Getting Started

This site is designed to help people who don't read Chinese, but want or need to know something about Chinese art terms. It's entirely possible to use this site without ever entering any Chinese text into a search box, or even knowing how to enter Chinese characters. The easist, albeit least precise, approach would be to click on the "Random Search" link on the right side of the browser window.

That might be a good way to get started, but eventually you'll probably want to search for specific terms. For example, if you are interested to know the Chinese term for "landscape painting", there's no need to enter characters or pinyin; you can simply type "landscape painting" (or even just "landscape"), and the entry for " 山水画" will be returned from the database. It will look like this:
山水画
山水畫
Pinyin:
shanshuihua
Wade-Giles:
shan shui hua
English:
Landscape painting
On the left, you see the headword listed in both simplified (top) and traditional (bottom) characters. On the right, two romanizations (pinyin and Wade-Giles) are given, followed by the English translation.

From there, of course, you could copy and paste the characters, or part of the romanization, if you want to learn more about terms containing those characters. Alternatively, you could click one of the large characters to get all records containing that character. (That won't work with this example, but only with real search results.) And, I expect, you could learn a thing or two about Chinese art terms using that method. But what do you do if you don't know the English term? What if you want or need to enter Chinese text?

Entering pinyin...or Wade-Giles

Let's say you have a pinyin romanization of the term you want to see. And let's say it's written using the convention of joining syllables of the same word together. If you have the pinyin for landscape painting, it's likely that you'll see it this way: "shanshuihua". If you enter that into the main search box, your search will return the right record; and if you enter the syllables separately, like this: "shan shui hua", you'll also get the right record (if you select "contains" in the search options). Separating the syllables in pinyin is consistent with Library of Congress practice, but not with the normal rules of pinyin. If you find that a string of pinyin is getting no results, try using just part of it; and if you can separate it into syllables, that's even better.

The same goes for entering Wade-Giles romanization. If you're reading a book, and the romanization is in Wade-Giles, enter a syllable or two and you should be able to find what you need.

Entering characters...by entering pinyin

Of course, if you have the pinyin and the characters in front of you, as often happens in publisher or vendor catalogs, then you can use what's called a pinyin IME (Input Method Editor). As far as I know, all major operating systems come with at least one pinyin IME; so you can search the web for information on your operating system to find out about it. Pinyin IMEs allow you to type pinyin using your ordinary keyboard, and then give you a list of Chinese characters to choose from. They usually operate one character at a time, which can be slow going.

That's why a lot of people like to use third-party pinyin IMEs, like the Google Pinyin Input Method, which does a good job of matching the pinyin with common combinations, allowing the user to type in sentences instead of just syllables. A word of warning about the Google IME: the menus and documentation are all in Chinese, so it's a little daunting to set up. There is a very good guide in English here, though.

Another popular third-party IME is Sogou, which also has in-browser support for Linux and MacOS. Again, the menus and documentation are all in Chinese, but there is some English-language information out there.

Entering characters...without pinyin

What happens when you have a text in front of you, and it's all characters? You have no idea how to pronounce the character, and so can't even guess at the pinyin or Wade-Giles. You're just out of luck, right?

Wrong.

You still have plenty of options. One of them is to find an online Chinese dicitonary with handwriting recognition. You can then trace the character using your mouse, and get the character in plain text, which you can copy and paste into the search box on this site. Another option, which you may have noticed when reading about the Google IME, is to use the stroke input method to type the character.

Entering characters...by typing the characters

This method is a little bit tricky at first, but once you get the hang of it it's actually a very quick method. The idea behind this is that the keys on the keyboard represent different types of strokes in a character. Don't worry, in this method there are only six types of strokes, each assigned to one of the following letters: h (horizontal), s (vertical), p (left-falling), n (right-falling), z ("turning-stroke"), d (dot). While this simplification can lead to some ambiguity, it's a good idea to keep the number of keys low to minimize complexity. Using these six keys, you "write" the character. Let's look at an example.

Suppose we want to write the Chinese name of an earlier title of this website, but we don't know how it's pronounced. The name is 中文艺术术语. To write it using the Google stroke input method, first we type "u" which lets the IME know we want to enter stroke commands instead of pinyin. We also keep in mind that we write the characters roughly from left to right, and top to bottom. That's not strict, and you'll probably need some trial and error, at least at the start. Anyway, to type the first character, "中", we would type "uszhs", because the leftmost stroke is vertical (s), followed by a turning stroke (z) comprising the top and right sides of the box; then we need a horizontal stroke (h) to close the bottom of the box, finishing off with the long vertical stroke (s) right through the middle. The whole name of the site would be typed like this:

"uszhs uszhhshdh uhssz uhspnd uhspnd udzhszhszh"!

Try it, and see if you can figure out why!


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