-eyes! With all those eyes, he was especially observant. Ts'ang Chien invented Chinese writing, and he modeled the characters after patterns he saw in nature, such as the constellations of stars, the patterns on a turtle's back, and the footprints of birds. In a strange turn of mythical events, all the nature spirits sobbed when Ts'ang Chien revealed their patterns so publicly!
 
2     About a thousand years after the spunky Sumerians invented cuneiform and the artistic Egyptians created hieroglyphics, the Chinese developed a completely different style of writing. Chinese symbols are a combination of pictograms, ideograms, and signs that mean sounds. They are written in vertical columns from right to left. There are over 50,000 characters in the Chinese language, but only a few thousand are used in everyday life. These characters have changed little in 4,000 years, and Chinese people today can read ancient texts without too much trouble. This is amazing when you consider that it took scholars decades to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics!
 
3     Calligraphers form the characters with a brush by using a combination of twenty-six different strokes. The strokes must be done in a certain order. Chinese children have to practice a lot to master the characters. The brush has to have the right amount of ink on it. The viscosity of the ink varies from thick to fluid, so the calligrapher has to have the skill to work with different textures of ink. He also has to use the right pressure to make the proper-sized strokes. If the calligrapher presses too hard, his characters look thick. If he uses too little force, the characters look too delicate. Excellent calligraphy is an art!

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