Reports of Nushu’s demise were exaggerated

I first read about the unique script of Nushu, the only known one to be solely used to women, in the Sydney Morning Herald almost a quarter of a century ago. Then it was being “discovered”. Last year, it was being declared “dead”, when Yang Huangyi, its “last user” died at the age of 92.

Yet today’s Guardian reports that it is still going strong in its remote homeland in southwestern Hunan province.

The impetus is economic and the results anything but romantic. But the reinvention of the embroidered script as a tourist moneyspinner is reaping dividends and a new generation of girls is studying the language not for a means of intimate communication but because it offers a chance to earn more than their brothers and fathers.

It is thought that Nushu was invented by women so they could record their thoughts, and communicate with each other, without their words being intercepted by men. In the area there is a strong tradition of “sworn sisterhood”, and the script was one way women could maintain these relationships after marriage, when they could be torn from their home families and villages, to become virtual prisoners in the homes of their husband’s families.

There’s a whole website devoted to the script, the World of Nushu (it has some technical problems, but is worth sticking with) and you can see some examples of the script, in comparison with the Chinese, here. There’s also a short academic article and a Chinese account of an exhibition here here (although something seems to have been lost in translation, since it speaks of an exhibition, but doesn’t say where it was).

There also don’t yet seem to be any commercial sites selling items on the web – an opportunity for somebody!


4 Comments

  • Christina
    March 9, 2010 - 3:48 pm | Permalink

    it’s such a surprise!i’m a graduate student in beijing,china.i’m searching some informations about nushu in the foreign websites,and i find you.i come from the home of nvshu.it’s very nice to meet you here!is there any chance for me to recieve a reply from you?i’m looking forward of your answer!it will very helpful for my artical!thank you! my email address:pinger32066@yahoo.com.cn
    by the way,maybe you can see my words by the time i click it out,i’m going to sleep right now,it’s 12p.m.now.god bless you!
    and i’m sorry my english is not that good,maybe there are some mistakes,sorry!

  • Christina
    March 9, 2010 - 3:56 pm | Permalink

    i know you must be very busy,so if you see my words .
    nvshu ,someone call it female scripts,or women’s characters,is used in my hometown in the past times only between women.

  • Christina
    March 10, 2010 - 1:27 pm | Permalink

    what a surprise!it’s very kind of you!
    actually nushu is not studied like other subjects.i choose this as my graduate article just because i’m a student major in chinese language and literature,thus i have the chance to work on it.besides,what’s the most important is that it was popular only in my hometown,a small village named”shangjiangxu”.
    there is a question that i really don’t kown how to translate it.
    which do you prefer?how do you regard it?

  • Christina
    March 10, 2010 - 1:36 pm | Permalink

    it’s really knock me off which one to choose.
    another question,where can i find related vocabularies in folklore? there is a chance for me to take a interview becoming a postgraduate.but i don’t know how to make the self introduction which’ll makes me more professional.
    thanks a lot

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