Sunday, 31 December 2006

More about Phags-pa Seal Script

As I mentioned recently, the rhyming dictionary Menggu Ziyun 蒙古字韻 provides a list of seal script forms of Phags-pa letters. As this is the only source of information about Phags-pa seal script letters other than actual Yuan dynasty seals it is obviously a very important resource. However, the table of letters is quite confusing, and so this is my attempt to make some sense of it all.

Source : Exact facsimile transcription of Menggu Ziyun in Luo Changpei 羅常培 and Cai Meibiao 蔡美彪, Basibazi yu Yuandai Hanyu 八思巴字與元代漢語 (Beijing: Kexue Chubanshe, 1959) -- for those interested a revised edition of this important work was published in 2004.

The first problem with this table is the order of the letters in it. It is clear that the table is written in vertical columns running from left to right, and that for each Phags-pa letter the normal book form is given followed by one or more seal script forms (if the seal script form differs from the book form), but there appears to be no rhyme or reason to the order, which goes GA , BA , ZA , KHA , PHA , JA , etc. It is only when you look on the preceding page at the table of initial letters that entries in Menggu Ziyun are ordered by within each rhyme category that it is possible to understand the ordering.

The table of initials is ordered according to the traditional "thirty-six initials", laid out horizontally in three rows starting from GA , KHA , KA , NGA at the left of the top row and ending with LA , ZHA at the right of the bottom row, and with vowels I, U, E, O, EE and semivowels W and Y in a vertical column on the far right. However, the person who wrote the table of seal script form letters has misunderstood the table of initials as reading in columns running from left to right, with the result that the table of seal script letters is completely misordered as GA (first letter in top row), BA (first letter in middle row), ZA (first letter in bottom row), KHA (second letter in top row), PHA (second letter in middle row), JA (second letter in bottom row), etc.

The table below rearranges the original table of letters, with each group of letter forms on a separate row. Note that the ordinary Phags-pa letters are displayed with the "BabelStone Phags-pa Book" font and the seal script letters with the "BabelStone Phags-pa Seal" font, which you must install to see anything. The "BabelStone Phags-pa Seal" font contains all the seal script forms given in Menggu Ziyun, but some obviously misformed glyphs (e.g. the unjoined stroke on the third seal script form of the letter BA) have been silently corrected. The column labelled "Position" is the sequential position of the letters in the original table, counting from "1" in the top left column in vertical columns from left to right. The column labelled "Number" is the number of the letter in the list of thirty-six initials (see Table 2), which would be the expected ordering of the letters if they were not inadvertently misordered.

Position Number Letter Book Form Seal Script Forms Notes
1-4 1 GA     
5-8 13 BA    The book form is closer to the letter PHA.
9-10 25 ZA  
11-12 2 KHA  
13-14 14 PHA The book form looks more like the letter BA.
15-16 26 JA  
17-18 3 KA The book form is written oddly.
19-20 15 PA  
21-22 27 CHA  
23-24 4 NGA  
25-26 16 MA The book form is missing the final stroke.
27-28 28 CA  
29 5 DA   No seal script form of the letter is given, and the form of the letter DA in extant seals is indeed the same as the book form ().
30-31 17 FA1  
32-33 29 SHA1  
34-35 6 THA  
36-37 18 FA2 The book form does not show the extra kink that the second form of FA has in the Table of Initials.
38-39 30 SHA2  
40-42 7 TA    
43-44 19 FA3  
45-46 31 HA1  
47-50 8 NA     
51-52 20 WA  
53-54 32 XA  
55-56 32a HA2  
57 9 JA   No seal script form of this letter is given. Any seal script form would be expected to be the same as for Initial 36.
58-59 21 DZA  
60-61 33 -A  
62-64 33a YA1   The book form is wrongly written as the second YA letterform [U+A86D], but the first YA letterform [U+A857] would be expected here.
65-66 10 CHA  
67-68 22 TSHA  
69-72 34 'A     
[73-76] 34a YA2   This letter is missing from the original table.
[77-78] 11 CA   This letter is missing from the original table.
[79-80] 23 TSA   This letter is missing from the original table.
81-83 35 LA    
84-85 12 NYA  
86-88 24 SA    
89-91 36 ZHA    
92-93   I  
94-95   U  
96-97   E As far as I can tell the seal script form is not normally written like this, but as or .
98-100   O   The two seal script forms are the isolate and initial forms of the letter.
101   EE   The book form is misformed, and no special seal script form is given. In extant seals the letters EE and Subjoined Ya are virtually identical.
102   Subjoined Wa   No special seal script form is given. In extant seals it is written as .
103   Subjoined Ya   The book form is misformed, and no special seal script form is given. In extant seals it is written as .
104   QA ?   It is not clear what this letter is. I am guessing it is a misformed letter QA, used for Mongolian but not Chinese, and so not in the Table of Initials in Menggu Ziyun. No seal script form is given, but it would be expected that the seal script form of the letter QA was a mirror form of the letter QA, i.e. .
105-106   GGA ? The letter GGA is not used for Chinese (or Mongolian or Uighur), and so is not in the Table of Initials in Menggu Ziyun.

As I may have mentioned before, there is only one extant copy of Menggu Ziyun, and that is an 18th century manuscript copy (itself probably a copy of a copy of a 14th century printed edition), and it has many corruptions and misformed letters. It is therefore not surprising that many of the letters, both book form and seal script form, in the table of seal script letters are misformed. In most cases this does not matter too much as the correct form can be deduced from context, but the table shows one example of textual corruption that cannot be repaired. That is, there appears to be a column of eight letters missing (between what are the 9th and 10th columns from the left in the extant manuscript), which would have given the seal script forms for the letters YA (2nd form) , CA and TSA . In the table above the positional numbering has been adjusted to take into account this missing column (positions 73-80).

One interesting feature of the table that needs to be mentioned is that it gives different seal script forms for letters that occur more than once in the Table of Initials :

No. Letter Book Form Seal Script Form
10 CHA
27 CHA
17 FA1
18 FA2
19 FA3
31 HA1
32a HA2
29 SHA1
30 SHA2

In the case of the letters YA, SHA, HA and FA, this distinction is also shown in the book forms of the letters in Menggu Ziyun, and these variant forms are represented in the encoding (U+A85A vs U+A86E, etc.), although only two forms of the letter FA are encoded, and the table of seal script forms has distinct seal script forms for each of the three FA initials (17, 18 and 19). In the case of the two CHA initials (10 and 27), the book forms of the letters are not distinguished in Menggu Ziyun, and I suspect that the assignment of different seal script forms to the two CHA initials was an arbitrary decision by the author of the table, and probably does not reflect actual practice in Phags-pa seals. Indeed, I am quite doubtful that any of the seal script distinctions between letters that occur multiple times in the table of seal script forms are reflected in extant seals; but further research will be required to confirm or deny this.

Saturday, 30 December 2006

Christmas Presents

Except for that I have been hiccupping continuously since Boxing Day, this year has been a good Christmas for me, with two marvellous additions to my library from a couple of very generous friends of mine.

A Tangut Dictionary

From Michael Everson I received a copy of Wenhai Yanjiu 文海研究 (Zhongguo Shehui Kexue Chubanshe, 1983), which is a study of the mid 12th century monoglot Tangut Rhyming dictionary, "The Sea of Characters" 文海, by Shi Jinbo 史金波, Bai Bin 白濱 and Huang Zhenhua 黃振華. The book includes a facsimile of the original woodblock edition (found in 1908 at the site of the Tangut city of Kharakhoto 黑水城), together with a beautifully rewritten facsimile transcription, as well as a translation into Chinese, and a character index. This is a very timely present as Tangut is soon going to be high on the script encoding agenda, and is something that I want to focus my attention on in the new year.

