women’s script


women’s script
(nüshu)
For at least a few centuries up until the early 1990s, in the rice-farming villages in and around Shangjiangxu township, Jiangyong county (Hunan province), where most people were illiterate in the standard Chinese script, women wrote in a script men could not read. Girls and women used nüshu (women’s script), a syllabic, phonetic representation of the local language, spoken by men and women alike, to write letters, autobiographies, narratives of local and national events, prayers, and translations of stories and morality manuals popular throughout China—all of these in highly formulaic verse easily memorized and transmitted orally as well as in writing. While the people living in the nüshu area are Han, the language they speak and some of their customs suggest non-Han heritage or contact.
Girls used nüshu to write letters to establish an age mate relationship known as laotong (longtime same). The standard form of marital residence in the area is ‘delayed transfer’ marriage, in which a bride returns to her natal home a few days after the wedding and resides there until the birth of her first child is imminent, visiting her marital home only on special occasions. Associated with non-Han cultures, these social arrangements are or were also practised in other parts of the south. The texts and practices associated with ‘women’s script’ are important as cultural traces of the historical Sinicization of the south, as an example of one of China’s many regional or dialect popular literatures, and as an instance of rural women’s expressive culture.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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