Brain activation in the processing of Chinese characters and words: A functional MRI study

Li Hai Tan, John A. Spinks, Jia Hong Gao, Ho Ling Liu, Charles A. Perfetti, Jinhu Xiong, Kathryn A. Stofer, Yonglin Pu, Yijun Liu, Peter T. Fox

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

259 Scopus citations


Functional magnetic resonance imaging was used to identify the neural correlates of Chinese character and word reading. The Chinese stimuli were presented visually, one at a time. Subjects covertly generated a word that was semantically related to each stimulus. Three sorts of Chinese items were used: single characters having precise meanings, single characters having vague meanings, and two-character Chinese words. The results indicated that reading Chinese is characterized by extensive activity of the neural systems, with strong left lateralization of frontal (BAs 9 and 47) and temporal (BA 37) cortices and right lateralization of visual systems (BAs 17-19), parietal lobe (BA 3), and cerebellum. The location of peak activation in the left frontal regions coincided nearly completely both for vague- and precise- meaning characters as well as for two-character words, without dissociation in laterality patterns. In addition, left frontal activations were modulated by the ease of semantic retrieval. The present results constitute a challenge to the deeply ingrained belief that activations in reading single characters are right lateralized, whereas activations in reading two-character words are left lateralized. (C) 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)16-27
Number of pages12
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 2000


  • Chinese reading
  • FMRI
  • Hemispheric dominance
  • Language
  • Lateralization
  • MRI
  • Neuroimaging
  • Reading
  • Semantic vagueness
  • Word recognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neurology
  • Radiological and Ultrasound Technology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Anatomy


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