Definition: Radicals are some components that are often appeared in Chinese Characters, such as ‘亻’ , ’女’ , ‘口’, etc.
Piānpáng or Bùshǒu!？偏旁 or 部首？！
You may have already heard these two names. In fact, Chinese radicals can be called either ‘Piānpáng’ (偏旁) or ’Bùshǒu’ (部首). But what’s the difference? Very easy, ‘Piānpáng’ (偏旁) literarily means one side of a compound Chinese character. ’Bùshǒu’ (部首) indicates the first part of a character (not necessary a compound one). In modern Chinese language, they both refer to radicals, but there is no difference anymore between them.
How they come…
- Piānpáng is defined from the word-formation structure
In the past, ancient Chinese people called the left side of a compound character ‘piān’ (偏), ‘páng’ (旁) for the right side. However, due to the complexity of the structure of Chinese characters, there are many words which are not written in a left-right structure way. Therefore, in modern Chinese language, we don’t differentiate it anymore but called each part of a compound character ‘Piānpáng’ (偏旁) in the same way no matter what the structure is. For instance, the Piānpaáng of ‘张’(zhāng) is ‘弓’(gōng) and ‘长’(cháng).
- Bùshǒu is defined from the function
Literarily, Bùshǒu means the first part of a Chinese character. For example, ‘一’(yī) is the Bùshǒu of ‘不’(bù), and ‘可’(kě). ‘弓’(gōng) is the Bùshǒu of ‘张’(zhāng).
Thus it can be seen that ‘Piānpáng’ is also ‘Bùshǒu’. They both can be used to look up a character in a Chinese dictionary.
Each Chinese character possesses only one radical?
If your answer goes yes, please do read this part.
I need to correct you: each Chinese character may contain one or two radicals.
Here is the truth:
For single Chinese characters, they mostly have only one radical, such as ‘一’(yī) is the radical of ‘不’(bù)，’口’(kǒu) is the radical of ‘可’(kě), and ’女’(nǚ) is the radical of itself.
For compound Chinese characters, they can have more than one radical. For example, the radicals of ‘和’ can either be ‘禾’(hé) or ‘口’(kǒu); both ‘工’(gōng) and ‘力’(lì) are the radicals of ‘功’(gōng). Nevertheless, ‘影’(yǐng) possesses only one radical (‘彡’).
In Chinese, there are 214 radicals in total, and there are around 76 radicals among them which are in common use. (Link: See radicals in use)
In order to make them see more clearly, I classify them into three categories:
1. Stroke radicals (examples like 一，丿，丶)
2. Character radicals (examples like 土，女，口, 木）
3. Deformation radicals （examples like 亻，冖，饣，厶）
If you are a beginner, and you want to learn Chinese characters seriously, I suggest that you can start from studying the second category ( simple Chinese characters) as most of them are the original form of deformation radicals.
If you do not agree with me or have something to say, welcome to share your opinions in the comments below. 🙂