A Collection of Yuan Dynasty Seals

And in the post this morning I received from Vladimir Belyaev, the proprietor of the excellent Zeno Oriental Coins Database, a copy of Yuandai Yinfeng 元代印風 (Chongqing Chubanshe, 1999), which is a collection of seal impressions from the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368).

My main interest is in the many Phags-pa seals in the book, including no less than thirty-eight official seals, which I am planning to study carefully in order to improve my Phags-pa Seal font. The following example is the seal of the Imperial Preceptor and Commissioner of Buddhist Affairs 通領釋教大元國師 ꡉꡟꡃ ꡙꡞꡃ ꡚꡞ ꡂꡨꡓ ꡈꡗ ꡝꡧꡦꡋ ꡂꡟꡠ ꡚꡜꡞ, a title that was first bestowed on the great Phags-pa Lama (the creator of the Phags-pa script), although this seal may belong to one of his successors.

In addition to the official seals, the book also includes dozens of "signature seals" 押印 with either a Phags-pa inscription or a combined Chinese and Phags-pa inscription. The following examples from one page of the book show signature seals with a Chinese family name in Chinese script (Li 李, Chu 褚, Xing 邢, Ma 馬, Zhu 朱, Zeng 曾, Qian 錢 and Feng 馮) followed by the word gi ꡂꡞ in Phags-pa script, representing Chinese ji 記 "mark". The seal in the centre is different from the others, as it has a Chinese family name, Shi 石 followed by the Phags-pa spelling of the name, shi ꡚꡞ.

Friday, 29 December 2006

Phags-pa Fonts 3 : BabelStone Phags-pa Seal

The final Phags-pa font that I am releasing for the time being is BabelStone Phags-pa Seal, which is a "seal script" style font that can be downloaded from here. This has been a very difficult font to implement, and I am not terribly satisfied with the results, but rather than labouring on it any further I will release it now and maybe work some more on it at some future date.

As with other scripts of this period that were constructed for writing non-Chinese languages (e.g. Tangut and Khitan), Phags-pa has a special pseudo-archaic "seal script" style of lettering that imitates the often convoluted forms of Chinese characters that are used on Chinese seals. This form of Phags-pa lettering is almost exclusively restricted to use on seals (mostly official seals from the Yuan dynasty), although it is also used for the title (碑額) on some Yuan dynasty monumental inscriptions.

The biggest problem with trying to implement a seal script style of font (whether for Chinese, Tangut, Khitan or Phags-pa) is that there is a wide range of stylistic variation in glyph shapes for seal script characters as the exact shape or any particular character may depend upon the space available to it in the fixed area of the seal surface. To fill in space the seal engraver may add in extra folds to a character, or simplify the form of a character when there is less room available; in Phags-pa seals this is particularly evident in the letters for the vowels "i" and "u" which expand and contract in complexity according to the constraints of space.

Thus my Phags-pa seal script font has multiple variants of most characters, with some characters having up to twelve glyph variants. The variants selected for inclusion in the font are based on examples of Yuan dynasty seals (and seal impressions) that I have come across as well as the list of seal script forms of Phags-pa letters given in Menggu Ziyun 蒙古字韻 (which I will discuss further another day). It has been difficult to decide which glyph form to use as the basic glyph of each character in the CMAP, but in the end I decided to go for the more ornate glyph forms even when simpler glyphs may be more commonly encountered for a particular character.

The next question was how to make the alternate glyph forms of each character available to the user. I have tried to solve this in two ways. Firstly I have implemented the Stylistic Alternates <salt> feature in the OpenType tables, but as I don't know of any application that actually allows users to select glyph alternates by means of this feature I have double-mapped all the Phags-pa glyphs in the font to the PUA at U+F000 through U+F36F so that users can construct any sequence of glyph forms they like (with judicious use of the joiner characters at U+F360 through U+F36F). Any feedback from users on accessing the stylistic alternates feature would be most welcome (I'm far from certain that this is the correct OpenType feature to use or that I and/or VOLT have implemented it correctly).

The following is an example of a Yuan dynasty seal (沿海巡防千戶之印), and below it the corresponding text input as Phags-pa codepoints (using the default glyphs); and below that the same text input as PUA characters selecting the closest glyph form available in the font.

Sunday, 24 December 2006

Phags-pa Fonts 2 : BabelStone Phags-pa Tibetan

I have now released two Tibetan style Phags-pa fonts, unimaginatively named "BabelStone Phags-pa Tibetan A" and "BabelStone Phags-pa Tibetan B", which may be downloaded from here.

BabelStone Phags-pa Tibetan A

BabelStone Phags-pa Tibetan B

These fonts are both modelled on Phags-pa script primers such as the example below (with Lantsa, Tibetan, Mongolian, Chinese and Cyrillic) obtained by a Buriat Cossack officer, Tsokto Garmeyevich Badmazhapov, in 1903. The only difference between the two fonts is that the letters THA [U+A849], MA [U+A84F], TSHA [U+A851], DZA [U+A852], WA [U+A853], ZHA [U+A854], SHA [U+A85A] and Subjoined RA [U+A871] have slightly different letterforms.

Source : Nicholas Poppe, The Mongolian Monuments in ḤP'AGS-PA Script (Otto Harrassowitz, 1957) page 16.

The Tibetan style of Phags-pa script, known in Tibetan as hor-yig gsar-pa ཧོར་ཡིག་གསར་པ་ "New Mongolian letters" is a distinctive style of the Phags-pa script that is used to a limited extent in Tibet and Mongolia as a decorative script for engraving seals, inscribing book titles on the covers of traditional pecha books, and for architectural inscriptions such as those found on temple columns and doorways. However, the script is not used for writing texts.

The Tibetan style of Phags-pa script is squarer and more compact than the original script used during the Yuan dynasty, but like its predecessor it is still written in vertical columns running from left to right. Some consider this to be a separate script, distinct from the Yuan dynasty Phags-pa script, but I do not subscribe to this point of view as the only significant difference between modern Tibetan Phags-pa script and Yuan dynasty Phags-pa script is the stylization of the letterforms. In fact, the same compact, square letterforms can already be seen in some Yuan dynasty inscriptions, such as this title inscription (碑額) on a monument dated 1289, where some letters are identical to Tibetan style Phags-pa letters, whilst other letters use more typical seal script forms.


And for comparison, here is the same inscription as written in typical Tibetan style Phags-pa letters (BabelStone Phags-pa B). Notice in particular how the letters A and NA in the word 'wen (院) halfway down the second column are identical to the forms used in the 1289 inscription.

It is clear from this example that the Tibetan style of Phags-pa evolved from the seal script form of Phags-pa that was often used for the title inscriptions of monuments in the Yuan dynasty. However, it was not until two hundred years after the fall of the Yuan dynasty that the Tibetan style of Phags-pa achieved its modern form. The earliest attested use of this style of Phags-pa script is on a golden seal that is recorded to have been given to the third Dalai Lama by Altan Khan (1507-1582) in 1578; although the original seal is now lost or destroyed, examples of imprints from seals with the same Phags-pa text are known from documents dating from 1648 and later. In 1982 a stone pillar was unearthed near Hohhot that has an inscription in Sanskrit and Mongolian, with a Phags-pa inscription on either side that records that the pillar was errected in 1580 by a grandson of Altan Khan. The style of lettering in this Phags-pa inscription is very similar to the Tibetan style Phags-pa script found in Tibetan seals and seal imprints. The close date of this stone pillar to the date of the seal of the third Dalai Lama suggests that the Tibetan style of the Phags-pa script achieved its distinctive form in Mongolia during the reign of Altan Khan (1543-1582).

Finally, here are a couple of examples of contemporary Tibetan Phags-pa calligraphy, with thanks to Chris Fynn for the scans.

Tibetan Calligraphy by Kun-dga' Rin-chen ཀུན་དགའ་རིན་ཆེན

Source : Bod-kyi Yi-ge'i gZugs Ris བོད་ཀྱི་ཡི་གེའི་གཟུགས་རིས (Lhasa: Tibet People's Publishing House, 1999) page 44.

