Chinese Input Methods

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .
Apple keyboard taiwan 07013
Apple Keyboard Taiwan.

The labels are 2 different input methods for Chinese, used in mostly Taiwan.

The labels on the upper right is “bopomofo”. Look at left column, keys 1 Q A Z, we have ㄅ ㄆ ㄇ ㄈ.

The lower right is Chinese input method called Cangjie (倉頡).

chinese keyboard layout cangjie
Cangjie keyboard layout.

Chinese has thousands of characters. You need to know 2 to 3 thousands of them to read newspaper.

Chinese Input Methods

To type Chinese, you need to use what's called “input method”.

There are more than ten input methods for Chinese, invented at different times by different people in China and Taiwan.

Chinese input methods can be roughly devided into 2 categories.

Sound based are far more popular, because it's a system anyone who speak standard Chinese can learn in a day.

Character shape based requires weeks or months of training, and can be faster for input. (but as time goes by, phonetic based might actually be faster due to guessing at whole phrases with Artificial Intelligence tech, for inputting the type of text that's everyday speech. For poetry, or any text that's not commonly used daily, character based is much better.)

Pinyin and Bopomofo

The most popular input methods are pinyin and zhuyin (aka bopomofo). Both are sound based.

Pinyin input method is mostly used in China.

Zhuyin input method is mostly used in Taiwan.

Pinyin is a phonetic system using English alphabets. Any USA/English keyboard layout can type pinyin. No special label is necessary on the keys.

Zhuyin is colloquially known as “bopomofo”. It's a phonetic system for Chinese. It is very similar to pinyin, except that it uses special symbols instead of English alphabets.

see Chinese Pinyin 拼音, Zhuyin 注音, IPA Comparison

Wubi and Cangjie

in China, the second most popular Chinese input method is Wubi. Its a shape based system.

In Taiwan, the second most popular Chinese input method is Cangjie. Its a shape based system.

Both of these require labels on the keys to learn it.

But in China, there's no keyboard with wubi labels, because most people using this method just memorized it. (keyboards in China are basically just USA keyboard without any special label on the keys.)

In Taiwan, most keyboards have dual labeling, of zhuyin and Cangjie. Actually, most keyboards have another label for the Dayi system. So, a key usually has 4 labels: English, bopomofo, Cangjie, Dayi.

taiwan keyboard layout
Taiwan keyboard layout. 4 labels for each key. ① English. ② upper right: zhuyin. ③ lower left: cangjie. ④ lower right: Dayi. 〔png image taiwan_keyboard_layout.png

Wikipedia Chinese input methods for computers

Turn on Chinese Input

In Microsoft Windows and Mac, both support many Chinese input methods.

Just go to your system preference or control panel, usually in the “international” or “languages” section.

See also: Emacs Chinese Input