Handwriting samples for the HSK curriculum

Posted on June 8, 2019 (last updated January 13, 2020)

Learning to write Chinese well is a long process, and I will provide some references below that can help. However, the most important thing is to learn by copying handwritten characters, preferably characters written by a respected calligrapher. Most foreigners who learn to write Chinese characters learn by copying printed characters. This is not a good idea: you will not develop good handwriting.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many suitable learning materials available for foreigners. Chinese bookstores have practice materials available in just about every style imaginable, but these are not so easy to get outside of China (Amazon does have some, though beware: in China they only cost a few euro). More important than availability, however, is the choice of characters: these practice books seldom target the HSK curriculum. On the other hand, Chinese textbooks for foreigners often don’t include handwritten characters.

Fortunately, there are free online calligraphy dictionaries that we can use to lookup handwritten characters by famous calligraphers. Of course, doing that manually for all of the HSK characters would be very laborious, so I wrote some code to do it. The resulting document contains all of the HSK characters, organized by HSK level, as written by 田英章.

Download the HSK handwriting samples (regular script, 楷书)

Download the HSK handwriting samples (semi-cursive script, 行书)


田英章 (Tián Yīngzhāng) is the official calligrapher of the Chinese state department, as well as the first chairman of the Chinese Society for Handwriting (中国硬笔书法协会). He is one of China’s most well-known current day calligraphers, and specialises in 欧体 (that is, the style of 欧阳询, Ōuyáng Xún). In fact, he is so well-known that his particular flavour of 欧体 has its own name (田氏欧体).

He is famous both for his brush calligraphy as well as his handwriting, and he has written books on both topics. Virtually all of the handwritten characters in the document above are written by him, and moreover, are all chosen from the same book (7000常用字). For some reason, a handful of characters were not available in the calligraphy dictionaries. For these I’ve substituted characters written by 荆霄鹏, another calligrapher who specialises in 欧体 and whose style is very similar to 田英章’s. These characters were all chosen from 荆霄鹏硬笔楷书.


If you want to practice with these in Pleco, I’ve created a Pleco flashcard file. Set this up as I describe in my blog post about Pleco, but in the “New Words” profile, set the “Card Selection/System” to “Fixed” so that it matches the order of the practice sheets (you might also want to set “Show” to “Pron+Defn+Audio”). You will probably also want to set “Duplicate entries” to “Allow” during import to work around a limitation in Pleco; if you don’t, the ordering may not be correct.

Further references

If you want to develop good handwriting, it is worth learning a bit about it. Learn to Write Chinese Characters is a nice little book that covers most of the basics. Harvey Dam’s blog post series Handwriting Chinese characters: The minimum requirements is also well worth a read, though I personally find his book Regular Script Graphemics: How Chinese Characters Are Written not quite so useful (it uses a brush, not a pen, and gets a bit lost in character variants, which is not that useful for most learners).

There are also various videos available on YouTube from 田英章 himself; for example, 田英章硬笔楷书练字视频教程第01课 and 田英章硬笔楷书. Although these are in Chinese, you can probably still learn a lot even if you don’t understand much of what is being said.

Finally, if you struggle to memorize the characters in the first place (especially for writing them), I can strongly recommend the Outlier Dictionary. Better yet, take the Outlier Chinese Character Masterclass. I can’t overstate how much the work that those guys have been doing has improved my Chinese character learning; go check them out.