Tibetan Calligraphy by Tshe-tan Zhabs-drung ཚེ་ཏན་ཞབས་དྲུང

Source : Gangs-can mKhas-pa'i Phyag-bris sNa-tshogs Phyogs-bsdus Rin-chen Phreng-ba གངས་ཅན་མཁས་པའི་ཕྱག་བྲིས་སྣ་ཚོགས་ཕྱོགས་བསྡུས་རིན་ཆེན་ཕྲེང་བ (Lanzhou: Gansu People's Publishing House, 1990) p.170.

Saturday, 23 December 2006

Phags-pa Alternate Letters YA, SHA, HA and FA

After having discussed the basics of Phags-pa Shaping Behaviour, I thought it would be a good idea to discuss one final piece of essential Phags-pa knowledge before moving on to other things in the new year. That is, the four "alternate" letters for YA, SHA, HA and FA used in one particular Chinese Phags-pa text :


The Yuan dynasty rhyming dictionary Menggu Ziyun 蒙古字韻 is one of the most important Phags-pa texts, as it gives the pronunciation in Phags-pa script for over 9,000 Chinese characters. However, the author (or editor of the only extant 1308 edition) attempts the impossible task of reconciling the pronunciation of the proto-Mandarin Chinese spoken at the time with the traditional phonetic classification of Chinese into thirty-six initials that had been developed during the Tang and Song dynasties several hundered years earlier.

As there was no longer a one-to-one correspondence between the historic thirty-six initials and the contemporary pronunciation, Menggu Ziyun uses variant forms of some letters to represent the contemporary Yuan dynasty pronunciation and at the same time maintain the historic phonetic distinctions of the traditional "thirty-six letters". The situation is rather complicated, and I won't go into details here (read here if you are interersted), but I'll summarise the relationship between the historic thirty-six initials and Phags-pa letters in the table below.

Historic Initial Phags-pa Letter
Number Example
Letter Unicode
1 k U+A842 GA g
2 U+A841 KHA
3 g U+A840 KA k
4 ŋ U+A843 NGA ŋ
5 t U+A84A DA d
6 U+A849 THA
7 d U+A848 TA t
8 n U+A84B NA n
9 ȶ U+A846 JA
10 ȶʼ U+A845 CHA tɕʼ
11 ȡ U+A844 CA
12 ȵ U+A847 NYA ȵ
13 p U+A84E BA b
14 U+A84D PHA
15 b U+A84C PA p
16 m U+A84F MA m
17 f U+A864 FA f
18 U+A870 FA f
19 v U+A864 FA f
20 ɱ U+A853 WA v
21 ts U+A852 DZA dz
22 tsʼ U+A851 TSHA tsʼ
23 dz U+A850 TSA ts
24 s U+A85B SA s
25 z U+A855 ZA z
26 U+A846 JA
27 穿 tɕʼ U+A845 CHA tɕʼ
28 U+A844 CA
29 ɕ U+A86E SHA ɕ
30 ʑ U+A85A SHA ɕ
31 x U+A85C HA h
32 ɣ
U+A863 XA
U+A856 -A
U+A857 YA
34 j
U+A85D 'A

35 l U+A859 LA l
36 ȵʑ U+A854 ZHA ʑ


  1. The phonetic values of Initials 9-11 had converged with Initials 25-27 by the Yuan dynasty, and are not distinguished in MGZY
  2. The phonetic values of Initials 17-19 had converged by the Yuan dynasty, and are distinguished in MGZY by two forms of the letter FA. It may be that the original text of MGZY used three forms of the letter FA, but textual corruption in the only extant version of the book (an 18th century manuscript copy of a copy of ... the original 1308 printed edition) has obliterated the distinction; or it may be that because all three initials never occur with the same final, there is never any need to distinguish between more than one particular pair of the three historic initials for any given syllable, so two forms of the letter FA are sufficient.
  3. The phonetic values of Initial 29 and Initial 30 had converged by the Yuan dynasty, and are distinguished in MGZY by two forms of the letter SHA.
  4. The phonetic values of Initial 31 and Initial 32 had partially converged by the Yuan dynasty, so that the Phags-pa letter HA is used for Initial 31, and also for Initial 32 before the semi-vowel /j/ and front vowels excluding /i/, but the Phags-pa letter XA is used for Initial 32 before back vowels and /i/ (i.e. occurences of HA and XA are mutually exclusive).
  5. The situation for Initial 33 and Initial 34 is complicated and not entirely clear. Both Phags-pa letter -A ("Small A") and the normal form of Phags-pa letter YA are used for Initial 33 (historic null initial); whereas as both Phags-pa letter 'A (the null consonant) and a variant form of Phags-pa letter YA with a trumpeted bowl are used for Initial 34 (historic palatal initial).

Page from Menggu Ziyun

  • DZIM ꡒꡞꡏ 梫 etc. (historic *tsĭěm)
  • TSHIM ꡑꡞꡏ 侵 etc. (historic *tsʼĭěm)
  • SIM ꡛꡞꡏ 心 etc. (historic *sĭěm)
  • ZIM ꡕꡞꡏ 尋 etc. (historic *zĭěm)
  • SHIM1 ꡮꡞꡏ 深 etc. (historic *ɕĭěm)
  • SHIM2 ꡚꡞꡏ 諶 etc. (historic *ʑĭěm)
  • -IM ꡖꡞꡏ 音 etc. (historic *ĭěm)
  • YIM1 ꡗꡞꡏ 愔 etc. (historic *ĭěm)
  • YIM2 ꡭꡞꡏ 淫 etc. (historic *jĭěm)
  • LIM ꡙꡞꡏ 林 etc. (historic *lĭěm)

In summary, MGZY uses two different forms of each of the letters YA, SHA, HA and FA to represent historic phonetic differences for some syllables that were phonetically identical in Yuan dynasty proto-Mandarin. These glyph differences are not normally seen in other Yuan dynasty Chinese texts and inscriptions in the Phags-pa script; that is to say, in most extant Chinese Phags-pa texts other than MGZY only a single form of the letters YA, SHA, HA and FA are found, regardless of the historic phonetic value of the word that it occurs in. Thus, the use of the four characters U+A86D , U+A86E , U+A86F and U+A870 should normally be restricted to contexts involving MGZY.

And for those of you interested in historical Chinese phonetics, one of my projects for the spring is to produce an electronic version of the complete text of Menggu Ziyun.

Phags-pa Shaping Behaviour

Now that I have released my first Phags-pa font, I thought it would be useful to discuss Phags-pa shaping behaviour, as very few people are familiar with the script, and it is quite complex. Further information on the Phags-pa script, its encoding model and shaping behaviour can be found in Section 10.3 of The Unicode Standard version 5.0.

First of all, here is a table of the encoded Phags-pa characters (note that you need to have BabelStone Phags-pa Book installed to see the Phags-pa characters; also note that with IE the characters should be oriented vertically, but with other browsers they may not be).

Table of Encoded Phags-pa Characters

Code Point Character Character Name Usage

1. Ligation

Phags-pa characters form syllable units in which the letters comprising a syllable ligate together, and each syllable unit is separated from each other by white space. Letters normally ligate along a stem running down the right side, but mirrored letters used for Sanskrit ligate along the left side, and the vowel o joins down a central stem. Examples of words in different languages are given below.


mung gu wun ꡏꡟꡃ ꡂꡟ ꡓꡟꡋ

mengguwen 蒙古文 "Mongolian"


ta layi ꡈ ꡙꡗꡞ

dalai ᠳᠠᠯᠠᠢ "ocean"

Note that layi is considered a single syllable as ayi is used to represent a final /ai/ diphthong in Mongolian and Sanskrit.


pra tish tthi te ꡌꡱ ꡈꡞꡚ ꡪꡞ ꡈꡠ



sangs rgyas ꡛꡃꡛ ꡲꡂꡨꡛ

sangs-rgyas "Buddha"


quth luq ꡢꡟꡉ ꡙꡟꡢ

qutlugh "good fortune"

2. Vowel Forms

The four vowels I, U, E and O have distinct positional forms, as shown in the table below.

