A common misconception is that all Chinese characters are meant to look like the things they represent. In fact, only a small percentage of characters are "pictograms," and many of those have evolved over time to the point that they only slightly resemble their subjects.
Does this character really look like a moon to you?
Centuries ago, it was written like this:
Chinese characters are formed in four main ways: pictographs, indicatives, ideatives and harmonics.
Thought to be the oldest types of characters, pictographs were originally pictures of things. During the past 5,000 years or so they have become simplified and stylised.
Indicatives refer to characters that employ a kind of sign to suggest a certain meaning. For instance, the character ÈÐ is formed by adding a point to the knife-edge (µ¶ means knife) which means the blade. The simple characters Ò», ¶þ and Èý indicate the numbers one, two and three respectively. The characters 隆脌¾ and Ä© refer to the root and the top of a tree (Ä¾ means tree) respectively. There are only a few of indicatives among Chinese characters. Pictographs and indicatives are both one-element characters.
Ideographs are graphical representations of abstract ideas.
Ideatives are formed by combining simple elements (that are usually characters themselves) to provide new meanings. For instance, ÐÝ (rest) consists of ÈË (person) and Ä¾, which means a person is leaning against a tree: i.e., he/she is taking a rest. Ã隆脗 (bright) is combined with two elements: ÈÕ and ÔÂ; ÁÖ (wood) and É (forest) consist of two and three Ä¾s respectively to indicate many trees; ²É (pick) is composed of 隆脕¦ (originally, hand) and Ä¾ to mean picking fruit on a tree with hands. Ideatives are compound characters. Pictographs, indicatives and ideatives do not have components indicating sound and they all belong to characters that indicate meanings.
Harmonics are characters that consist of one component indicating pronunciation and the other indicating meaning. This method of word formation breaks away from the creation of words that just indicate meaning, making the formation of characters much easier. More than 90 percent of Chinese characters are formed this way.