The 100 Most Common Chinese Characters

Have you ever wondered what the most common Chinese characters are? In a language of approximately 20,000 words, mastering the most crucial characters will benefit you on your path to language greatness. Whether you’re a newbie ready to begin reading and writing in Chinese, or a seasoned student brushing up on your basics, learners of all levels benefit from reviewing the most essential Chinese characters. CLI has put together the following list of 100 need-to-know words in Mandarin.


The following list of 100 most common Chinese characters is based on data from classical and modern Chinese writings collected by linguist Jun Da.

The 100 Most Common Chinese characters:

No. Character pīnyīn Eng­lish
1 de (possessive particle), of / really and truly / aim, clear
2 yī / yì /yí one / single / a(n)
3 shì is, are, am, yes to be
4 (negative prefix) no, not
5 le/liǎo (modal particle intensifying preceding clause), (past tense marker) / to know, to understand, to know
6 rén man, person, people
7 I, me, myself
8 zài (located) at, in, exist
9 yǒu to have, there is, there are, to exist, to be
10 he, him
11 zhè this/ these
12 wéi / wèi act as, take…to be, to be, to do, to serve as, to become / because of, for, to
13 zhī him, her, it
14 big, huge, large, major, great, wide, deep, oldest, eldest / doctor
15 lái to come
16 to use, take, according to, because of, in order to
17 (a measure word), individual
18 zhōng within, among, in, middle, center, while (doing something), during
19 shàng above, on, over, top, (go) up, last, previous
20 men (plural marker for pronouns and a few animate nouns)

No. Character pīnyīn Eng­lish
21 dào to (a place), until (a time), up to, to go, to arrive
22 shuō to speak, to say
23 guó country, state, nation
24 hé / huò and, together, with, peace / harmony
25 de / dì -ly / earth, ground, field, place, land
26 too, also, as well
27 child, son
28 shí time, when, hour, period, season
29 dào direction, way, method, road, path, principle, truth, reason, skill, method, Tao (of Taoism), a measure word, to say, to speak, to talk
30 chū to go out, to come out, to occur, to produce, to go beyond, to rise, to put forth, to occur, to happen
31 ér and, as well as, but (not), yet (not), (shows causal relation), (shows change of state), (shows contrast)
32 yào / yāo vital, to want, to be going to, must / demand, ask, request
33 at, in, in regard to
34 jiù at once, then, right away, only, just
35 xià below, under, (go) down, next (as opposed to previous/last)
36 dé / de / děi obtain, get, gain, to have to, must, ought to, to need to
37 can, may, able to, certain(ly), (particle used for emphasis)
38 you
39 nián year
40 shēng to be born, to give birth, life, to grow

No. Character pīnyīn Eng­lish
41 from, self, oneself, since
42 huì can, able, meet, meeting, society, union, party
43 that,those
44 hòu back, behind, rear, afterwards, after, later
45 néng can, may, capable, energy, able
46 duì couple, pair, to be opposite, to oppose, to face, for, to, correct (answer), to answer, to reply, to direct (towards something), right
47 zhe/zhuó/zhāo/zháo verb particle marking a continuing progress/state
48 shì matter, thing, item, work, affair
49 his, her, its, theirs, that, such, it (refers to something preceding it)
50 within, inside
51 suǒ actually,place
52 to go, to leave, to depart
53 háng / xíng a row, profession, professional / all right, capable, competent, okay, to go, to do, to travel, temporary, to walk, to go, will do / behavior, conduct
54 guò (past tense marker), to cross, to go over, to pass (time), to live, to get along, (surname)
55 jiā home, family, a person engaged in a certain art or profession
56 shí ten
57 yòng to use
58 fā/fà to send out, to show (one‘s feeling), to issue, to develop / hair
59 tiān day, sky, heaven
60 as (if), such as

No. Character pīnyīn Eng­lish
61 rán correct, right, so, thus, like this, -ly
62 zuò to regard as, to take (somebody) for, to do, to make
63 fāng square, quadrilateral, direction, just
64 chéng finish, complete, accomplish, become, turn into, win, succeed
65 zhě -ist, -er (person), person (who does something)
66 duō many, much, a lot of, numerous, multi-
67 day, sun, date, day of the month
68 dōu all, both (if two things are involved), entirely (due to)each, even, already
69 sān three
70 xiǎo small, tiny, few, young
71 jūn army, military, arms
72 èr two
73 -less, not to have, no, none, not, to lack, un-
74 tóng like, same, similar, together, alike, with
75 me (interrog. suff.)
76 jīng classics, sacred book, pass through, to undergo, scripture
77 law, method, way, Buddhist teaching
78 dāng / dàng to be, to act as, manage, withstand, when, during, ought, should, match equally, equal, same, obstruct, just at (a time or place), on the spot, right, just at / at or in the very same…, to pawn, suitable, adequate, fitting, proper, replace, represent
79 qǐ:to rise, to raise, to get up
80 yú / yǔ / yù (interrog. part.) / and, to give, together with / take part in