3. Mirrored Letters

A mirrored series of the letters TA, THA, DA and NA are used in the Sanskrit Phags-pa inscriptions at Juyongguan 居庸關. These letters, which represent the Sanskrit retroflex letters ṭa, ṭha, ḍa and ṇa, are not found in any other extant Phags-pa text or inscription. For example, on the 1348 Dunhuang inscription Sanskrit maṇi is represented in Phags-pa script as MA NI ꡏ ꡋꡞ with no mirroring. Note that a mirrored letter SHA representing Sanskrit ṣha does not occur, and so the kṣh combination is written with the Phags-pa letters KA followed by unmirrored SHA in the Juyongguan inscriptions.

These four mirrored letters affect the shape of the following letter as follows :

  • After the letters TTA, TTHA, DDA or NNA (or the mirrored form of the letters Subjoined YA and HA) a following letter I, U or E is mirrored, although in some places in the Juyongguan inscriptions the letter I is not mirrored after the letter TTHA.
  • After the letter NNA a following letter Subjoined YA is mirrored.
  • After the letter DDA a following letter HA is mirrored.
  • After the letters TTA or TTHA a following letter Small A may be mirrored, but in most instances in the Juyongguan inscriptions the Small A is not mirrored, presumably because a mirrored Small A is identical to the letter SHA.

When mirrored letters are joined together they ligate along a lefthand stem rather than the righhand stem as is normally the case. If the letter TTHA is followed by an unmirrored Small A the ligature may be on the right or the left side.

As the mirrored forms of the letters I, U, E, Small A, HA and Subjoined YA are contextual glyph variants they are not encoded as separate characters, but are automatically selected by the rendering system as appropriate. In practical terms this means that an OpenType Phags-pa font will have normal and mirrored forms of theses characters and apply a substitution rule to replace the normal form with the mirrored form after a mirrored form glyph. These rules are applied automatically by the rendering system so that the normal or mirrored form, as appropriate for the particular context, is displayed automatically without any need for user intervention.

My Phags-pa fonts follow the agreed shaping behaviour for Phags-pa (see section 10.3 of The Unicode Standard version 5.0), which is to mirror the glyph for the letters Small A [U+A856], HA [U+A85C], I [U+A85E], U [U+A85F], E [U+A860] and Subjoined YA [U+A868] after the letters TTA [U+A869], TTHA [U+A86A], DDA [U+A86B] or NNA [U+A86C] or after another mirrored glyph.

However, there are times when the user may wish to override the default mirroring behaviour, for example in order to display mirrored glyph forms in isolation or in order to represent those examples of unmirrored I after the letter TTHA or unmirrored Small A after the letters TTA and TTHA that occur in the Juyongguan inscriptions. This is acheived by means of variation selectors. For Phags-pa VS1 [U+FE00] is used to produce the opposite form of a reversing letter that would be expected from its context. This is an important distinction to note, as it differs from the behaviour of mathematical standardized variants, where a particular variation sequence always produces the same glyph. Thus for Phags-pa the sequence U, VS1 <U+A85F U+FE00> will produce an unmirrored letter U glyph if it occurs after one of the letters TTA, TTHA, DDA or NNA or after a mirrored glyphform of the letters I, U, E, Small A, HA or Subjoined YA, but will produce a mirrored letter U if the sequence occurs after any other Phags-pa letter or in isolation.

Some examples of Sanskrit words that have mirrored and unmirrored glyphs are shown below.

Mirrored I after TTHA, NNA

dhish tthi te ꡊꡜꡞꡚ ꡪꡞ ꡈꡠ [dhiṣṭhite]

ush nni ꡟꡚ ꡬꡞ [uṣṇīṣa]

Unmirrored I after TTHA

dhish tthi te ꡊꡜꡞꡚ ꡪꡞ︀ ꡈꡠ [dhiṣṭhite]

pra tish tthi te ꡌꡱ ꡈꡞꡚ ꡪꡞ︀ ꡈꡠ [pratiṣṭhite]

Mirrored U after NNA

kshu nnu ꡀꡚꡟ ꡬꡟ [kṣuṇu]

Mirrored E after TTHA, DDA, NNA

nish tthe ꡋꡞꡚ ꡪꡠ [niṣṭhe]

dann dde ꡊꡬ ꡫꡠ [daṇḍaya]

ha ra nne ꡜ ꡘ ꡬꡠ [haraṇe]

Mirrored HA after DDA

'a- kad ddha ya ꡝꡖ ꡀꡊ ꡫꡜ ꡗ [ākaḍḍhaya]

Mirrored Subjoined YA after NNA

pu nnya ꡌꡟ ꡬꡨ [puṇya]

Mirrored Small A after TTHA

dhish ttha- na ꡊꡜꡞꡚ ꡪꡖ ꡋ [dhiṣṭhana]

Unmirrored Small A after TTA, TTHA

sha tta- pa ra mi ta ꡚ ꡩꡖ︀ ꡌ ꡘ ꡏꡞ ꡈ [ṣaṭ pāramitā]

dhish ttha- na ꡊꡜꡞꡚ ꡪꡖ︀ ꡋ [dhiṣṭhana]

Thursday, 21 December 2006

Phags-pa Fonts 1 : BabelStone Phags-pa Book

Part of the 1345 Phags-pa Sanskrit inscription at Juyongguan

To celebrate the recent encoding of the Phags-pa script in Unicode 5.0 I am releasing some free OpenType Unicode Phags-pa fonts that fully implement Phags-pa shaping behaviour (for which see Section 10.3 of The Unicode Standard version 5.0). These fonts work correctly under Windows XP and later, although I have had to set the script tag in the OT tables to <latn> rather than <phag> in order to trick Uniscribe into applying the font's OpenType features [insert long and bitter anti-Uniscribe rant here]. I'm afraid that I have no idea whether these fonts will work on platforms other than Windows.

The first font that I am releasing is BabelStone Phags-pa Book, which is a general purpose Phags-pa font which emulates the simple lines of Phags-pa letters used in Yuan dynasty printed Phags-pa texts such as Menggu Ziyun 蒙古字韵 and Baijiaxing Mengguwen 百家姓蒙古文. The font may be downloaded from here.

To demonstrate that my Phags-pa fonts do work in principle on Windows XP and later, here is a rotated screenshot of Notepad running under Windows XP (Uniscribe version 1.0420.2600.2180), showing the text of the Phags-pa inscription pictured at the top of this page rendered with "BabelStone Phags-pa Book" at 20 points (this sample of text shows features such as glyph ligation, positional vowel forms, contextual mirroring and overriding of contextual mirroring using standardized variants) :

However, not all applications will let you display correctly shaping Phags-pa text. For example I have been totally unable to get Microsoft Word 2003 or 2007 to apply any of my Phags-ps fonts to selected Phags-pa text, and whatever I try all I get are little square boxes [not true -- see Addendum 2 below]. I guess that this is expected behaviour for Word, which many of us who work with complex scripts consider to be the epitome of evil. copes slightly better, in that it lets you apply a Phags-pa font, but it unfortunately does not apply any of the font's OpenType features, so that Phags-pa text is rendered as a sequence of non-shaping glyphs. The same problem is seen with Internet Explorer 6 and 7, which will use my Phags-pa fonts if applied in a stylesheet, but will not apply any of the OpenType features. The screenshot below shows the above Notepad document as displayed in IE7 on Windows XP. Note that there is no shaping behaviour (no glyph ligation, no positional vowel forms, no contextual mirroring) [also not entirely true -- see Addendum 1 below] :

In contrast, Mozilla Firefox 2.0 does support the OpenType features in my Phags-pa fonts (not that difficult ... all it has to do is use the Uniscribe API), and so renders the Phags-pa document correctly [also not entirely true -- see Addendum 3 below] :

Finally, here is the actual Phags-pa text that I have been testing with, so you can see how your system copes with it (you must first install BabelStone Phags-pa Book). The text is laid out horizontally, with line 1 at the bottom, and so you should read it either by twisting your head anticlockwise 90 degrees or by turning your monitor clockwise 90 degrees (IE does support vertical layout, but other browsers, such as Firefox, do not, so for maximum browser compatibility I have used horizontal layout here).

