Nüshu 女书 was a clandestine, phonetic-based language invented by and for Chinese women to confront the pressures and challenges of ancient China society.
- Translates to ´women’s writing´
- Marked by elegant, elongated script, secretive missives and revolutionary undertones
- Response to Chinese patriarchal society and illiteracy found amidst Chinese women prior to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912)
- Taught to later generations by mothers and grandmothers
- Belongs to the Chinese linguistic family, but is unintelligible to the untrained eye
- Few women can speak or write the language in current days
Below, Bob’s your uncle agency attempts to creatively portray the sense of formidable bonds and sisterhood that could be experienced by the women of China’s time past through letter format.
1 The origins of the female-spoken,-written language of Nüshu can be traced back to this small Chinese village in the province of Hunan. It is thought to have already been spoken and written before the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), prior to any formal education established for women. .
2 Sanzhaoshu translates to third-day missives, a cloth-bound book of letters concerning advice, encouragement, hope and hardships written from female relatives and other women, and delivered to recently-wed brides the third day after their wedding.
3 Zhang Wei (Great).
4 The town of Jiangyong sits on the banks of the Xiao River 瀟水.
5 The language of Nüshu was a vehicle, by which lifelong friendships may be formed among women. The word iebai zimei translate as ´sworn sisters´, attesting to the loyalty within a group of women.
6 Nüshu was a language spoken and written only by women, contrasting very much from the sometimes thick, block characters of traditional Chinese. In fact, t Nüshu may be unintelligible to many given its cursive-like form. The elegant, elongated lines served as decorative embellishments to clothing, fans and much more. Another major difference between Nüshu and Chinese is that the former script is only phonetic, whereas the latter is both phonetic and semantic (that is, meaning is attached). The use of Nushü came to represent female empowerment and highlight revolutionary undertones in Chinese society.
7 Many men considered Nüshu to be an invention made by the weaker sex.
8 Nüshu has unfortunately met its linguistic demise due to the negative stigmas (espionage, lesbianism) associated with the language during the early 20th century and Cultural Revolution. There are but very few women who are considered ´true transmitters´ of the language by the local government.