The most complex Chinese character

By Fei Gao on Nov 07, 2023

Shaanxi cuisine has a high status in China, and its noodles are especially diverse. Among the many Shaanxi noodles, BiangBiang noodles are undoubtedly the first. They not only have excellent taste, but their name is also very eye-catching. The character "biang" in "BiangBiang noodles" has 57 strokes, which is said to be the Chinese character with the most strokes and the most difficult to write and remember.

Biang is an invented Chinese character, which is completely made up based on people's subjective imagination. It is not included in traditional dictionaries, and it cannot be typed out using pinyin input methods. Moreover, this character is almost only used in BiangBiang noodles in Shaanxi, and it is rare to see it in other places in our lives.

As a universally recognized most difficult character, it also has a legendary origin. According to folklore, the Biang character was created by an ancient scholar. It is said that there was once a scholar who was on his way to Beijing for the imperial examinations. When he passed by a noodle shop in Xianyang, he was so hungry that he heard the sound of "Biang—Biang" coming from the shop, and the smell of food wafted out from time to time. The scholar could not help but go in and order a bowl of noodles. After eating, he realized that he was penniless. Because BiangBiang noodles have only a name and no characters since they became popular, the scholar created a character "Biang" for the shop owner to replace his meal money. This is how the name of BiangBiang noodles became widely known. Although this folklore is not entirely credible, the Biang character, as a cultural character, has been circulating in the Guanzhong region for thousands of years, and it contains the profound cultural connotation of the local people.

Another character related to Chinese food culture is also very complex. It is known as the tongue-in-cheek Chinese character. From the surface, it completely records the process of ancient people cooking with fire. This character is "爨" (cuàn). Its upper part is like two hands holding a pot on a stove, and the two "wood" characters below represent firewood. Then, a big fire is lit. The original meaning of this character is "to make fire and cook."

The character "爨" is not commonly used in our daily lives. However, in the calligraphy world, there is a style of calligraphy called "爨体字", which is a rare Chinese calligraphy style that can be traced back to the Wei, Jin, and Southern and Northern Dynasties. It is a transitional style from clerical script to regular script. The "爨宝子碑" and "爨龙颜碑", which are still preserved in Qujing, Yunnan, are the only surviving inscriptions and sources of爨体字.爨体字 is also regarded as a "national treasure" of calligraphy by many calligraphers.

However, neither "Biang" nor "爨" is the most complex Chinese character. "Biang" is an invented character that is not included in the dictionary, and the seemingly complex "爨" character only has 30 strokes. The most complex Chinese character recorded in the "Hanyu Da Cidian" and "Zhonghua Da Zidian" is pronounced as "zhé" and has 64 strokes. It is composed of four traditional Chinese characters "龍" and means "to talk a lot".

Chinese characters that are repeated, such as "zhé", are called reduplicated characters. Four-character reduplicated characters are called four-fold reduplicated characters. There are 38 such characters in the Xinhua Dictionary, and many of them use traditional Chinese characters. If you look at them separately, everyone knows them, but when they are combined, they no longer look like a Chinese character. Foreigners would be stunned to see these characters, and even Chinese people would probably be confused.

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