Zhuang characters, or
Sawndip [θaɯ˨˦ɗip˥], are logograms derived
Han characters and used by the
Zhuang people of Guangxi,
Zhuang languages for more than one thousand years. In
Mandarin Chinese, these are called Gǔ Zhuàngzì (Chinese: 古壮字;
literally: "old Zhuang characters") or Fāngkuài Zhuàngzì
(方块壮字; "square shaped Zhuang characters").
𭨡𮄫[a]) is a Zhuang word that means "immature characters". The
Zhuang word for
Chinese characters used in the
Chinese language is
sawgun (Sawndip: 𭨡倱;[a] lit. "characters of the Han"); gun is
Zhuang for the Han Chinese. The name "old Zhuang script" is usually
used to distinguish it of the official alphabet based script Standard
Zhuang. Even now, in traditional and less formal domains,
more often used than alphabetical scripts.
3.1 Early vernacular characters
3.2 Tang era (7th–9th Centuries)
3.3 Song era (10th–13th Centuries)
3.4 Ming era (14th–17th Centuries)
3.5 Qing era (mid 17th – 19th Centuries)
3.6 Modern era (20th – 21st Centuries)
6 Regional differences
7 Example text
8 See also
11 Further reading
12 External links
The word "Sawndip" is used with a spectrum of narrow to broad
meanings. The narrowest meaning confines its use just to characters
created by Zhuang to write Zhuang and excludes existing Chinese
characters, and at its broadest includes all the "square" characters
used to write Zhuang regardless of whether they are of Chinese or
Zhuang origin. Since texts contain a large proportion of characters of
Chinese origin and it is not possible to say for certain the origin of
some characters, the inclusive broader meaning is most commonly used.
Whilst usually Old Zhuang Script (古壮字) and Square Zhuang Script
(方块壮字) are usually synonymous, when used contrastively the
former is restricted to those characters used before the founding of
the Republic of
China in 1911.
These three Zhuang logograms (𭒹𮬭鴓) from the
(the first two of which were added to
Unicode 10.0 in June 2017) are
formed as follows: the components 力, 六 and 必 respectively
indicate the sound, and the components 子, 鳥 and 鳥 indicate the
meaning. "lwg roegbit", literally "child bird-duck", means "wild
Sawndip is made up of a combination of Chinese characters,
Chinese-like characters, and other symbols. Like Chinese it can be
written horizontally from left toto right, or vertically from right to
left. The script has never been standardized; some morphosyllables
have more than a dozen associated variant glyphs. According to
Zhāng Yuánshēng (张元生), characters not also used in Chinese
usually make up about 20% of
Sawndip texts, although some texts may be
composed almost entirely of characters also used in Chinese.
Different scholars categorize
Sawndip in slightly different ways.
According to Bauer
Sawndip characters can be categorized using a more
complex system than the six traditional classification principles:
Symbols that do not resemble Chinese characters, and are borrowed from
non-Chinese writing systems such as the Latin alphabet and
Non-standard Chinese-like characters created via Ideogrammatic
Non-standard Chinese-like characters created via Phono-semantic
Example: bya "mountain" is written as ⟨岜⟩, containing the
ideographic 山 "mountain" in conjunction with phonetic 巴 ba.
Example: vunz "person" is written as ⟨伝⟩, containing the
ideographic radical 亻 "person" in conjunction with phonetic 云
Standard Chinese characters borrowed solely for their pronunciations,
and do not share the same original meaning in Chinese (in accordance
with the phonetic loan principle)
Example: miz "to have" is written as ⟨眉⟩, a character that is
pronounced in Mandarin Chinese as méi.
Non-standard Chinese-like characters created specifically for Zhuang
to indicate the meaning of certain morphosyllables (in accordance with
Standard Chinese characters representing loanwords or
etymologically-related morphosyllables from Chinese
Example: boi "cup" is written as ⟨盃⟩, a variant character of 杯
bēi, meaning "cup" in Chinese.
Standard Chinese characters borrowed solely for their meanings and do
not have a matching reading in Zhuang with Chinese
New characters made by juxtaposing a pair of
Chinese characters that
"spell out" the pronunciation of the Zhuang word as in the traditional
Chinese fǎnqiè system, with one character representing the initial
consonant and the other the rest of the syllable.
