Inheritor Proposes to Establish Cultural Reserve for Nüshu

February 19, 2014
Editor: Sylvia Liu
Inheritor Proposes to Establish Cultural Reserve for Nüshu
Students learn Nüshu at the Nüshu Digital Museum in Shangjiangyu Township of Jiangyong County, central China's Hunan Province, on May 6, 2012. Nüshu was traditionally passed down from generation to generation via private schools, getang (a singing activity), or self-learning. [Xinhua]
Delegate of the 12th Hunan Provincial People's Congress and inheritor of Nüshu(women's script) Hu Xin recently proposed to establish a special cultural reserve for the special written language in Jiangyong County in central China's Hunan Province.

Nüshu is a syllabic script, a simplification of Chinese characters that was used exclusively among women in Jiangyong County in central China's Hunan Province. Nüshu was traditionally passed down from generation to generation via private schools, getang (a singing activity), or self-learning.

According to Hu, Jiangyong County meets the requirements of establishing a cultural reserve. Local government has made plans for the preservation of Nüshu and acquired a 10 million yuan (US$ 1.65 million) grant from the Ford Foundation in 2005 to collect and catalogue Nüshu information and materials, establishing Nüshu schools and museums over the past few years. Meanwhile, Nüshu has been building into a cultural brand to boost local tourism industry.

Hu believes the establishment of a cultural reserve will drive the development of local economy as well as Nüshu culture. She hopes the Hunan government will allocate funds to enhance the infrastructure of Jiangyong County and set up an expert committee for the cultural reserve as an intellectual support.

It is not known when Nüshu came into being, but, because it is clearly based on the standard Chinese script, hanzi, Nüshu could not have been created before the standardization of hanzi (circa AD 900). Many of the simplifications found in Nüshu have been in informal use in standard Chinese since the Song and Yuan dynasties (13th - 14th century). It seems to have reached its peak during the latter part of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912).

Believing women to be inferior, men disregarded the ideograms, but for centuries women wrote on fans, embroidered messages on handkerchiefs, and composed stories, thereby reaching out of their windows to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments.

The writing system nearly died out during the 'cultural revolution' (1966-76), but in 1982 a professor at Wuhan University discovered some pieces in Jiangyong County. As experts from both home and abroad studied it, Nüshu became more widely known.

In October 2005, Nüshu was included into the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's most gender-specific script. In May 2006, the State Council, China's Cabinet, listed Nüshu as a national intangible cultural heritage.

The unique language gained international attention when it was featured in the film Snow Flower and the Secret Fan in 2011. The movie, starring Chinese actress Li Bingbing, South Korean actress Gianna Jun, and Australian actor Hugh Jackman, tells the story of a special lifelong friendship between two women who communicate using Nüshu.

(Source: China Women's News / Translated by womenofchina.cn)

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