How to fix your e-reader Chinese font display problems

You’ve downloaded a book in Chinese. You open it up and to your horror you see this.

If this has happened to you, do not fret, you’re not alone. We frequently get emails from our readers asking for Chinese language support why their Kindle, Kobo, iBooks, or other e-reader device is not displaying characters. Frequently, the Chinese characters will show up as rows of boxes with question marks, or even more insidious, about 90% of the characters will display properly with the rest displaying as boxes.

While we are no experts, we have worked with a number of our customers on these issues and have found some common solutions. If you are facing any of these problems, hopefully this can help!

Amazon Kindle Reader

The Kindle devices all support Chinese characters (except for the Kindle DX but if you have one of those, look at the 3rd option). However, if you are getting a bunch of boxes, there are a few things to try.

The first line of defense is to change the display font. Under the font settings, try selecting a different English font. There are a couple of the fonts native to the Kindle which are unable to display Chinese characters, but there are also a few others that do! Shuffle through them till the boxes go away.

The second line of defense refers to older models of the Kindle (Kindle 3 and earlier). If this applies to you, follow these instructions.

  1. Press Home
  2. Type ;debugOn , press Enter key
  3. Type ~changeLocale zh-CN , press Enter key
  4. Type ;debugOff, press Enter key
  5. Restart Kindle in Settings (Press Menu, Select Settings, Then Press Menu to select “Restart”)

The third line of defense is to install Duokan, an alternative operating system for the Amazon Kindle which is designed specifically for the Chinese language. Nearly every Kindle model can run Duokan (even the Kindle DX). Duokan installs alongside the typical Kindle OS, so you can dual boot to it as well.

The website for Duokan is entirely in Chinese, however there are a number of English language supports if you are interested in installing it on your device, specifically the Duokan entry on the Mobile Read forums.

If none of these solutions work for you, take your Kindle out to the nearest pond, give it a really solid throw and see how many times you can get it to skip across the water before it sinks down to a watery grave (tip: the more spin you can give it, the more skips you’ll get). Afterwards, go out and buy a new Kindle.

Kobo Aura

This solution is thanks to our helpful reader Henk D. He was dealing with the same issue with his Kobo Aura reader. We first advised him to change the display font and it appeared to work. Later on he realized that there were spaces in the text and some characters displayed as boxes. He eventually found a solution which he shared with us.

I tried all the fonts on my Kobo Aura, and all had problems. This evening I tried to find out if I could somehow install new fonts on the device, and if so, which font would solve the problem. Here is a solution that works:

  • Make a new folder called ‘Fonts’ in the root of the e-reader;
  • Copy font file(s) to that folder. Files with extension “.TTF” will show up in the list of fonts, files with extension “.TTC” won’t.
  • I found a number of Chinese fonts that still didn’t work, but the one that definitely does work is Microsoft YaHei (default available in Windows 7).

Apple Devices

Fortunately, the iPad, iPhone, and iPod devices all support a wide range of fonts. The Chinese character display issues on Apple devices I have heard about have to do with the Kindle reader app. Again, the first line of defense is to change the display font. If all else fails, it is possible to download Chinese fonts to your apple device.

Barnes & Noble – Nook

Currently the Nook devices do not support Chinese, which is a crying shame. This is the reason our books are not available on the Nook. I have a friend who works on the Nook development team who I contacted about this issue. Here is a small excerpt from our exchange regarding this issue.

Your email has actually set a lot of things in motion! From what I can gather [the developers] specifically commented out any Chinese character support in the RMSDK.  No one is sure why, but that code was written a long time ago for us and hasn’t been touched.

I am pushing to get this native support integrated into future releases of our applications (android, iOS, windows).

Hopefully we will see Chinese support in the not-too-distant future!

Conclusion

If Chinese characters are not displaying properly in your Chinese language ebook, it’s a problem with the device. It’s likely that changing a simple setting can make all of your Chinese display problems melt away.

9 Comments

  • Bill Gasparek Posted July 5, 2015 10:12 am

    Hi.

    I have tried to use the Kindle app on a Samsung tablet and was very disappointed. The problem is the dictionary. The characters are so small that when I try to select one, I almost always get a character that I am not interested in. In addition, the dictionary entry is off to the side of the page and so I need to scroll over. I would strongly advise anyone against using Kindle; at least the app.

    I do not have any experience with any other reader which is why I am writing. I would like to read your books but need to use an eReader in order to do so. I live in the USA. What is your recommendation? How do I download your books other than via Kindle? I assume that I cannot use Kindle downloads in another reader; maybe I can.

    The application that I most enjoy using to read is the app from Clavis Senica. However, it requires that the material be in text format. This is good for reading stuff from the Internet but I have not found any graded readers in text format. Do you make your books available in text format?

    Thanks for any assistance you can provide.

    Regards.

    Bill Gasparek

    • jared Posted July 6, 2015 10:06 am

      Hi Bill, thanks for the message! The good news is that the Kindle and Kindle reader app are all suited to solve your problem. What you need to do is increase the text display size. When you have opened one of the books in the app, you simply need to touch the text and a small bar will appear on the top and bottom of the device. At the top there is an icon that looks like “Aa”. Touch that then there will be an option that says “Text Size” with a plus and minus sign. Hit the plus and increase the size until you find a satisfactory text size.

      I hope that helps! All ebook and ereader deices/apps have the ability to adjust the size of the text. Thanks again and happy reading!

  • Dan Posted February 9, 2016 12:34 am

    I’ve just developed this problem with my Kindle app for iPad. I never had any issue before when reading your books; all the characters displayed as intended. Then, all of a sudden, some but not all started showing up as white squares. Nothing I did helped, right down to deleting the app and downloading it again (along with all the books from the cloud). I haven’t found any apps that helped me out either. Is this maybe a problem with the latest update to the Kindle app?

    • Dan Posted February 13, 2016 8:10 pm

      I should add a caveat: Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Curly Haired Company still seems to work fine; the problem occurs with The Secret Garden, The Monkey’s Paw and The Sixty Year Dream. Is it down to different fonts?

      • arata Posted February 17, 2016 6:17 am

        I have been facing exactly the same problem on my iOS devices recently, possibly after upgrading the Kindle app.

        Strangely, Sherlock Holmes still seem to work fine, whereas the Country of the Blind doesn’t.

    • Dan Posted April 19, 2016 5:43 pm

      The problem seems to have been fixed by a new update to the app. It’s working again for the moment.

  • Seb Posted February 17, 2016 6:17 am

    Exact same issue as Dan on iPad. Sherlock works fine but white squares appear for the Secret Garden, the Monkey’s Paw and the Sixty Year Dream. Is there any other book that works on iPad? Is there a fix for the other ones?

  • Doug Posted February 23, 2016 10:42 am

    same problem here.. i ‘deleted’ the book from my kindle device, and then redownloaded.. that seems to have solved the problem

  • James Weatherly Posted March 23, 2016 6:23 am

    My copy of Great Expectations Part 1 purchased from Kobo and running as an epub file on Sony PRS T2 displays box/? chars until page 42 then Chinese reappears. All other Mandarin Companion books on this device are fine. This also occurs when I open the Great Expectation file on my Windows 10 laptop.

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