I would like to understand the reasons why questions asking for subjective opinions such as personal approaches for learning Chinese (see for example Is it common to learn individual characters before two-characters words? ) are discouraged and closed in Chinese SE.

I understand questions asking for opinions of sensitive topics (such as politics, religion, etc.) are discouraged and maybe closed, but I believe other opinion-based questions can benefit greatly other users, even if there is not a unique objective solution.

  • 2
    I'll have to think about this, but in the meantime Good Subjective, Bad Subjective is the canonical reference for subjective questions. The general issues are things like "everyone's answer is valid" (as it's subjective), and voting based on agreement or popularity [rather than being correct]. The "good subjective" questions invite expertise: the opinion of an expert, not just random people on the Internet.
    – Becky 李蓓 Mod
    Commented Jul 29, 2020 at 10:32
  • In my opinion, the underlying rule for deciding to be on-topic or off-topic should be if the post can benefit other users. If it can help other people, I would vote to keep it on-topic as answers addressing the point from different perspective can still be helpful. And at the end, typically the most voted answers will be the ones with higher quality (and written by reliable users).
    – Puco4
    Commented Jul 29, 2020 at 10:51
  • 1
    I closed that question before it was changed from ."Is it suitable to learn individual characters?" to the current one. Asking 'should I learn character?' is like asking should I learn English words. The current topic does allow people to give their insight based on their expertise.
    – Tang Ho Mod
    Commented Jul 29, 2020 at 11:53

2 Answers 2


Rejecting opinion-based questions is a specific design and community choice that originates from Chinese.SE's parent site: Stack Overflow.

Stack Overflow was born as a Q&A website for software professionals and enthusiasts with the specific and declared purpose of building a repository of knowledge.

Knowledge is the key term here. An opinion might be informed by knowledge, and transmit knowledge, it might be well-written and contain enough practical information that it translates into actionable knowledge, but this is rare. More often than not an opinion is just that, an opinion.

The typical opinion-based question in programming is:

Can you recommend me an X to do Y?

To build knowledge, you need objective, verifiable, evidence-based answers. If an answer does not meet these criteria, it does not contribute to building knowledge. It contributes to forming opinions, that may make sense to you, in your specific case, according to your specific background, and be complete nonsense to someone else.

So questions that elicit opinion-based answers are not useful to build a repository of knowledge.

But make no mistake, nobody is saying that opinion-based Q&A is useless in absolute. It's simply not a good fit for the Stack Exchange network and its declared mission.

Now, some questions may be worded in such a way that they don't sound opinion-based, but they are hard to answer with facts. So this implies (not necessarily, but frequently) that they are easy to answer with opinions. Then the commonly accepted moderation policy on Stack Exchange sites is to close such questions as opinion-based, for the only reason that they attract opinion-based answers.

Now, the question you linked can be seen as opinion-based exactly because of this. In order to answer "Is learning characters individually first the most common way to go about it?" with facts, you would have to provide references to researches that analyze a statistically significant number of language courses (or similar entities) and draw conclusions about what's the most common way to go about learning characters.

If you do provide such an answer, I will upvote it, encourage others to upvote it, and sing your praises under Mount Olympus with a harp with golden strings.

But the harsh reality is that the majority of answers will not be like that. In fact, you have answers like:

I am a Taiwanese, I think it would be much more difficult to learn the characters individually. Because when you break those common words and phrases apart, the meaning of each single character become more ambiguous. The meaning of each character will be so many more and it will be very confusing.

Answers like this one are devoid of objective value. And as a fellow user of this site, the only thing I can convey by upvoting or downvoting them is whether I have a similar opinion with this person or not. Whereas votes are instead (desperately) needed to make quality content float to the top. But I can't appraise the quality of an opinion.

It follows that I will vote to close opinion-based questions.

Other interesting reads:


Basically, blackgreen has done a fine write-up concerning opinion-based questions. However, the linked question is not only problematic because it's opinion-based: it's also not about the Chinese language, but rather about study methods, so it's also reasonable to close it as off-topic.


I envisage on/off-topic-ness as a kind of Euler diagram:

Euler diagram showing "questions about the Chinese language" with a hole carved out for "off-topic exceptions" and an external circle showing "on-topic exceptions"

This site is meant to be about the Chinese language: this is literally the name of the site.

Don't ask about... Anything not directly related to the Chinese language
Chinese.SE tour page

Thus, a primary determinant of on/off-topic-ness is the answer to is it about the Chinese language? We might encounter questions phrased like:

I'm studying Chinese and I have a problem; can you help me?

These questions tug at our heart strings: we're also studying Chinese and desire to help. But what the OP is doing with their life doesn't actually affect whether their question is on/off-topic.


There are two kinds of community-defined exceptions:

  1. On-topic exceptions: Questions that are not about the Chinese language, but are considered on-topic. At the moment, these include questions about input methods, fonts, databases, etc.

  2. Off-topic exceptions: Questions that are about the Chinese language, but are considered off-topic. This sometimes includes "what does this say?" questions, and effortless translation requests.

Realistically, these exceptions are poorly defined currently; closure is sometimes based on the "instinct" of whoever happens to be around at the time, and not community consensus. (From the two surveys, Chinese-to-English translation went from on-topic to off-topic, and it seems now it's on-topic again. [And it seems to vary with the length of the snippet.])

For these two kinds of exceptions, we ideally should be able to link to a meta post establishing consensus on each family of questions. The fact that we don't have this right now is an issue we should strive to fix: we need to create meta posts to identify these exceptions.

Without having established questions about "study methods" as an on-topic exception via a meta post, it's reasonable to close it as off-topic.

(The most related meta post I'm aware of is Can “How to get started learning Chinese” be reopened?. The question How to get started learning Chinese? remains closed as off-topic. It's unclear how applicable this is.)

  • I find the line between Chinese language and the study of Chinese language rather fuzzy. Because to understand points about Chinese language is essentially studying it. Otherwise, a lot of posts could be thought to be off-topic, such as the popular Resources for learning Mandarin Chinese or your very useful post What resources do you actively use to study Chinese, and why?.
    – Puco4
    Commented Aug 1, 2020 at 10:43
  • On the other side, I am more of a supporter of thinking pragmatically: can the post and possible answers be "objectively" useful to other people? If the answer is yes, I would feel it does more damage closing the question than leaving it open. However, it is also true there exists the specific language learning SE site.
    – Puco4
    Commented Aug 1, 2020 at 10:50
  • I don't know if there is some post discussing what topics should be posted in Chinese SE and what others should be on language learning SE.
    – Puco4
    Commented Aug 1, 2020 at 11:00
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    I encourage you to make one (it's something we need to flesh out properly here on meta)---if you don't, I or someone else will need to eventually. Language Learning has some advantages, e.g., many of the skills in learning Chinese are the same in Japanese and Korean, and often just arbitrary languages. I also feel because there's fewer Chinese students there, there'll be fewer "what I did" / "here's my tips" answers, and more "research shows" answers.
    – Becky 李蓓 Mod
    Commented Aug 1, 2020 at 11:16

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