Sample of Phags-pa Sanskrit Text

[Part of the Uṣṇīṣavijaya-dhāraṇī 佛頂尊勝陀羅尼經]

ꡏꡟ ꡋꡞ ꡏꡟ ꡋꡞ ᠂ ꡏ ꡜꡖ ꡏꡟ ꡋꡞ ᠂ ꡓꡞ ꡏꡟ ᠁

ꡈꡞ ꡋꡞ ꡓꡘ ꡈ ꡗ ᠃ ꡏ ꡏ ꡝ ꡗꡟꡘ ꡓꡞ ꡚꡟꡊ ᠁

ꡜꡖ ꡏꡟ ꡊꡱꡠ ᠃ ꡎ ꡒꡱ ꡀꡖ ꡗ ᠃ ꡳꡛ ꡜ ᠁

ꡏꡞ ᠃ ꡌꡱ ꡈꡞꡚ ꡪꡞ︀ ꡈꡠ ᠃ ꡛꡘ ꡓ ꡈ ꡉꡖ ᠁

ꡉꡖ ꡂ ꡈ ᠃ ꡝ ꡓ ꡙꡡ ꡀꡞ ꡋꡞ ᠂ ꡚ ꡩꡖ︀ ꡌ ᠁

〔ꡛ〕ꡧ ꡎꡜꡖ ꡓ ᠃ ꡓꡞ ꡚꡟꡊ ꡊꡜꡠ ꡟꡚ ꡬꡞ ᠁

〔ꡝꡖ〕 ꡜ ꡘ ꡝꡖ ꡜ ꡘ ᠂ ꡏ ꡏ ꡝ ꡗꡟꡘ ꡛꡋ ꡊ ᠁

〔᠁〕 ꡈ ꡛꡟ ꡂ ꡈ ᠃ ꡓ ꡘ ꡓ ꡐ ꡋ ᠁

〔ꡎ〕ꡜꡖ ꡛ ꡛꡎꡖ ꡘ ꡬ ꡂ ꡈꡞ ꡂ ꡂ ᠁

〔᠁ꡗ〕 ꡉꡖ ꡳꡡ ꡳꡎꡜꡖꡱꡟ ꡳꡎꡜꡖꡱꡟ ꡳꡎꡜ ᠁

〔ꡳꡡ〕 ꡳꡎꡜꡖꡱꡟ ꡛꡧꡖ ꡜꡖ ᠅ ꡳꡡ ꡋ ꡏꡡ ꡎꡜ ꡂ ꡓ ᠁

And if all this has whetted your appetite for writing Phags-pa yourself, I have created a Phags-pa keyboard layout that can be used on Windows 2000 and later, which can be downloaded from here.

In the next installment I will discuss Phags-pa shaping behaviour in some more detail, and there will be some more Phags-pa fonts available for download in a few days time, so keep watching this space.

Addendum 1 [2006-12-22]

Sharp-eyed readers will have noticed, as I only did this morning, that my statement that Internet Explorer does not apply the OpenType features of my Phags-pa font is not entirely true. If you look carefully at the screenshot of Internet Explorer you will notice that there are in fact two short sections of correctly shaping Phags-pa text -- ꡩꡖ︀ on line 7 and ꡌꡱ ꡈꡞꡚ ꡪꡞ︀ on line 8. At first glance these islands of shaping in a sea of unshaping would seem to be inexplicable, but when you look at the underlying character codes (<A869 A856 FE00> and <A84C A871 0020 A848 A85E A85A 0020 A86A A85E FE00> respectively) the reason becomes clear(ish) -- these sections of text both contain variation selectors (VS-1, which reverses the default mirroring behaviour of the preceding character), so evidently Internet Explorer is applying the font's OpenType features when and only when variation selectors are involved. My guess is that as InternetExplorer does not recognise the Phags-pa script, it treats Phags-pa (and other Unicode 5.0) characters as a non-complex script and outputs the characters directly without the help of Uniscribe, but when it encounters a variation selector, then it decides it does need to treat the run which includes the variation selector as a complex script, and outputs the run using Uniscribe.

Addendum 2 [2006-12-23]

I've just been informed that Word 2003 does let you use BabelStone Phags-pa Book for Phags-pa text, and when I just retested with Word 2007 I also found that I had no problems using my fonts, although Word still does not apply the OpenType shaping unless variation selectors are involved (i.e. it has the same behaviour as Internet Explorer). I can't explain why I had problems with Word 2003 and 2007 on two different machines a few days ago, but no problems today -- I can only suppose it may have been some difference between the beta font I was testing with and the released font ... I think I had better just blame user error. Anyway, please do keep me informed of any success or failure you might have in using the font with different applications.

Addendum 3 [2008-11-13]

I originally stated that Firefox supports OpenType features in my Phags-pa font. I have just realized that this is not entirely true. The sample Phags-pa text only renders correctly in Firefox because each line includes at least one punctuation mark from the Mongolian block, and so the text is being passed through the Mongolian text rendering system. Unfortunately, if you remove all the Mongolian punctuation marks the Phags-pa text no longer shows any joining or shaping behaviour :-(

As expected, Google Chrome does not render Phags-pa text correctly, and nor does IE8, so at present there is no browser that I am aware of that does unconditionally apply joining and shaping behaviour to Phags-pa text.

Saturday, 25 November 2006

Christian Tombstones of Zayton

Of the City and Great Haven of Zayton

Now when you quit Fuju [Fuzhou] and cross the River, you travel for five days south-east through a fine country, meeting with a constant succession of flourishing cities, towns, and villages, rich in every product. You travel by mountains and valleys and plains, and in some places by great forests in which are many of the trees which give Camphor. There is plenty of game on the road, both of bird and beast. The people are all traders and craftsmen, subjects of the Great Kaan, and under the government of Fuju. When you have accomplished those five days' journey you arrive at the very great and noble city of ZAYTON, which is also subject to Fuju.

At this city you must know is the Haven of Zayton, frequented by all the ships of India, which bring thither spicery and all other kinds of costly wares. It is the port also that is frequented by all the merchants of Manzi [southern China], for hither is imported the most astonishing quantity of goods and of precious stones and pearls, and from this they are distributed all over Manzi. And I assure you that for one shipload of pepper that goes to Alexandria or elsewhere, destined for Christendom, there come a hundred such, aye and more too, to this haven of Zayton; for it is one of the two greatest havens in the world for commerce.

Henry Yule and Henri Cordier (eds.), The Book of Ser Marco Polo, the Venetian, Concerning the Kingdoms and Marvels of the East (London: John Murray, 1903) Vol. II (Book II Chapter LXXXII).

Last year when I visited the ancient port city of Quanzhou 泉州 (Marco Polo's Zayton) on the East China coast (but now miles from the sea) I didn't yet have a blog, so for my slightly belated first anniversary blog post I thought I would discuss some of the pictures I took at the Quanzhou Museum of Maritime History (海外交通史博物館). The museum has a marvellous collection of stone monuments dating from the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368), with inscriptions in a wide range of scripts and languages, reflecting the cosmopolitan nature of the city in the 13th and 14th centuries, but I was particularly interested in its unique collection of Christian tombstones with inscriptions in the Phags-pa script.

