The Codel System for Identifying Chinese Characters

For a later version of this item, please click HERE.

What this site is about

This site describes a new method of identifying Chinese characters from their appearance.

Each character is treated as a Code, and its components (Code Elements or Codels), are identified from two tables of elements (Codel Grids). These tables are PDF files, downloaded for first use from this website.

Image of part of a Codel Grid

SETTING UP. How to download and use the Codel System

First you need to download the components of the system from the website. When these components are in place, in a folder on your computer hard disc, you will be able to use the system even when you are not on-line to the Internet.

Some explanations are available in the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) Help Page (also still under construction). Here these explanations have clickable links after the header 'FAQ:' in square brackets, for example [FAQ: What is the traditional (Radical) system for identifying Chinese characters?].

DOWNLOADING. Downloading the components
First create a folder on your hard disc (for example, "Mandarin"). Next, download 4 PDF files from this website by clicking on each of the following links in turn.

How downloading occurs varies from browser to browser. The preferred browser is Firefox (version -- version 3 may still have some bugs in handling Chinese characters). Firefox will ask you what to do with each PDF file; save each to disc and move into your Mandarin folder.

Other browsers, such as Safari, may download a PDF file and open it directly in the browser. In this case, 'Save' the displayed file and move it into the Mandarin folder.

Download First Codel Grid

(this and the next file look similar to the example above)

Download Second Codel Grid

If you do not already have a current version of Adobe Reader, download this [FAQ: How do I download Adobe Reader?].

Next, open Adobe Reader, and with this open and print out the two Codel Grids on 1 sheet of paper each.

Next, download the Codel Table. This contains the individual Chinese characters, their Pinyin (Romanized) sounds, and the character codes (sets of codels), arranged alphabetically. Part of this Table looks like:

Part of the Codel/Character Table

Download the main Codel Table

From this table, you can find the Pinyin equivalent of the character you want identified, and you can then look this up in a printed Chinese-English dictionary, arranged by alphabetical Pinyin. But it will be easier to use Adobe Reader to look up words and expressions in which this character is used, in another PDF file, the Mandarin Vocabulary Table. Part of this looks like:

Part of the Mandarin Vocabulary Table

Download the Mandarin Vocabulary Table

Notice that for clarity and ease of keyboard use, Pinyin groups are separated by hyphens ("-") and have their tone marks as digits. Digit "0" means no tone. Also, characters are separated by spaces.

The Mandarin Vocabulary Table is not a full dictionary, just a selection of around 4000 words and expressions picked up during the first two years of a Mandarin Chinese course (CBS 2001-3003).

EXAMPLES. Using the System.

Suppose you need to identify the following character:

This character is actually 'zhu4', meaning 'to reside', but assume you don't know that. Check the Codel Grids you have printed out and pick out the character's elements, working generally from left to right and top to bottom. The Codels are m0, g5, and k0 (all Codels are one letter plus one digit, so the first is m + zero). The code for this character is therefore m0g5k0.

Start Adobe Reader and open the file 'CodelBase.pdf' from your hard-disc 'Mandarin' folder. The top of this file looks like:

Click in the box where it says 'Find', type in the Code, m0g5k0, and click on the small arrow to the right of the box. A dropdown menu may appear, drag down to 'Find Next in Current PDF'. The response is:

Which shows that the sought character is 'zhu4'. There may be more than one character with the same code (sometimes with exactly the same appearance, but a different tone), and you can search for these by clicking on the forward and backward search icons to the right of the code box.

You can also search for characters using only part of their code. If you search using 'g5k0', you get:

This can be useful to compare similar-looking characters. Now, if you want to see instances where the 'zhu4' character is used in actual vocabulary, use Adobe Reader to open the file 'MandarinBase.pdf' which you downloaded to your 'Mandarin' folder. Type 'zhu4' in the Find box and search the file:

Because there are several characters with Pinyin 'zhu4', you may need to click through the file to find uses of the character you are interested in.

You can also search on a specific character. Select and copy it from one of the PDF files, paste it into the Find box, and click. The character shows in the box only as general symbol, but the search still works:

You can also copy and paste groups of characters into the box to search for them. If you find some characters too small to read easily, just adjust the magnification in the '%' box at the top.

Advanced searching
When you have more familiarity with the system, you might like to use the more powerful search facilities in Adobe Reader. With any of the PDF files open, click on the arrow to the right of the Find box and drag down to 'Open Full Reader Search' instead of 'Find Next in Current PDF'.

This opens a large Search window separate from the PDF file. You can choose to search in one file, or all files in a folder (choose 'Mandarin'), and you can type in Pinyin or English words or paste in Chinese characters. Below is shown the result of searching for in a folder, Adobe found 43 instances of this character in 7 documents, and listed these 7:

Click on one of the right-pointing triangles against a file, and it changes to a down-pointing triangle and lists all occurrences of the search term in that document. Click on one of these occurrences, and its position in the document will be highlighted.

State of the Codel System for Identifying Chinese Characters
This is an early public release of the system, and will have many deficiencies and errors. I'm not a teacher, just a second-year student of Mandarin with an interest in computer systems. I'll be trying to clean up and extend the system a bit in the next few months, but I'd encourage anyone with an interest in taking on and improving the site to do so.

Later I'll add a form to report errors and suggestions, but I can't guarantee action on these. For the moment, you can send an email to

David Noel.

Go to the AOI master website

Version 1.04, 2008 Oct 22
Redirection to MandarWeb added 2915 Apr 23