The script has been used for centuries, mainly by Zhuang singers and
shamans, to record poems, scriptures, folktales, myths, songs, play
scripts, medical prescriptions, family genealogies and contracts, but
exactly when it came into being is not known. It is usually reckoned
Sawndip started to be used over one thousand years ago in the
Tang dynasty or earlier. However a study comparing Sawndip
with the similar but different neighbouring
Chữ nôm script of
Vietnam suggested that the script started at latest in the 12th
century at about the same time as Chữ nôm.
Early vernacular characters
Even before the Tang Dynasty Zhuang or closely related languages were
written down using characters that where either Chinese or made up of
Chinese components. Whether these are viewed as Sawndip, or as some
sort of precursor to Sanwdip, depends not only the evidence itself,
but also differing views of what counts as
Sawndip and from what era
the term Zhuang can be applied.
Some scholars say
Sawndip started in the
Han dynasty and note the
occurrence on words of Zhuang origin in ancient Chinese dictionaries
such as 犩 which in
Sawndip for the Zhuang "vaiz" (water buffalo) and
in section 19 of
Erya is given as having similar pronunciation and
means 牛 (cow, cattle). 
There are some similarities in the poetical style of "The Song of the
Yue boatman" (Chinese: 越人歌; pinyin: Yuèrén Gē) from 528 BC
and the Zhuang "Fwen" style. 韦庆稳 has intrepreted the song by
reading the characters as Zhuang and some consider the written version
and other such songs to be a forerunner though not an example of
Sawndip, it has also be intrepreted as being Thai, Dong and Cham.
Tang era (7th–9th Centuries)
The fact that Zhuang readings of borrowed
Chinese characters often
Early Middle Chinese
Early Middle Chinese suggests a Sui–Tang date, however it has
been noted these could also be explained as later borrowings from
Chinese characters were
already in use in the Zhuang area, as illustrated by two Tang dynasty
steles entitled Liù hé jiāngù dà zhái sòng
(六合坚固大宅颂 "Eulogy of the six-sides courtyard", 682) and
Zhì chéng bēi (智城碑 "Monument of Zhi Cheng city", 697).
Although these are written in Chinese, the latter contains a number of
non-standard characters. One of these is the
consisting of 𥹫 over 田 for naz, "paddy field".
Song era (10th–13th Centuries)
Han Chinese authors give examples of "vernacular
characters" (Tǔsú zì' 土俗字) used in
Guangxi such as Zhou Qufei
Lingwai Daida and
Fan Chengda in Guìhǎi yúhéng zhì
(桂海虞衡志) saying that such characters were common in the area
and used in legal documents such as indictments, complaints, receipts
used addressing a lady
Table of characters noted in the
Song Dynasty Guìhǎi yúhéng zhì
and also in 1986
Ming era (14th–17th Centuries)
Whilst no manuscripts from the Ming Dynasty have yet been found dozens
Sawndip works that survive to this day were first written
during this dynasty or earlier. Some consider this to be the most
abundant period of
Sawndip literature. Exact dating is difficult
in part because some songs were composed and transmitted orally before
being written down, such as Fwen Ciengzyeingz ("Song to tell others"),
which Liáng Tíngwàng 梁庭望 has stated whilst containing some
content comes from centuries before that was written down during the
Ming Dynasty. Similarly "Songs of March", "Songs of the Daytime",
"Songs of the Road", and "Songs of House Building" where first created
between the Tang and Song dynasties or earlier and certainly written
down at latest during the Ming dynasty
Some songs were both created and written down during the Ming dynasty.
Fwen Caeg "Songs of War" (Chinese: 贼歌 Zéi gē) from
is consider it be such despite some lines which are later
additions."Fwen nganx" "欢𭪤" (The Dragon Eye Fruit
[龙眼] Song) a love story is also from the Ming Era.
A number of songs written in
Sawndip are stories which are originally
of Han origin but for hundreds of years have been part of the Zhuang
tradition, such as "𠯘唐皇" Fwen Dangzvuengz (Song about Tang
Emperors) about Li Dan and "𠯘英台" Fwen Yinghdaiz (Song about
Yingtai) and "𠯘文隆" Fwen Vwnzlungz (Song about Wenlong) to name
but a few are reckoned to have first been written down in Sawndip
during the Ming Dynasty or earlier. In the case of Fwen Vwnzlungz the
original Han story itself has been lost.