Carving of Śiva from a Hindu temple

Tombstone of Bishop Andrew of Perugia

Christianity was first introduced into China from Central Asia during the early years of the Tang dynasty (618-907), as part of a widepread missionary movement by the Assyrian Church, the members of which are widely but inaccurately referred to as Nestorian Christians. Christianity in China was supressed in the mid ninth century, but underwent a revival under the Khitan and Mongol regimes from the 12th to the 14th centuries, and during the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) the "Nestorian" church had a strong presence amongst the Uighur population in the western fringes of China.

It was also during the Yuan dynasty that the Catholic church first reached China. A series of Franciscan missions had been sent out by the papacy to Persia, India and China from the year 1241, but the first mission to actually reach China was that of John of Montecorvino (1246-1328), who had set out in 1289, and arrived at the capital of the Mongol Empire, known to Europeans of the time as Cambaluc (literally "City of the Khan", which is modern Beijing) in 1294. He built two churches in the capital, and is reputed to have translated the New Testament and Psalms into Chinese, but these translations no longer exist.

In 1307 Pope Clement V sent seven Franciscan friars, each with the rank of bishop, to China in order to consecrate John as Archbishop of China. Only three of the seven, Gerard, Peregrine (Peregrinus de Castello) and Andrew of Perugia (Andreas Perusinus), survived the long journey, arriving in Cambaluc in 1308.

Although John had established a strong presence in the capital, there were no missionary outposts elsewhere in China until Friar Gerard was sent to Zayton (Quanzhou) as bishop of the city. It seems that Zayton was chosen as the only bishopric outside the capital as it already had a Christian presence there in the form of a church that had been founded by a "rich Armenian lady". This church was established as a cathedral, and Gerard became the first bishop of Zayton. The fact that the existing church was converted into the Catholic cathedral would suggest that it may have been a Catholic church, and that at least some of the existing Christians of Zayton may have been Catholics associated with maritime trade rather than all Nestorians from Central Asia, who the Franciscans regarded as heretics.

After Gerard's death in 1313, Friar Peregrine was installed as the second bishop of Zayton. In 1318, Friar Andrew, who had remained at the capital, also went to Zayton, and built a new church outside the city. Four years later, in 1322, when Bishop Peregrine died, Andrew became the third bishop of Zayton, and he remained in this post until his death in 1332. It was whilst Andrew was bishop that Friar Odoric visited China, in his account of which he has this to say about Zayton :

30. Concerning the noble city called Zayton ; and how the folk thereof regale their gods.

Departing from that district, and passing through many cities and towns, I came to a certain noble city which is called Zayton, where we friars minor have two houses ; and there I deposited the bones of our friars who suffered martyrdom for the faith of Jesus Christ.

In this city is great plenty of all things that are needful for human subsistence. For example you can get three pounds and eight ounces of sugar for less than half a groat. The city is twice as great as Bologna, and in it are many monasteries of devotees, idol worshippers every man of them. In one of those monasteries which I visited there were three thousand monks and eleven thousand idols. And one of those idols, which seemed to be smaller than the rest was as big as St. Christopher might be. I went thither at the hour fixed for feeding their idols, that I might witness it ; and the fashion thereof is this : All the dishes which they offer to be eaten are piping hot so that the smoke riseth up in the face of the idols, and this they consider to be the idols' refection. But all else they keep for themselves and gobble up. And after such fashion as this they reckon that they feed their gods well.

The place is one of the best in the world, and that as regards its provision for the body of man. Many other things indeed might be related of this place, but I will not write more about them at present.

Henry Yule (trans. and ed.), Cathay and the Way Thither; being a collection of Medieval Notices of China (London: The Hakluyt Society, MDCCCLXVI) Vol. I pp.381-383.

After Andrew's death in 1332 a Paris theologian called Nicholas, who had arrived in China with twenty-six friars and six lay brothers, succeeded to the bishopric, but there are no detailed accounts of the later years of the Zayton mission. Nevertheless, the church in Zayton was evidentally still going strong when John Marignolli visited the city in about 1347 :

There is Zayton also, a wondrous fine seaport and a city of incredible size, where our Minor Friars have three very fine churches, passing rich and elegant ; and they have a bath also and a fondaco [a factory, i.e. "a mercantile establishment and lodging house in a foreign country"] which serves as a depôt for all the merchants. They have also some fine bells of the best quality, two of which were made to my order, and set up with all due form in the very middle of the Saracen community. One of these we ordered to be called Johannina, and the other Antonina.

Henry Yule (trans. and ed.), Cathay and the Way Thither; being a collection of Medieval Notices of China (London: The Hakluyt Society, MDCCCLXVI) Vol.II pp.115-116.

One of the last bishops of Zayton may have been a certain Friar James of Florence, who was martyred in the "Empire of the Medes" (i.e. the Empire of Chaghatai) in 1362, and is recorded to have been "Archbishop of Zaiton".

After the fall of the Mongol empire in 1368, the Catholic missions in China disappeared, and there was no further Catholic presence in China until the Dominican friar Gaspar da Cruz arrived in China in 1555.

Of the Franciscan bishops of Zayton, we know most about Andrew of Perugia (Andreas Perusinus), who was the third bishop from 1322 to 1332. This is his own account of the Zayton mission, that he wrote in a letter dated 1326 :

Friar Andrew of Perugia, of the Order of Minor Friars, by Divine permission called to be Bishop, to the reverend father the Friar Warden of the Convent of Perugia, health and peace in the Lord for ever !

.... On account of the immense distance by land and sea interposed between us, I can scarcely hope that a letter from me to you can come to hand. .... You have heard then how along with Friar Peregrine, my brother bishop of blessed memory, and the sole companion of my pilgrimage, through much fatigue and sickness and want, through sundry grievous sufferings and perils by land and sea, plundered even of our habits and tunics, we got at last by God's grace to the city of Cambaliech [modern Beijing], which is the seat of the Emperor the Great Chan, in the year of our Lord's incarnation 1308, as well as I can reckon.

There, after the Archbishop [John of Montecorvino] was consecrated, according to the orders given us by the Apostolic See [Pope Clement V], we continued to abide for nearly five years ; during which time we obtained an Alafa from the emperor for our food and clothing. An alafa is an allowance for expenses which the emperor grants to the envoys of princes, to orators, warriors, different kinds of artists, jongleurs, paupers, and all sorts of people of all sorts of conditions. And the sum total of these allowances surpasses the revenue and expenditure of several of the kings of the Latin countries.

As to the wealth, splendour, and glory of this great emperor, the vastness of his dominion, the multitudes of people subject to him, the number and greatness of his cities, and the constitution of the empire, within which no man dares to draw a sword against his neighbour, I will say nothing, because it would be a long matter to write, and would seem incredible to those who heard it. Even I who am here in the country do hear things averred of it that I can scarcely believe. ...

There is a great city on the shores of the Ocean Sea, which is called in the Persian tongue Zayton [properly known as Quanzhou in Chinese]; and in this city a rich Armenian lady did build a large and fine enough church, which was erected into a cathedral by the Archbishop himself of his own free-will. The lady assigned it, with a competent endowment which she provided during her life and secured by will at her death, to Friar Gerard the Bishop, and the friars who were with him, and he became accordingly the first occupant of the cathedral.

After he was dead however and buried therein, the Archbishop wished to make me his successor in the church. But as I did not consent to accept the position he bestowed it upon Friar and Bishop Peregrine before mentioned. The latter, as soon as he found an opportunity, proceeded thither, and after he had governed the church for a few years, in the year of the Lord 1322, the day after the octave of St. Peter and St. Paul, he breathed his last.

