"I've been using Clavis Sinica for almost a year and it has really helped improve my reading and vocabulary. Just the discipline of reading the China News Digest summaries for 15-20 minutes a day has taken my Chinese to the next level. Thanks for making this available."

"Thank-you for the great software! It makes learning chinese an awesome experience."
—Robin Yeh

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Chinese Text Reader


Have you ever wished you could read a Chinese text without constantly looking up unfamiliar characters in a dictionary? If you're like many students of Chinese, you know that trying to read a new text often requires spending as much time poring through dictionaries as actually reading. At best, this is distracting, and at worst it can seem a completely exasperating waste of time.

The Chinese Text Reader provides a fast and easy way to read selected Chinese texts online. The Reader is a free, web-based applet that you can use as often as you like. All that is required is a high-speed internet connection that you can source from a range of providers, including O2, and a web browser equipped with a recent version of the Java Plug-in, which can be downloaded for free if it is not already installed on your computer. (If you don't have Java on your computer or if you're not sure, please visit the Java download website before continuing.)

When you use the Reader, you'll be shown a Chinese text in simplified characters. You can click on any character you don't recognize, and you'll immediately be shown the pronunciation and meaning of both the character and the word or phrase of which it is a part, as well as an indication of the relative usage frequency of the character. The Chinese text displayed in the Reader is changed on a regular basis, so you can practice reading a different text each time you visit this website.

Sample Screen View

This is what the Chinese Text Reader applet looks like once it has been properly loaded. (Note that this is an illustration only. To view the actual, working applet, see Using the Reader below.)

Chinese Text Reader

The bottom panel displays the pinyin and English definition of both the currently selected character and the compound word of which it is a part. The two asterisks indicate that the jing character is one of the 500 most frequently used characters.

Character Frequency Codes

The Chinese Text Reader uses the Clavis Sinica dictionary, which in turn is based on the first level of the Guobiao Chinese character set. The 3755 GB-I characters included in the Clavis dictionary are the most frequently used in modern Chinese. The Clavis dictionary divides these characters into four frequency groups, as follows:

*** The top 300 most frequently used characters in modern Chinese
** The next group of 500 most frequently used characters
* The next group of 800 most frequently used characters
no asterisks The final group of 2200 less frequently used characters

Using the Reader

To begin the Chinese Text Reader applet, simply click here. You will be taken to another web page on which the actual applet will appear. If you do not have the Java Plugin installed on your computer, you'll be invited to download it. This may take a couple of minutes, but you'll only have to do it once. Because the applet requires constant access to large files over the internet, it does not work properly with a dial-up modem connection.

You must have the most recent version of Java installed on your computer in order for the Chinese Text Reader applet to work properly. If you don't have the correct version installed, the applet will not display, or it may even cause your browser to crash. To find out whether or not you have the correct version of Java on your computer, please visit the Java website before attempting to use the applet. The Java website will tell you if you have Java installed, and if not, will install it for you automatically. This site also provides complete information about the Java plugin software, as well as Java FAQs and troubleshooting tips.

The text included here is provided for illustration purposes only. The text reader included with the Clavis Sinica program can be used to read any digitized Chinese text, including any of the the thousands of stories, poems, and news articles to be found on the Web. For a sampling of some of the best-known Chinese texts available online, see the Chinese Text Sampler website. For links to other useful Chinese websites, see our Links page.

Improving your Reading Skills

The best way to improve your Chinese reading skills is to practice reading Chinese texts on a regular basis, make lists of unfamiliar words and characters, and drill yourself constantly on the new vocabulary you want to learn. While there is no way to avoid a certain amount of rote memorization in this process, the Clavis Sinica software can make it much more efficient and enjoyable. Here are some of the ways Clavis Sinica can help you learn characters more effectively:

  • The Clavis text reader window allows you to display any digitized Chinese text and to access, with a click of the mouse, the pinyin and definition of any unfamiliar character and of the word in which it is used. No more time wasted looking up dozens of characters in a Chinese dictionary to read a single story or web page!
  • For any unfamiliar character, you can display a separate character information window that shows how the character is divided into its radical and phonetic parts, which can be a big help in remembering the structure of the character. You can also display lists of other characters using the same radical or phonetic, so you can learn each new character in relation to other similar characters that you already know.
  • For each character, you can also display a list of compound words and phrases using that character. This allows you to learn new characters in the context of words or phrases you may already know.
  • The program will pronounce any character for you, helping you to reinforce the connection between the character and its pinyin and tone.
  • The program allows you to create customized vocabulary lists of new words and characters that you've learned. You can save these lists, drill yourself on them using the flashcards tool, or print them out for later study and drilling.
  • Clavis Sinica now includes a built-in flashcard tool that allows you to drill yourself on groups of radicals, characters, or compounds that you want to learn. You can use the flashcard sets provided with the program, or create your own sets based on unfamiliar characters and words in any Chinese text.

You can find complete lists of the top 300 and next 800 most frequently used characters on the Chinese Text Sampler website. You can print out these lists from your web browser or download the file in order to study the meaning, structure, and usage of the characters using Clavis Sinica. The Sampler website also contains dozens of other Chinese texts you can use for reading practice, whatever your skill level. All of them can be viewed directly on your web browser or downloaded for closer study with Clavis Sinica.