17 Insanely Difficult Chinese Characters Translated

By Cathy Wu, April 29, 2016

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For most expats in China, learning Mandarin can be a daunting task when they first arrive. And it's no wonder, as there are apparently over 80,000 Chinese characters. 

But characters aren't just difficult for non-native speakers to master — Chinese people, too, sometimes find themselves at a loss when trying to recognize more complex characters. Earlier last week, netizens identified the 17 most difficult characters, with the topic going viral on social media.

Are you up for a character-recognizing challenge? Here is a round up of the 17 most difficult characters as defined by Weibo users.

1. Biáng 201604/biang.png

17 Insanely Difficult Chinese Characters Translated

Recognize this character? It's considered the most complicated one in the Chinese written language and is made up of a mindblowing 57 strokes. The character is so complex that it is impossible to type using the standard computer input system, and it supposedly takes a long time to write out. The word itself is an onomatopoeia to imitate the sounds produced during the making of the famous delicacy of Shaanxi province, biang biang noodles. You may have seen it on the signboards of some noodle houses. 

Biang Biang Noodles

It is said that a teacher once used this character to punish students. Known as the "big biang penalty," the punishment method called for students to copy the character 1,000 times if they showed up late to class. Unsurprisingly, many students threw in the towel when they were in the middle of copying, claiming they did not want to write the character again for the rest of their life. 

Watch how the most complicated Chinese character is written out below (VPN on):  

2. Jiǒng 囧

This one is not as difficult to write as the first one, but it is branded as the most expressive character. Netizens claim it looks like a face with knitted brows and gaping mouth. It originally meant 'brightness' in ancient times, but after going viral on the internet a few years ago, it has taken on a new meaning to express awkwardness or sadness. 

Yao Ming Jong Face

China's most famous NBA player, Yao Ming, is often made fun of for having a typical 囧 face.

3. Biāo 猋 

The character 猋 (biao) is made up of three 犬 (quan, meaning dog). Tripled and combined into one character, the word takes on a new meaning: a group of dogs running together at high speeds.

4. Cū 麤

Three 鹿 (ju, or deer) make up 麤 (cu), which translates to being rough with someone. Just imagine three deer running into each other, then you'll get the 'rough' idea.

5. Bēn 犇 

Three 牛(niu, meaning ox) make up the character 犇 (ben), which means to 'rush' or 'hurry.'

6. Shān 羴

The character 羴 (shan) is made up of three 羊 (yang, meaning sheep). Some people love mutton for its tastiness, while cannot stand it. The word shan suggests the odor of mutton, which we guess makes sense...sort of?

7. Xiān 鱻

Like the other characters mentioned above, 鱻 (xian) us made up of three characters — in this case 鱼 (yu, fish). Together, they convey 'fresh,' 'new' or 'delicious.'

8. Cuì 毳

The character 毳 (cui) consists of three 毛 (mao, meaning hair). Cui means fine hair — that is bodily hair.

9. Pá 掱

This character looks nearly identical to the one above, but they are actually totally different. This one has three hands (手, pronounced 'shou'). The word 掱 (prounced 'pa') means 'pickpocket.' Guess an "extra hand" helps a pickpocket run his line of business, right? 

10. Huà 舙

Someone who cannot tame their tongue is considered to be a gossip. The character 舙 (hua) has three 舌 (she, meaning tongue), so it makes sense that it means talking behind one's back. 

11. Suǒ/Ruǐ 惢

Three heart characters (心, pronounced 'xin') make up the character 惢. The character is pronounced as 'suo' when it means 'doubt' or 'misgivings.' It is pronouced as 'rui' when it refers to a sacrifice offering ceremony. 

12. Mò 瞐

Eyes are considered to be one of the most beautiful features on a person. The character 瞐 (mo), which boasts three 目 (mu, meaning eyes), means 'beautiful eyes' or 'beautiful appearance.'

13. Léi 畾

The character 畾 (pronounced 'lei') is a triplet of 田 (tian, meaning land), which refers to vast fields divided by dikes. 

14. Zhuǎn 孨

The word 孨 (pronounced 'zhuan') contains many 子 (zi, meaning 'children'). However, its definition is quite the opposite: the word actually means 'orphan' or 'loneliness.' It can also mean 'cautious' or 'weak.'

These days, it has taken on a whole new meaning on Chinese social media. It is used to refer to the combination of 'house, car and wife' (房子, 车子, 妻子), three words which all contain the 子 character. Gentlemen, take note.

15. Yáo 垚

The character 垚 (pronounced 'yao') means 'mound' or 'round mass.' It is a combination of three 土 (tu, meaning 'earth').

16. Méi 槑

The final two that have made it onto this list look a little bit like two stick figures. The first one contians two 呆(dai, meaning 'slow-witted'), so it has taken on the meaning of 'duller than duller' (a.k.a. 'especially stupid').

17. Bì 赑

The character 赑 (bi) stacks up three 贝 (bei, meaning money). Wondering how three characters for the word 'money' can come to mean 'strenuous'? As the Notorious B.I.G. once said: "Mo' Money, Mo' Problems." We guess earning so much money must not be easy job.

Think those characters are hard? Good luck trying to figure out the meaning of these characters from an ancient Chinese dictionary: 

Ancient Chinese Characters

[Images via 360doc, Weibo, Baidu]

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