Qing era (mid 17th – 19th Centuries)
Sawndip manuscripts from the Qing period survive to this
day. One well known old surviving text is the Yuèfēng 粵風 book of
folksongs from Guiping, published in the 18th century. A book
entitled "Taiping Spring" 太平春 that contains a number of songs
and is kept in
Lingyun is dated as 1682.
Another source is the Huáyí yìyǔ (華夷譯語
"Chinese–barbarian vocabulary") compiled by the Bureau of
Translators in the mid-18th century on the order of the Qianlong
Emperor, and now held in the archives of the Imperial Palace Museum.
The survey of western
Guangxi (太平府夷语通译 Tàipíng fǔ
yíyǔ tōngyì) was less thorough than other parts of the empire,
consisting of just 71 to 170 items from three different locations.
Each entry consists of a Zhuang word written in the Zhuang script,
with its pronunciation and meaning given in Chinese. It
demonstrates both the wide use and lack of standardization of Sawndip.
Modern era (20th – 21st Centuries)
Sawndip is not standardized. Here are the same four Standard Zhuang
words—bae 𭆛/[⿰贝去]/悲/[⿱去比] 'go', gvaq 卦/瓜/𮞖
'pass', ranz 𭓨 'house', mwngz 佲/名/门/孟 'you'—as written in
Pingguo sources. These agree on the choice of sawndip
character for only one of the four words, ranz 𭓨 'house'.
Whilst after the introduction of an official alphabet based script in
Sawndip have been seldom been used in some formal domains such as
newspapers, laws and official documents, they continue to be used in
less formal domains such as writing songs, and personal notes and
After the Chinese Revolution in 1949, even communist revolutionary
propaganda was written using sawndip. In 1957 an official romanized
Zhuang script was introduced. However, there are major phonetic and
lexical differences between Zhuang dialects, and the Latin-based
system is based on the Wuming dialect; because of this and other
reasons, there still are many Zhuang speakers that prefer to write
Zhuang using sawndip. Even though it is not the official
script at grassroots level various departments have continued to use
Sawndip on occasions to get their message across. Coming into 21st
Sawndip understanding and usage of
significant, of those surveyed in two dialect areas just over one
third said that they understood Sawndip, and about one in ten that
Sawndip in most domains  these rates are approximately
twice those for the romanized script with only one sixth saying they
understood it and only one in twenty saying they used it in most
After five years in preparation, the
Sawndip Sawdenj (Sawndip
Dictionary; Chinese: 古壮字字典; pinyin: Gǔ Zhuàngzì Zìdiǎn,
Dictionary of Ancient Zhuang Characters) was published in 1989 with
4,900 entries and over 10,000 characters, and is the first and only
dictionary of Zhuang characters published to date. In 2008 it
was announced that work was to begin on a new dictionary called "The
Large Chinese Dictionary of Ancient Zhuang Characters",
《中华古壮字大字典》. In 2012 a enlarged facsimile of
the 1989 dictionary was published with a different cover.
Unicode versions 1 to 8 included some
Sawndip characters that are
frequently used in the Chinese names for places in Guangxi, such as
岜 bya (Chinese: bā) meaning mountain or 崬 ndoeng (Chinese: dōng)
meaning forest, and are therefore included in Chinese dictionaries,
and hence also in
Chinese character sets and also some that are from
other non-Zhuang character sets. Over one thousand
were included in the
CJK Unified Ideographs Extension F block that was
Unicode 10.0 in June 2017, and a further batch of Sawndip
characters are under consideration for inclusion in a future version
Unicode Standard. At present very few fonts have support for
Sawndip characters added to
For over one thousand years the Zhuang have used
Sawndip to write a
wide variety of literature, including folk songs, operas, poems,
scriptures, letters, contract, and court documents. Sawndip
literature is often though not always in verse. Only a small
Sawndip literature has been published. Traditional
songs, or stories, are often adapted over time, and new works continue
to be written to this day.
With regional differences, as with other aspects of
express a number of differing ideas.