Nearly four years before his decease, finding myself for certain reasons uncomfortable at Cambaliech, I obtained permission that the before mentioned alafa or imperial charity should be allowed me at the said city of Zayton, which is about three weeks journey distant from Cambaliech. This concession I obtained as I have said, at my earnest request, and setting out with eight horsemen allowed me by the emperor, I proceeded on my journey, being everywhere received with great honour. On my arrival (the aforesaid Friar Peregrine being still alive) I caused a convenient and handsome church to be built in a certain grove, quarter of a mile outside the city, with all the offices sufficient for twenty-two friars, and with four apartments such that any one of them is good enough for a church dignitary of any rank. In this place I continue to dwell, living upon the imperial dole before-mentioned, the value of which, according to the estimate of the Genoese merchants, amounts in the year to 100 golden florins or thereabouts. Of this allowance I have spent the greatest part in the construction of the church ; and I know none among all the convents of our province to be compared to it in elegance and all other amenities.

And so not long after the death of Friar Peregrine I received a decree from the archbishop appointing me to the aforesaid cathedral church, and to this appointment I now assented for good reasons. So I abide now sometimes in the house or church in the city, and sometimes in my convent outside, as it suits me. And my health is good, and as far as one can look forward at my time of life, I may yet labour in this field for some years to come : but my hair is grey, which is owing to constitutional infirmities as well as to age.

'Tis a fact that in this vast empire there are people of every nation under heaven, and of every sect, and all and sundry are allowed to live freely according to their creed. For they hold this opinion, or rather this erroneous view, that everyone can find salvation in his own religion. Howbeit we are at liberty to preach without let or hindrance. Of the Jews and Saracens there are indeed no converts, but many of the idolaters are baptised ; though in sooth many of the baptised walk not rightly in the path of Christianity.

Four of our brethren have suffered martyrdom in India, at the hands of the Saracens ; and one of them was twice cast into a great blazing fire, but came out unhurt. And yet in spite of so stupendous a miracle not one of the Saracens was converted from his misbelief !

All these things I have briefly jotted down for your information, reverend father, and that through you they may be communicated to others. I do not write to my spiritual brethren or private friends, because I know not which of them are alive, and which departed, so I beg them to have me excused. But I send my salutation to all, and desire to be remembered to all as cordially as possible, and I pray you, father Warden, to commend me to the Minister and Custos of Perugia, and to all the other brethren. All the suffragan bishops appointed to Cambaliech and elsewhere by our lord Pope Clement have departed in peace to the Lord, and I alone remain. Friar Nicholas of Banthera, Friar Andrutius of Assisi, and another bishop [Ulrich Sayfusstorf], died on their first arrival in Lower India, in a most cruelly fatal country, where many others also have died and been buried.

Farewell in the Lord, father, now and ever. Dated at Zayton, A.D. 1326, in the month of January.

Henry Yule (trans. and ed.), Cathay and the Way Thither; being a collection of Medieval Notices of China (London: The Hakluyt Society, MDCCCLXVI) Vol.1 pp.496-499.

A tombstone believed to be that of Bishop Andrew was discovered in Quanzhou in 1946, and a copy of it is on display at the Quanzhou Museum of Maritime History (the original is in Beijing) :

Unfortunately the Latin inscription is badly worn and can only be partially read. The accepted reading of the inscription, made by Professor C. J. Fordyce in John Foster's "Crosses from the walls of Zaitun" (Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (N.S.) 1954 pp. 1-25), is :

☩ Hic (in PFS) sepultus est
Andreas Perusinus (de-
votus ep. Cayton .......
.......ordinis (fratrum
min.) ..................
... (Jesus Christi) Apostolus
........(in mense) .......
m(cccxx)xii ☩

But this reading does not seem to correspond well with what I can make out of the inscription :

Click on image for different effects

Beyond the first word (hic) I find it difficult to match Fordyce's reading to the actual inscription, and in particular I do not see the words "Andreas Perusinus", so I have severe doubts about the validity of the accepted reading or whether it is indeed a memorial Bishop Andrew. I hope that perhaps some of my readers may be able to give me their suggested readings of the inscription (or parts of it or even single words).

My doubts are shared by eminent Sinologist Herbert Franke, who in Sino-Western Contacts under the Mongol Empire (Journal of the Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society Vol. 6 (1966)) states of this stone :

It must be Christian because the inscription begins
with the sign of the Cross, but the attempt to read it as Latin and
to regard it as the tomb inscription for Andrew of Perugia, the
third suffragan bishop of Zayton — modern Ch'uan-chou — does
not seem convincing. The only thing that can be said with certainty
is that the inscription is not in Syriac script.

But whether or not this is actually the tombstone of Bishop Andrew, it is still an extremely important artefact, as the only certain archaeological evidence of the 14th century Franciscan mission to Zayton.

For me the most interesting feature of this tombstone is the decoration above the Latin inscription. Although badly worn the carving clearly depicts two angels supporting a lotus flower upon which appears to be a seated figure wearing a bishop's mitre, confirming that the inscription is for one of the bishops of Zayton.

What is significant is that the image of two angels supporting a lotus flower is a common feature of tombstones attributed to Nestorian burials (see for example the two uninscribed headstones shown in the Christian Angels on the South China Coast exhibition, The Stones of Zayton Speak fig.33, and the tombstone dated 1311 shown below), and they have therefore been seen as emblematic symbols of the Assyrian church in China. Yet here they are on the tombstone of a bishop of an order which regarded the Nestorians as heretics. I suspect that the answer is simply that angels supporting a lotus flower is what the craftsmen employed to carve the tombstone were used to carving, so when commissioned to carve a tombstone for Bishop Andrew they naturally carved him seated on a lotus flower supported by two angels. But what this means is that the image of two angels supporting a lotus flower cannot necessarily be taken to be conclusive proof that the person commemorated on the tombstone actually belonged to the Assyrian church.

Tombstones with Phags-pa Inscriptions

In addition to the supposed tombstone of Bishop Andrew discussed above, up to forty other Yuan dynasty Christian tombstones have been unearthed in Quanzhou (see The Stones of Zayton Speak for various examples of both Christian and Muslim tombstones). Amongst these are four highly unusual examples that have their main inscription written in Chinese using the Phags-pa script, which is a Tibetan-based script devised by the 'Phags-pa Lama at the behest of Khubilai Khan in 1260 for use as the national script of the Mongol Empire, and which was used to a limited extent for writing both Mongolian and Chinese during the 13th and 14th centuries. (Note that these inscriptions are not "bilingual texts in a Turkic language, using Phagspa script, and Chinese" as claimed in The Stones of Zayton Speak.)

Most of the inscribed Christian tombstones from Quanzhou have inscriptions written in the Uighur language using the Syriac script, and are without doubt memorials to members of the Assyrian church who originally came from the western parts of the empire. Many similar tombstones with Syriac inscriptions have also been found in the west of China and elsewhere in central Asia, especiially Kyrgyzstan. However the four tombstones shown below differ from the typical Uighur/Syriac examples in that their inscriptions are in the Chinese language (spelled phonetically using the Phags-pa script), and the names of the deceased are ordinary Chinese names, and so they would seem to be memorials to Han Chinese Christian converts rather than to Uighurs from central Asia. It has always been assumed that all the Christian tombstones of Quanzhou are relics of the "Nestorian" (i.e. Assyrian) church, but as I have suggested above, the supposed Nestorian symbols on the tombstones below may not necessarily be indicative of a Nestorian burial, as they are also found on the tombstone of the Franciscan Bishop Andrew (cf. especially the decoration on the 1311 Phags-pa tombstone below with the decorative carving on the tombstone of Bishop Andrew). The tombstones with Phags-pa inscriptions are dated 1311, 1314 and 1324, which makes them exactly contemporary with mission in Zayton of Bishops Gerard, Peregrine and Andrew (c.1308-1332). Without any knowledge of their archaeological context (because I stupidly managed not to buy the newly revised and expanded treatise on Quanzhou religious carvings by Wu Wenliang that had just been published the previous year) it is difficult to make any judgement, but I do wonder if it is possible that these particular tombstones were actually associated with the Franciscan bishopric of Zayton rather than the Assyrian church.

