Complicated Noodles

Chinese characters come in all shapes and sizes. Some are complicated, others, luckily, less so. One way to indicate the complexity of a Chinese character is its amount of strokes. On average, Chinese characters are made up out of roughly 9 strokes. For example, the Chinese name of GoEast, 歌易, has one character with 14 strokes and one with 8 - nothing out of the ordinary.

Quite a mouthful.

There are characters with way, way more strokes than that. Probably the most complicated character you can still encounter out in the wild today is biáng, a type of noodles. The character clocks in at no less than 58 strokes. Here's a description from the Wikipedia entry about biáng:

The character is composed of 言 (speak; 7 strokes) in the middle flanked by  (tiny; 2×3 strokes) on both sides. Below it, (horse; 10 strokes) is similarly flanked by  (grow; 2×8 strokes). This central block itself is surrounded by  (moon; 4 strokes) to the left,  (heart; 4 strokes) below,  (knife; 2 strokes) on the right, and  (eight; 2 strokes) above. These in turn are surrounded by a second layer of characters, namely  (roof; 3 strokes) on the top and  (walk; 4 strokes) curving around the left and bottom.

Close to GoEast is a small restaurant where you can eat these noodles (look for the a red sign with biáng on it - location on Google Maps). I ate there once and the noodles were tasty, but nothing too special - not as special as their name would suggest, anyway.


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Kevin writes columns for the GoEast Blog on studying Chinese, Chinese culture, and life as a foreign student. He has studied China and Chinese for over five years, first in his home country the Netherlands, then in Beijing, and now at Fudan University's Chinese Society department.