Most Useful Chinese Characters You Should Recognize

common chinese charactersLearning Chinese characters can be daunting. Therefore, many foreigners living in China don’t plan on mastering the reading and writing of the Chinese language.

Still, there are a handful of characters – actually, more like two handful or so – that are very useful and quite common in daily life. If you only want to learn a few Chinese characters, learn the one listed below.

(Thank you to Colin, who suggested this post.)

Push / Pull on doors

Push 推 tuī

Pull 拉 lā

Ladies / Gents on bathroom doors

Male 男 nán

Female 女 nǚ

More intuitive pictographs are common but some Chinese restaurants only mark the doors with the Chinese character – so if you don’t want to take your chances or wait until someone comes out …

Open / Close, same as On / Off on electric appliances

Open 开 kāi

Close 关 guān

So you know how to start the washing machine or which button to push on the remote control.

Up / Down

Up 上 shàng

Down 下 xià

In / Out for buildings, parks, parking lots, etc

In / Entrance 入口 rúkǒu

Out / Exit 出口 chūkǒu

Directions (helpful for subway exits)

North 北 běi

East 东 dōng

South 南 nán

West 西 xī

Note that for example Northeast in Mandarin is the other way around, “Eastnorth” 东北 dōngběi


Gate 门 mén

Street 街 jiē

Road 路 lù

Bridge 桥 qiáo

These are common components of many location names including subway stops.

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