Chinese Cursive Crash Course – Outlier Linguistics

Learn to read and write Chinese cursive

A crash course to help you read cursive, both modern and historical—and to write it yourself!

  • This online course has 6 aspects:
    Recognition - learn to read cursive—both modern and historical!
    Writing - learn to write 150+ common characters in cursive!
    Deciphering - learn the principles of how cursive forms are created, so you can decipher them yourself!
    Self-teaching - you'll know exactly how to continue learning cursive on your own, to whatever level you want!
    Culture/appreciation - learn about (and read!) some of the most famous calligraphers and their works
    Simplified characters - many simplified characters were created from cursive forms. Understanding how this works makes it easier to see the logic of simplified characters!
  • The course starts on 20 June—sign up now so you don't miss it!

Online Course with 16+ hours of video lessons (plus Q&A sessions!), just $299 $199 using discount code 'cursive' at checkout!

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Rated 4.8/5 by 1000's of Chinese learners

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Most native speakers write in cursive on a daily basis, so you WILL encounter handwritten Chinese. So why not learn to read it? It's not nearly as hard as you may think! Learning to read and write a few hundred characters, plus the principles of cursive writing in Chinese, will unlock a whole world to you that you couldn't access before!


Learn to read the cursive writing you'll find on Chinese paintings and famous works of calligraphy. In this course you'll learn the principles of cursive that have been in use for the last 2000 years, so you'll not only be able to read modern handwriting, you'll be able to read and appreciate famous works of calligraphy too!

Lifetime Access

The 16 lessons will take place over an 8-week period, but like all of our courses, you'll be able to access all of the materials after it's finished. No need to stress about keeping up—you'll be able to go at a slower pace if you want!

  1. Lesson 1A: History and Types of Cursive Script

  2. Lesson 1B: Cursive Form Explanations
  3. Lesson 2A: Principles of Cursive I: Readability and Abbreviation
  4. Lesson 2B: Cursive Form Explanations
  5. Lesson 3A: Principles of Cursive II: Connectedness, Reusability, and Flexibility

  6. Lesson 3B: Cursive Form Explanations
  7. Lesson 4A: Principles of Cursive III: Uniqueness and Context

  8. Lesson 4B: Cursive Form Explanations
  9. Lesson 5A: Famous works of semi-cursive: 王羲之《蘭亭序》、蘇軾《寒食帖》、米芾《張季明帖》

  10. Lesson 5B: Cursive Form Explanations
  11. Lesson 6A: Famous works of cursive: 王羲之《十七帖》、智永《真草千字文》、韓道亨《草訣哥》

  12. Lesson 6B: Cursive Form Explanations
  13. Lesson 7A: Character Simplification—How It Works

  14. Lesson 7B: Cursive Form Explanations
  15. Lesson 8A: Next Steps: How to Continue Your Study of Cursive

  16. Lesson 8B: Cursive Form Explanations
  18. Each lesson also comes with some reading exercises so you can practice reading cursive, as well as 20 super common characters for you to learn how to write in cursive!

This course will be taught live, as a combination of lectures and Q&A (though if you can't make it to the live sessions you can watch the recordings later). We'll also hold weekly office hours via Zoom. An exam will be given at the end of the course, and a passing score at the end earns you a Certificate of Completion!

This is an 8-week crash course in reading and writing cursive. You'll not only learn to read and write some of the most common characters in cursive (both semi-cursive 行書/行书 and full cursive 草書/草书), you'll also learn the principles which govern how cursive characters can be formed. This way, you'll be able to decipher unfamiliar cursive characters you come across!

By the end of the course, you'll not only be able to read and write some of the most common characters in cursive yourself, you'll also have the tools and knowledge to continue learning cursive, to whatever level you want to reach!

In each lesson, you'll be assigned a few sentences to read, containins varying amounts of cursive. I'll explain all of the cursive forms, and also teach practical and cultural knowledge about cursive. You'll also have 20 characters to learn how to write each week, and by the end you'll be able to write over 150 very common characters in cursive. You'll also learn about famous calligraphers and their work, as well as how a lot of simplified characters were created by "straightening out" cursive forms. At the end of the course, I'll give you practical advice for how to continue learning cursive if you'd like—you'll have the skills and knowledge to continue progressing on your own if you want!

