Understanding “Biang”: The character with the most complex strokes

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Breaking down the most complicated Chinese character

If you were asked to name the longest word you knew, what would you say? Perhaps you might mention the lung disease “pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis”, a 45-letter behemoth that Oxford Dictionaries considers the longest word.

 

How about the most complex Chinese character?

The most complicated Chinese character is the character above. Befitting its status as the most complex character of all, there doesn’t seem to be any trace of the character written as text online; every single website I looked at while doing research for this post showed the character as an image!

 

This character is pronounced biáng. It originates from biang biang noodles, which is a type of noodle from the Shaanxi province 陕西省 (Shǎnxī shěng). Biang biang noodle is a type of noodle that is one of the eight strange wonders of Shaanxi, 陕西八大怪 (Shǎnxī bādà guài). The noodles, which are handmade, are broad and flat. They are usually topped with red pepper and mixed in with Sichuan spicy sauce.

 

The infographic below deconstructs the word into its radicals. It’s quite a daunting sight, so you are warned.

You might have also noticed that the character and its radicals have little to do with biang biang noodles or noodles in general. Why is that so? Well, this character was allegedly made as complicated as possible. Legend has it that the first emperor of China, Qin Shihuang 秦始皇 (Qínshǐhuáng), created this character. He tried biang biang noodles from a vendor and loved it so much that he made the noodles a delicacy reserved for members of the royalty only. To make sure nobody could ever order this delicacy, he created the most complex Chinese character in existence.

 

However, with the monarchy gone, biang biang noodles are now for everyone. Now that you know this character (or at least how to say it), you can order a bowl and try it yourself too.

 

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