One of the first systematic studies of
Sawndip that covered more than
one location was Zhang Yuansheng's 1984 examination of 1114 Sawndip,
mainly from Wuming but also including some characters from 37 other
locations. Zhang found substantial variation between dialect areas,
and even within locales.
In 2013, David Holm reported a geographical survey of the script,
comparing characters used for 60 words in texts from 45 locations in
Guangxi and neighbouring areas. He found that regional variations in
the script often did not correlate with dialect groups, which he
attributes to importation of characters from other regions, as well as
subsequent sound change. However he claims to have found a clear
geographical division in terms of the branch of Chinese that provided
the pronunciation of borrowed characters. In
Guizhou and northern
Guangxi, character readings correspond to Southwest Mandarin, which
was brought to the area by the armies of the Ming dynasty. In central
and southwest Guangxi, they closely match Pinghua, which is derived
from the speech of
Han dynasty immigrants. Holm states that while both
Pinghua and Zhuang have changed over this period, this has generally
been in parallel, making it difficult to date the readings.
Scholars studying the script used in
Guizhou associate the origin of
with the introduction of Chinese officials in the early Qing
From Article 1 of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Universal Declaration of Human Rights in
Latin transcription (1982 orthography): "Boux boux ma daengz lajmbwn
couh miz cwyouz, cinhyenz caeuq genzli bouxboux bingzdaengj. Gyoengq
vunz miz lijsing caeuq liengzsim, wngdang daih gyoengq de lumj
Latin transcription (1957 orthography): "Bouч bouч ma dəŋƨ
laзƃɯn couƅ miƨ cɯyouƨ, cinƅyenƨ cəuƽ genƨli bouчbouч
biŋƨdəŋз. Gyɵŋƽ vunƨ miƨ liзsiŋ cəuƽ lieŋƨsim,
ɯŋdaŋ daiƅ gyɵngƽ de lumз beiчnueŋч ityieŋƅ."
Unicode characters (with currently unencoded characters represented as
Ideographic Description Sequences
Ideographic Description Sequences in brackets):
Chinese family of scripts
^ a b The character for saw meaning either book or written character,
𭨡, has a 書 radical on the left, and a 史 radical on the right.
Similarly, ndip which means raw, uncooked or unripe, 𮄫, is made up
of 立 and 生 radicals. At present there are limitations in
displaying Zhuang logograms as many have only recently been encoded in
Unicode and are only be supported by a very few fonts. Sawndip
characters have not been standardised, different writers use different
characters for the same word, the examples here are from Sawndip
^ a b Sū (1989).
^ Bauer, Robert S. (2005), "Written Representation of Zhuang and
Cantonese", Workshop on Zhuang Language, Department of Linguistics,
University of Hong Kong.
^ Zhāng (1984), p. 456.
^ Bauer (2000), pp. 229–240.
^ Noted in page 43 of
《右江流域方块壮字文献的用字研究》 thesis by
韦玉防 2010 http://www.docin.com/p-138822822.html. Example, "k" is
used on page 1031 of 平果嘹歌:长歌集 published by
广西民族出版社 in 2004, ISBN 7-5363-4820-7.
^ Zhāng (1984), p. 455.
^ a b Qín (2010), p. 33.
^ a b Sū (1989), pp. 5–6.
^ "方块壮字与喃字比较研究","Comparative Research into
Sawndip and Chu Nom" by 李乐毅 in "民族语文“1987年第4期
^ Sū (1989), pp. 482.
^ Qín (2010), p. 6-8.
^ Holm (2003), pp. 46.
^ Holm (2004), p. 424.
^ Tai (2005), p. 80.
^ Sū (1989), pp. 5.
^ a b Holm (2003), pp. 45.
^ Sū (1989), pp. 348.
^ Sū (1989), pp. 97.
^ Sū (1989), pp. 169.
^ a b Sū (1989), pp. 402.
^ a b Sū (1989), pp. 480.
^ Sū (1989), pp. 368.
^ Sū (1989), pp. 105.
^ Qín (2010), p. 39.
