Upside down and mirrored Chinese characters

After reading a few posts on Hanzi Smatter, I noticed that many errors come from the upside-down or mirrored characters. I suppose there is not much of a difference to the untrained eye. But from a language standpoint, it makes a big difference. Chinese characters need to be thought of as individual little paintings or drawings.


The pictures of the lobsters are identical. However, one picture is upside-down. The brain automatically thinks something is funny about the upside-down picture because the ice is hanging above and the bowl is upside-down. One would expect to see the ice falling in that situation. But, it is not and is registered as out of the ordinary. This is similar to what happens when a Chinese character is upside-down. It is not correct because certain parts of the character are supposed to be written above other parts.


This is the same picture, but one is flipped. In this case, the lobsters are facing different directions. A lobster can face either direction and it is normal. Unfortunately this is not the case for Chinese characters. When a character is flipped or mirrored, it no longer makes sense. Certain strokes face certain directions. Lobster image available here from Microsoft Office image gallery.

Now let’s move on to actual Chinese characters.

1 2 3 4

The first character (image 1) is the proper orientation for the character for rise. The second image (2) is the mirror image of the character. The strokes are backwards, sometimes creating strokes that do not exist naturally. When the character is mirrored, I can still read it. It’s like looking at letters through a window on the wrong side. It’s not ideal, but my brain can processes it. The upside-down character (3) and the upside-down mirrored character (4), on the other hand, cause a rather large headache. Depending on the character, I might be able to figure it out. But my initial reaction is usually that the character is written incorrectly.

I suppose that it is difficult for someone unfamiliar with Chinese to recognize characters correctly. Hopefully, after seeing more characters and becoming familiar with the different strokes, one will be able to figure out the correct orientation of characters.


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