Naxi character stroke order

The Naxi Dongba characters are often mistaken for pictures; and the fact that they are called ‘pictographs’ by most doesn’t really help clear the muddied waters.

The written form of Naxi characters is generally fixed, and there is a certain accepted way to write them.

While the number of strokes in any given character is not something anyone has done quantitative research into, and I assume hard-and-fast rules don’t exist for (thus making a Naxi dictionary with entries indexed by stroke count almost impossible to compile), stroke order does have certain guidelines.

Stroke order in Naxi is not an exact science, but the rudiments of how the characters are written is taught in schools in Lijiang, as the following extract from a local textbook attests. In fact, the term ‘Stroke order’ may be a little misleading. The guidelines reproduced below are closer to ordering various constituent parts of a particular character, not the individual stokes.

From Naxi Pictographs (纳西象形文字), volume one of Lijiang’s Dongba Culture School Textbook series (丽江东巴文化学校教材), edited by Li Xi 李锡:

“When writing Naxi script we should generally abide by the following two rules: strokes should be written from left to right, and from top to bottom. There is no fixed stroke order. Which part come first and which part comes after depends on whichever order helps to best create a complete grapheme.

Generally speaking, the main part of the character should be written first. Followed by the subsidiary or decorative parts.

For example:

kɣ33 garlickv

bi33 sunbi

dzo33 shelf



When writing characters that depict human form we first start with the head, and follow with any adornments of the head, before following with the rest of the body and then any other additional parts.

For example:

dæ21 capable, generaldae

py21 to read scripturepy


When writing characters that depict animal heads, we first start with the eye, then the mouth, then the cheek, followed by the horns, then the ears, then the crown (or any other fur atop the head), before finishing with the neck.

For example:

k’ɯ33 dogdog


When writing characters that depict a whole animal, we start with the head, and then continue to add other parts of the body.

For example:

ɤɯ33 bird



Some characters are written from the bottom up, but the direction of the individual strokes is always left to right, top to bottom.”

For example:

mi 33 fire


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