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Chinsym (Chinese Symbols) Chinese-English dictionary

Definition, pronounciation and cangjie input codes for Chinese symbols
(plus related words and phrases)
Published: 2020 11 17

The Chinsym Chinese English dictionary includes a collection of Chinese character indexes designed to make Chinese characters (both simplified and Traditional) easy to lookup, even if you are a beginner.

  • You don't need to know the characters "radical".
  • You don't need to know the characters pronounciation.
  • You don't need to rely on your device's camera.
  • Nor do you have to draw the character.

Chinese character indexes that sort characters via their shape

The chinsym collection of indexes categorize characters by their shape and their elements. (The exception to this general rule are the radical index and the phonetic index (coming soon).)This is so that you can lookup any character easily, even if you are a beginner.

Five indexes for easy Chinese character lookup

The chinsym website currently includes seven indexes for Chinese characer lookup.

Using cangjie input codes to sort characters for easy lookup
The c1 and cs1 indexes

Cangjie input codes are a shape based system of input codes that are based on the shape elements of the character being entered. Each character can be input via a 1 to 5 digit code.

The code itself consists of 24 main shapes (primitives?) that each map to one of 24 letters of the alphabet. The letter x is used for special cases and the letter z is not used at all.

Each of the 24 shapes in turn has several (or many) derivatives, making it easier to match each possible character element to a particular letter/shape combination.

Where this isn't possible, the x-code is used.

Yes it is possible to alphabetise Chinese characters by shape

Because the cangjie input system matches character elements to letters of the alphabet, it makes it possible to roughly alphabetises Chinese characters based on their input codes and that is the basis for both the Cs1 and C1 indexes.

The cs1 index is for simplified Chinese characters.

The c1 index is for Traditional Chinese characters.

In each case the digit 1 in the index identifier means that these indexes sort characters based on their first element (versus say their second or final element).

Note that some fine tuning of the sort order produced by cangjie input codes has been performed to arrive at the Chinsym cangjie indexing system.

Cangjie input system symbol letter pairings

The pairings for the 24 symbols and their corresponding letters is shown below:

a日, b月, c金, d木, e水, f火, g土, h竹, i戈, j十, k大, l中, m一, n弓, o人, p心, q手, r口, s尸, t廿, u山, v女, w田, y卜

For tips on how to remember these pairings, visit the cangjie page.

The easy shape lookup system for Radicals

An alternative lookup method is via the easy shape lookup system. In this system, there are 12 shapes each with up to 16 derivative shapes.

One way that this system can be used is to group radicals in a non-traditional manner.

And that's the basis for the chinsym radical index rad.

Rather than using the traditional order of radicals, the radical index groups radicals based on their shape. As a result, it may make it easier ot find radicals.

Although the radical index isn't ideal for character lookup, because you have to know (or be able to figure out) the radical ahead of time, it does offer the advantage that characters with the same radical tend to have similiar or related meanings.

And so one way that a radical index can be used is to see similiar characters together. Note that in the Chinsym radical index, characters are sub-sorted by shape. So if there are characters where the radical appears on the bottom, these are grouped together. Likewise for characters where the radical appears on the left etc.

The 12 "easy" shapes

The 12 easy shapes and their names are shown below:

囗 box , ⺆ top , 凵 bottom , 𠄌 hook , 乛 right , 厂 left , 丿 slant , 丶 dot , 八 hat , 一 horizontal , 丨 vertical , 十 cross

Note that 以 is often used to represent the 𠄌 shape.

These same shapes are also used for indexing both simplified and traditional Chinese characters

Easy shape indexing for Chinese characters

The easy shape system is also used to index Traditional and simplified characters via their first element.

The s1 index is for simplified Chinese characters.

The e1 index (where "e" is for Easy) is for traditional Chinese characters.

Note that the names of the shapes may make it easier to remember them. Also note that the same order is used both for initial sorting of characters and subsequent sub-sorting via second and third elements where the character grouping is large enough.

The 12 shapes and their derivatives for the simplified index are shown below (the Traditional character derivatives are fairly similiar):

Final element Easy shape index

An alternative method of looking up Chinese character via it's shape is to use the final element (and the final "stroke" of that element as a starting point). This can be useful as an alternative to initial element lookup. Indexes that group characters by final element also give you the opportunity to see characters in the context of other characters with the same endings.

As with the easy shape initial indexing system, the easy lookup final index system is based on 12 shapes. These in turn are divided into any number of derivative shape categories, all based on the parent shape. Those shapes and their derivatives are shown below (note there will be some differences between shapes when using the index for simplified characters vs the finals index for Traditional characters):

Use the menu below (and at the bottom of each page) to access easy of these indexes.


s1: Simplified initials, e1: Traditional initials (e=easy),
c1: cangjie code initials (Traditional), rad: radical (Traditional)