No. Character pīnyīn Eng­lish
81 hǎo / hào good, well / be fond of
82 kān / kàn to look after, to take care of, to watch, to guard / it depends, think, to see, to look at
83 xué learn, study, science, -ology
84 jìn advance, enter, to come in
85 zhǒng / zhòng kind, type, race (of people), seed, type / to grow, to plant
86 jiāng / jiàng (will, shall, future tense), ready, prepared, to get, to use / a general
87 hái / huán also, in addition, more, still, else, still, yet, (not) yet / (surname), pay back, return
88 fēn / fèn to divide, minute, (a measure word), (a unit of length = 0.33centimeter) / part
89 this, these
90 xīn heart, mind
91 qián before, in front, ago, former, previous, earlier, front
92 miàn face, side, surface, aspect, top, face, flour, noodles
93 yòu (once) again, also, both… and…, again
94 dìng to set, to fix, to determine, to decide, to order
95 jiàn / xiàn to see, to meet, to appear (to be something), to interview / appear
96 zhī/zhǐ only, just, but, measure word for one of a pair
97 zhǔ to own, to host, master, lord, primary
98 méi/mò (negative prefix for verbs), have not, not / sink, disappear
99 gōng just, honorable (designation), public, common
100 cóng from, since,obey, observe, follow

Additional Chinese Learning Resources:

How well do you know the Chinese radicals? Review the 40 most common Chinese radicals. Learn more about the Anatomy of Chinese Characters.

The Guilin Opera

Guilin Opera is popular in Guangxi Province and is one of China’s 10 major forms of opera. This kind of opera utilizes Guilin local dialect and Southwestern Mandarin. Guilin Opera originated during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) when the artform spread to Guilin from the north where it was adapted by local people. Guilin Opera focuses on shaping characters with exquisite detail and life-like performance. Although they often have military themes, most Guilin Opera performances are characterized by their singing and acting styles.

Guilin Opera is deeply related to Qi opera traditions of southern Hunan Province. In the past, artists from these two regions worked and studied together, so their theatrical traditions have similar names and singing styles. Many Guilin Opera scripts are borrowed from Beijing Opera; only 40 original scripts are performed exclusively in Guilin Opera. Most Guilin Opera shows are presented at temple fairs where actors give uninhibited, simple performances that tell historical stories. In cities, where opera tends to be a bit more sophisticated, performances often center on stories about young men and women.

Guilin Opera actor on stage during a show

Caidiao is another kind of theater in Guangxi Province that originates from singing and dancing traditions of the Guilin countryside. It is livelier and easy to follow compared with Guilin Opera. Stories in Caidio are lifelike and express the traditions of local ethnic minority groups. Actors generally speak and sing at the same time. Caidiao stories usually center around romance between men and women, or the admiration of nature. Fans and handkerchiefs are common stage props. Actors will often use these items to imitate other materials, bringing a greater sense of fantasy to the audience.

Guilin Opera musicians performing

Want to learn even more about the diverse, fascinating traditions of Chinese opera? Find out how CLI’s program options can greatly enhance your understanding of Chinese language and culture. We look forward to enjoying a night out at the opera house with you soon!

Guilin Opera Performers in full costume and makeup


Chinese Vocabulary Related to Guilin Opera:

Hànzì pīnyīn Definition
1. 中国戏曲 zhōngguó xìqǔ Chinese opera
2. 桂剧 guìjù Guangxi Opera
3. 舞台 wǔtái stage
4. 演出 yǎnchū performance
5. 表演 biǎoyǎn show
6. 演员 yǎnyuán actors
7. 歌手 gēshǒu singer
8. 戏剧 xìjù drama
9. 音乐 yīnyuè music
10. 戏服 xì fú clothing (only used for theatre)
11. 戏妆 xì zhuāng makeup (only used for theatre)
12. 音乐剧 yīnyuè jù musical theater
13. 剧院 jùyuàn theater
14. 艺术 yìshù art
15. 歌剧院 gē jùyuàn Opera house
16. 后台 hòutái backstage
17. 舞台艺术 wǔtái yìshù stage arts
18. 观众 guānzhòng audience
19. 头饰 tóushì head ornament
20. 传统乐器 chuántǒng yuèqì traditional music instrument
21. 二胡 èrhú erhu (two-stringed bowed musical instrument)
22. drum
23. 月琴 yuèqín zither
24. luó gong (musical percussion instrument)

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What is Skitter?

Skritter is a fresh, inventive way to master Chinese characters. If you’re not a current user, take the following steps to get hooked up immediately – trust us, your Chinese skills will thank you. Because each platform offers its own study mode, the first move is to decide if you want to use the tool online or via your mobile device. Skritter for iPhone and iPad strongly emphasizes character writing and stroke order, which is perfect for those looking to solidify their handwriting techniques. The app’s largest advantage is that it provides extremely thorough feedback to help you improve quickly, all the while giving you a feeling like you’re playing an iPhone game.

Want to study from a laptop or desktop computer? Head to and sign up for a free week-long trial. Once you’re in, hit ‘Browse Lists’ to scroll through user contributed or textbook-based vocabulary decks, then add one to your queue. Select a chapter or set to review, look over the new words in a convenient list-form, and then hit ‘study now’ to begin your session. You’ll see a Chinese character accompanied by its pinyin, an example sentence, an audio option and even the choice to see a mnemonic hint pop up on the screen. Click the character once you’ve got it, and the definition will be revealed, followed by options for you to rate the word between 1 (forgot) to 4 (too easy). A few cards later, you’ll be asked to input the pinyin for the same character.

One of our favorite things about Skritter is the ‘info’ button next to each word which provides a decomposition of the character and a useful list of related words. We’re also huge fans of its user-oriented model, which maximizes your ability to access and retain new information. There are even more benefits, like its clean, appealing interface and a built-in feature which consults all online Mandarin dictionaries at your command. Skritter has truly changed the way that we study and write Chinese characters. Don’t take our word for it – go check out Skritter for yourself!

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