Tibetan writing styles

Throughout the centuries, Tibetans have been using different types of writing styles. Two of those styles, U-chen and U-me are the most commonly used.

U-chen style is also called the “cristated script”. This is because when each letter is drawn, a horizontal stroke is used on the top and it is required that these entire horizontal strokes should be parallel to the first top line; therefore, it looks like a flat cap. Some people consider U-chen to be the printing font because it is often used for the printing of books, but it is not really the case. In fact, U-chen is also used in people’s handwriting when they are taking notes, writing compositions and so on.

U-me is known as the “non-cristated script” as no horizontal line is necessary on the top of the letters.
The most distinct difference between the U-chen and the U-me is that the former “has a flat cap” while the latter does not.

So far, the style of the Jongs is considered to be the sample of U-chen script, with distinctive features of being solemn and elegant. This scrip includes the stroke of horizontal line, vertical line, oblique line, and curved line. The same kind of stroke should be written with the same height, length, pitch and curve. The writings should be plump and uniform, with regular gap between letters. Dotted lines must be avoided. Therefore the entire written text would be orderly and formal, like a parade of honored guards.

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Picture 1: Sample of writing in Jongs of U-chen style1

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Picture 2: Sample of writing in Jongs of U-chen style 2

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Picture 3: Sample of writing in Jongs of U-chen style 3

U-me style has seven writing scripts

(1) Petsug script

“Pe” refers to the Buddhist text and “tsug” means “solidity”. Therefore, Petsug means a solemn script used for the writing of the Buddhist text. If the bottoms of all the letters are written at the same level, as if they were neatly cut with a knife, they are called “neat bottom script”. If the roots of the letters are lengthened with a slight hook stroke, they are called “lengthened root style”. Besides these, there is a third style of this kind which is a combination of Petsug and Drugtsa, called “Petgtsa script”.

Petsug was popular in Tibetan before the block printing was introduced. Many ancient written Buddhist texts in the Sakya Monastery were written in Petsug and it is still in popular use today.

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Picture4: Sample of writing in Petsug script

(2) Drugtsa script

Drugtsa means “the shape of grain” as the main bodies of the Drugtsa script do look like the shape of grains. The writing of vowels in Drugtsa is similar to that of the Petsug.

Drugtsa can be written with long-leg letters and short-leg ones and the long-leg style can again be divided into the curved-leg style and the straight-leg style. The curved-leg style appeared in the era of the Sakya Monarch. At that time, the official documents and notice as well as the inscriptions were all written in Drugtsa. For example, in Shandong province, one of the ancient royal inscriptions preserved from the Yuan dynasty, was engraved in Drugtsa script.

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Picture 5: Sample of writing in Drugtsa script --- curved-leg style

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Picture 6: Sample of writing in Drugtsa script --- straight-leg style

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Picture 7: Sample of writing in Drugtsa script --- short-leg style

(3) Tsugring script

Tsugring means the“tall and stable style”. The height of the entire text is about two or three inches and the main body occupies about one inch. As mentioned above, words of Tsugring should be written within the four given lines, the top three of which are for the main frame of the word and the fourth line is where the roots of the word come to a stop. Practice on Tibetan writing usually starts from the practice of Tsugring, which may help with a solid foundation for the writing of other types of scripts.

Calligraphers in the past dynasties had all made their efforts to set copybooks in Tsugring for the children to imitate. Among them, the writing of Zhongyi-gapagah, who once served as the secretary for the 13th Dalai Lama, is the best. In the 1930s, his writings were made the standard Tsugring copybook for the monastery school in Potala Palace.

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Picture 8: Sample of writing in Tsugring script

(4) Tsugtong script

Tsugtong is the “small and stable style”. It has a structure similar to that of the Tsugring, but with smaller letters, plump main bodies and wider gaps between the words.

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Picture 9: Sample of writing in Tsugtong script

(5) Khyuying script

Khyuying is “the quick and prompt style”; sometimes it is also considered to be the “cursive hand”.

Khyuying originates from Tsugring. It is a relatively new writing style based on the style of Tsugring, with the purpose of writing down the information quickly and promptly. The appearance of Khyuying indicates the mature of the Tibetan calligraphy, because only with quite solid foundation in writing other Tibetan scripts can one write the Khyuyings well.

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Picture 10: Sample of writing in small cursive Khyuying script

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Picture 11: Sample of writing in big cursive Khyuying script

(6) Tsugkhyu script

Tsugkhyu script is a combination of both Tsugtong and Khyuying. Combining the solemn and stable feature of Tsugtong with the cursive beauty of Khyuying, it possesses its own artistic taste and style.

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Picture 12: Sample of writing in Tsugkhyu script

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