A delightfully illustrated guide to learning Chinese characters


Beginning with key Chinese characters—which the book refers to as building blocks—author ShaoLan Hsueh and artist Noma Bar have made a memorable guide, as helpful as it is pretty, to one of the most difficult and oldest languages in the world. “Chineasy” translates the Chinese language into a pictorial code, by building out imagery around the linguistic characters. The symbol for fire morphs into a burning fire, and when this happens—when the root of the character’s definition is visible—it is actually easy to remember.


Simplicity is key and Bar delivers artistry that’s both direct and likable. He illustrated over 400 characters, taking ShaoLan’s distilled reconstruction of the language—the product of a computer program she developed—and turning it into charming pieces of art. The process began through research of each definition, seeking the origin and history of each character. It then became Bar’s task to breathe life into each and every one. Every character becomes part of a story and, as they are linked together, language forms.

Bar isn’t new to publishing. His two previous works, “The Many Faces of Noma Bar” and “Negative Space,” achieved much acclaim—both have since become design school staples. Each image, beginning in a sketchbook but finished digitally, incorporates only a few colors, in powerful combinations. His previous background in lending simplicity to complexity applied perfectly to “Chineasy.”


It’s no small task to learn a new language, let alone a new alphabet. Through the book’s storytelling, by way of words and imagery, “Chineasy” offers transformative access. With the ever-growing importance of the Chinese language in culture and commerce, a little help in character recognition can go along way—especially when envisioned by such a charismatic artist.

“Chineasy” is currently available for pre-order online for $25.

Photos by David Graver