“Two’s company, three’s a crowd” may be a proverb for those scared of groups, but it’s also a handy way of remembering your Chinese. The character for person looks a bit like someone walking in profile: 人. Take three of these, huddled in a little group, and you’ve got a crowd: 众
Such is the beautiful graphic logic revealed in a new book, Chineasy, which shines a spotlight of childlike clarity on the seemingly impenetrable world of Chinese ideograms. For anyone who’s tried to learn Mandarin (and I am one of them), the painful hours of repeating stroke after stoke, until those tiny knots of random scratches are carved into your memory, can be enough to make you give up – particularly given the daunting fact that an average Chinese adult will have mastered around 5,000 such characters. Never mind the 50,000+ that await.
But in the hands of author ShaoLan Hsueh and graphic genius Noma Bar, the process is broken down into a visual story, depicting exactly why these mysterious bunches of lines are the way they are, and how they combine to form different words. It doesn’t quite make Chinese easy, but the prospect of learning it has never been so visually appealing.