Can I go at my own pace? Will I be able to access the course once it's finished?

Yes! We'll do one lesson per week, but once the course is finished, we'll keep everything available online so that you can go through it at your own pace.

How much Chinese do I need to know to take this course?

We'll be focusing on very common characters—this is the most efficient way to learn cursive for non-natives! Even native speakers don't generally write everything in cursive! They'll write most things in semi-cursive, and some characters in cursive. By focusing on the most common characters, you'll get the most bang for your buck! You'll be able to figure out unfamiliar cursive forms that you encounter in daily life, and you'll also be able to write by hand more quickly because you'll know how to write the most common characters in cursive (aka shorthand)!

So, if you know about 300 characters, you'll be ready for the course!

How long does the course take to complete?

There are 8 lessons, and we'll be doing one lesson per week. The course begins on 20 June and ends on 11 August, 2023.

How much time will it require per lesson?

There will be two lectures each week (you can attend live or watch the recording), and each will be about an hour. You'll also need to devote some time each day to learning to write a few characters in cursive (4-5 per day).

We'll also do a live "office hour" session once a week on Zoom, so you can pop in and ask questions if you'd like. There will also be a discussion forum, so if you can't make it to the office hours, you can still get your questions answered.

Will I need anything (apps, etc.) in order to take the course?

There's a free app for iOS, Android, and web browser, which we'll be using during the course. The interface is in Chinese, but I'll teach you how to use it for the purpose of the course.

I'll also be providing you with an Anki deck (Anki is a free "smart flashcards" program) to help you learn to recognize and write common characters in cursive.

Nothing else is required, but I will be giving some book recommendations along the way!

What time will the live lessons be?

The "principles" lecture will be on Tuesdays at 11am JST, and the "cursive form explanations" lecture will be on Thursdays at 6pm JST. You can watch either (or both) live, or watch the recordings later.

Can I study at my own pace or do I have to take the course live?

Either way. I'm teaching it as a live course, but you don't need to feel pressured to keep pace!

Keep in mind that if you can't show up to the live session, you'll be able to watch the replay at any time. Many people don't show up for the live session, but just watch the replay at their own pace. That's totally fine! You'll get lifetime access to the course, so that's no problem.

What does "lifetime access" mean?

In practical terms, it means the course materials will be available online for as long as Outlier is in business. If we do ever go out of business or otherwise need to remove the course for any reason, we'll make the material available for you to download for a period of at least 6 months.

Can I get a refund if I decide the course isn't for me?

Yes! Our usual refund policy is "30 days from purchase," but since the course doesn't start until 20 June, I'm extending the refund date to "the 20th of July." If you decide you don't like the course for whatever reason, just reach out by then and I'll be happy to refund you.

Will there be assignments or homework?

You'll need to set aside time each week to work through several short passages written in cursive. It's also best to spend some time (probably 10-15 minutes) each day reviewing cursive forms you've learned and learning to write new characters in cursive, with the Anki deck provided.

There will be a final exam after the course is finished.

Can we collaborate with other students or form study groups?

Definitely! Our live courses usually have a few hundred students enrolled, so there should be plenty of students of all backgrounds and interests in this course too.

And sure, working together is no problem! We'll have a private online community where you can work together, ask questions, share notes, etc.

Your Instructor

John Renfroe
Co-founder, Outlier Linguistics

Before co-founding Outlier, John studied Linguistics and Paleography in the Graduate Institute of Chinese at National Taiwan Normal University. He co-founded and later ran the Taipei Classical Chinese Reading Group, a weekly reading group consisting mostly of graduate Sinology students from western universities. He also taught classical Chinese to members of the group who had no previous instruction in the language. His coursework and research focused on excavated Warring States bamboo texts, historical Chinese character morphology, and the Shuowen Jiezi 說文解字 and its commentaries and criticism.

Sign up now!

Online Course with 16+ hours of video lessons (plus Q&A sessions!), just $299 $199 using discount code 'cursive' at checkout!

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Rated 4.8/5 by hundreds of Chinese learners