What Stands Upright and Walks on Two Legs?

What Stands Upright and Walks on Two Legs? The Chinese Character Rén!

by Min Xiong

In my last Get Mandarin! article, I introduced you the Chinese character for good. I hope you found it interesting! Today, I’d like to introduce you to another Chinese character. It’s one of the top one hundred most used Chinese characters, and it means people.

人Chinese characters originated from pictures.  Present-day characters are sized to fit into squares.  Each character is made up of strokes, from a single stroke to twenty strokes or more.

Take a look at 人 (rén), meaning people or person. It is made up of two strokes representing two walking legs. Can you think of a creature that stands upright and walks on two legs? A long time ago, our Chinese ancestors figured it out—a human being!

Although 人 can stand alone, it can also combine with other characters to make useful Chinese words. Like compound words in English, Chinese words can be made up of two, three, or even four characters put together.  Let’s see what words we can form when we combine 人 with other Chinese characters:

  • 爱人 (ài rén) lover
  • 大人 (dàrén) adult
  • 工人 (gōngrén) worker
  • 后人 (hòurén) descendant
  • 新人 (xīnrén) new person
  • 主人 (zhǔrén) master/owner
  • 外人 (wàirén) outsider
  • 能人 (néngrén) capable person
  • 人民 (rénmín) people
  • 人品 (rénpǐn) personal quality
  • 人???
  • ???人

Now for your Chinese challenge! Can you use an online dictionary to fill in the final bullet points? Create two more words using 人 and post them in the comments below. We can’t wait to see what you find. 再见!


Min Xiong is a journalist, Chinese teacher, and cultural ambassador in Washington DC.

9 thoughts on “What Stands Upright and Walks on Two Legs?

  1. I use a combination of an online dictionary and google translate. These posts and the activities are always fun and interesting to me. I always learn something new.


    1. 口 (kǒu) stands for number of people in a family. Because it means mouth, hence, how many mouths a family has to feed represent the total population of a family. I think this will be my next article 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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