^ Liao Songs of
Pingguo Zhuang Songs of March pages 60ff
^ Liao Songs of
Pingguo Zhuang Songs of March page 60
^ 壮族嘹歌研究 editor 覃乃昌 广西民族出版社 2008
ISBN 978-7-5363-5069-4 page 48-52
^ 壮族民歌古籍集成 情歌 （二）欢𭪤
(田阳情歌)，广西民族出版社 1997 Chief Editor 张声震
page 2 of introduction
^ 壮族长诗《唱文龙》源流及其变异 The origin and
variations of the Zhuang long poem "Song of Wenlong by 罗汉田 Luo
Hantian published in 《民族文学研究》 Ethnic Literature
Research 1984 Volume 2 pages 123–133
^ Holm (2013), p. 21.
^ 清代戏曲抄本叙录 List of Qing Dynasty Opera Manuscripts by
^ Holm (2013), pp. 26–27.
^ Bauer (2000), p. 228.
^ Zhèng (1996).
of analysis of the situation of old Zhuang script(Sawndip) usage among
Zhuang people" by 黄南津 Huang Nanjian and 唐未平 Tang Weiping
《暨南学报(哲学社会科学版)》 Jinan Journal – Philosophy
and Sociology 2008 Volume 1
"Research into survey of the scripts used by Zhuang in Guangxi"
唐未平 Tang Weiping http://www.doc88.com/p-644582398739.html
^ Bauer (2000), pp. 226–227.
Guangxi Ethnic Affairs
Commission, 16 September 2008.
^ 壮文论集 Anthology of Written Zhuang by 梁庭望 Liang Tingwang
2007 Published by 中央民族大学出版社 Central Minorities
University Press pages 153–158 ISBN 9787811084368
^ Zhāng (1984), p. 465.
^ Holm (2013), p. 744.
^ Holm (2013), pp. 744–745.
^ Holm (2003), pp. 45–46.
Bauer, Robert S. (2000), "The Chinese-based writing system of the
Zhuang language", Cahiers de Linguistique Asie Orientale, 29 (2):
Holm, David (2003), Killing a buffalo for the ancestors: a Zhuang
cosmological text from Southwest China, Northern Illinois University,
—— (2004), "The Old Zhuang script", in Diller, Anthony; Edmondson,
Jerry; Luo, Yongxian, The Tai-Kadai languages, Routledge,
pp. 415–428, ISBN 978-0-203-64187-3.
—— (2013), Mapping the Old Zhuang Character Script: A Vernacular
Writing System from Southern China, BRILL,
Sū, Yǒngqín 苏永勤, ed. (1989),
Sawndip Sawdenj / Gǔ Zhuàngzì
zìdiǎn 古壮字字典 [Dictionary of old Zhuang characters],
Nanning: Guǎngxī mínzú chūbǎnshè 广西民族出版社,
Qín, Xiǎoháng 覃晓航 (2010), Fāngkuài zhuàng zì yánjiū
方块壮字研究 [Research on Zhuang square characters],
民族出版社, ISBN 978-7-105-11041-4.
Tai, Chung-pui (2005), Literacy practices and functions of the Zhuang
character writing system (MPhil Thesis), University of Hong
Zhāng, Yuánshēng 张元生 (1984), "Zhuàngzú rénmín de wénhuà
yíchǎn – fāngkuài Zhuàngzì
壮族人民的文化遗产——方块壮字" [The cultural legacy of
the Zhuang nationality: the Zhuang square characters], Zhōngguó
mínzú gǔ wénzì yánjiū 中国民族古文字研究 [Research on
the ancient scripts of China's nationalities], Beijing: Zhōngguó
shèhuì kēxué chūbǎnshè 中国社会科学出版社,
Zhèng, Yíqīng 鄭貽青 (1996), Jìngxī Zhuàngyǔ yánjiū
靖西壮語研究 [Research on Jingxi Zhuang],
Liáng Tíngwàng 梁庭望 (ed.): Gǔ Zhuàngzì wénxiàn xuǎnzhù
古壮字文献选注 (Tiānjīn gǔjí chūbǎnshè
Lín Yì 林亦: Tán lìyòng gǔ Zhuàngzì yánjiū Guǎngxī
Yuèyǔ fāngyán 谈利用古壮字研究广西粤语方言. In:
Mínzú yǔwén 民族语文 2004.3:16–26.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Zhuang writing.
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Zhuang language & alphabet, Omniglot
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