The use of Phags-pa script for writing Chinese is especially suggestive to me, as although the script was used to write Mongolian and Chinese in official documents and on monumental inscriptions of imperial edicts, as well as on coins, banknotes and seals, it was rarely used for non-governmental purposes, and I do not know of any other examples of tombstones, for any religion, that have inscriptions in the Phags-pa script. Giving the names of deceased in Phags-pa script is especially problematic as it is often not possible to be certain which particular Chinese character a Phags-pa syllable is intended to represent, especially as the Phags-pa script does not indicate tone, and so my transcriptions of the Phags-pa inscriptions into Chinese characters is in places only tentative (and sometimes differs from the transcriptions given in other studies of the tombstones). Ironically, the date, which could be written unambiguously in the Phags-pa script, is always written using Chinese characters. The question has to be asked, given that the Phags-pa script cannot distinguish between ideographic homophones and the tombs are for Han Chinese with ideographic names, why then is the main inscription written in the Phags-pa script ? It may well have been that the Franciscan missionaries promoted the use of the phonetic Phags-pa script over the native ideographic script as it was easier for them to read and write Chinese with it, and if these were the tombstones of converts to the Franciscan church at Quanzhou then that would explain why their inscriptions are in the Phags-pa script.

It is also interesting to note that the inscriptions themselves have no Christian content, but use exactly the same forms of wording that are found on ordinary non-Christian Chinese tombstones of the time. The cross and angels are the only indications that these are in fact Christian monuments. This contrasts with the Christian tombstones in the Syriac script which do include overt Christian text (see for example The Stones of Zayton Speak figs.16 and 18 which both start with the words "In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit..." in Uighur).

Tombstone of Zhu Yanke (1311)

The main inscription reads ꡁꡗ ꡚꡋ ꡆꡦꡟ ꡗꡠꡋ ꡁꡡ ꡒꡜꡞ ꡝꡧꡞꡋ ꡏꡟ khay shan jėu yen kho dzhi 'win mu in Phags-pa script, representing Chinese kai shan zhu yan ke zi yun mu 開山朱延可子雲墓 "tomb of Zhu Yanke [styled] Ziyun of Kaishan". An inscription in Chinese on either side reads 至大四年辛亥,仲秋朔日謹題 "In the cyclical year xinhai [year of the golden pig] in the fourth year of the Zhida period, respectfully inscribed on the first day of the second autumn month". Zhida 4 corresponds to the year 1311.

The Phags-pa text of this tombstone has also been interpretted as "開山朱延可訾雲墓".

Tombstone of Yang Wengshe (1314)

The main inscription reads ꡖꡟꡃ ꡚꡦ ꡗꡃ ꡚꡞ ꡏꡟ ꡈꡓ -ung shė yang shi mu taw in Phags-pa script, representing Chinese weng she yang shi mu dao 翁舍楊氏墓道 "tomb memorial of Yang Wengshe". An inscription in Chinese on either side reads 延祐甲寅,良月吉日 "In the cyclical year jiayin [year of the wooden tiger] of the Yanyou period, on a good month and an auspicious day". The cyclical year jiayin is the first year of the Yanyou period, corresponding to the year 1314.

The Phags-pa text of this tombstone has also been interpretted as "翁葉楊石墓道".

Tombstone of Liu Yigong (1324)

The main inscription reads ꡗꡞ ꡂꡟꡃ ꡙꡞꡓ ꡚꡞ ꡏꡟ ꡆꡞ yi gung liw shi mu ji in Phags-pa script, representing Chinese yi gong liu shi mu zhi 易公(劉/柳)氏墓誌 "tomb memorial of Liu Yigong" (the family name may be either Liú 劉 or Liǔ 柳, as Phags-pa script does not indicate tone). A faint inscription in Chinese on either side reads 旹歲甲子,良月吉日 "In the cyclical year jiazi [year of the wooden rat], on a good month and an auspicious day". The cyclical year jiazi can only refer to the first year of the Taiding 泰定 period, corresponding to the year 1324.

The Phags-pa text of this tombstone has also been interpretted as "易公柳濟墓址" or "易公劉石墓誌".

Tombstone of Mr. or Mrs. Ye (undated)

The inscription reads ꡗꡠ ꡚꡞ ꡏꡟ ꡆꡞ ye shi mu ji in Phags-pa script, representing Chinese ye shi mu zhi 葉氏墓誌 "tomb memorial of Mr. or Mrs. Ye". This is the only Phags-pa tombstone inscription that does not also give a date in Chinese script.

The Phags-pa text of this tombstone has also been interpretted as "葉氏墓址" or "葉石墓誌".

Appendix : Note on the name "Zayton"

Quanzhou was known to European travellers to China as Zayton (in various spellings), from the Arabic name for the city, Zaitún, meaning an olive tree. However the Arabic Zaitún is in fact a corruption of the Chinese name for the coral tree (Erythrina variegata), citong 刺桐 "prickly tong". Because Quanzhou was famed for its coral trees, since the Tang dynasty (618-907) it had been known informally as the "city of coral trees" (citong cheng 刺桐城), and this literary epithet was later adopted as Zaitún "olive tree" by Arab traders.

For centuries after Marco Polo's account of the splendours of Zayton were first made known to Europe, no-one knew exactly where Zayton was, and some even thought that it was a spurious, made-up name. It was only at the end of the 19th century that Zayton was conclusively identified as Quanzhou.

The name Zayton has passed into the English language as the word "satin", which derives from the Arabic zaitúníah (via medieval Italian zettani, Spanish aceytuni or French zatony), being the name for the rich satins from Zayton, for which Quanzhou was renowned, as can be seen from the account of Ibn Batuta, who visited China in the 1340s :

The first city that I reached after crossing the sea was ZAITÚN. ... It is a great city, superb indeed; and in it they make damasks of velvet as well as those of satin, which are called from the name of the city Zatúníah ; they are superior to the stuffs of Khansá [Hangzhou] and Khárbálik [modern Beijing]. The harbour of Zaitún is one of the greatest in the world -- I am wrong; it is the greatest! I have seen there about an hundred first-class junks together ; as for small ones, they were past counting. The harbour is formed by an estuary which runs inland from the sea until it joins the Great River.

Further Reading

Web Sites


  • Wu Wenliang 吳文良, Quanzhou Zongjiao Shike 泉州宗教石刻. Beijing: Kexue Chubanshe, 1957 (1st ed.) and 2005 (2nd ed., revised by his son, Wu Youxiong).
  • Zheng Zhenman 鄭振滿 and Ding Hesheng 丁荷生, Fujian Zongjiao Beiming Huibian : Quanzhoufu fence 福建宗教碑銘彙編 : 泉州府分册 (3 vols.). Fuzhou: Fujian Renming Chubanshe, 2003.
  • Junast 照那斯圖, "Yuandai Jingjiaotu mubei basibazi kaoshi" 元代景教徒墓碑八思巴字考釋. In Haijiaoshi Yanjiu 海交史研究 1994.2.
  • Niu Ruji 牛汝極, "Quanzhou chutu Huihuwen Yelikewenjiao (Jingjiao) mubei yanjiu" 泉州出土回鶻文也里可溫教(景教)墓碑研究. In Xueshu Jilin 學術集林 vol.5 (Shanghai Yuandong Chubanshe, 1995).
  • Niu Ruji 牛汝極, "Cong chutu beiming kan Quanzhou he yangzhou de Jingjiao laiyuan" 從出土碑銘看泉州和揚州的景教來源. In Shijie Zongjiao Yanjiu 世界宗教研究 2003.2.
  • Pearson, Richard, Li Min and Li Guo, "Quanzhou Archaeology: A Brief Review". In International Journal of Historical Archaeology 6:1 (2002).
  • Schottenhammer, A., ed., The Emporium of the World: Maritime Quanzhou, 1000–1400. Leiden: Brill, 2001.