Sunday 26 August 2018


Sixth Tone brings us a poignant story about a disappearing tradition whose last caretakers are to a degree contradictory to the reason that the nüshu system of writing was contrived in the first place.
As opposed to the thousands of logographic characters of standard Chinese, nüshu was developed as a syllabaric simplification, a phonetic alphabet, for women to use to communicate and record their thoughts around the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries (the Song and Yuan dynasties) without the benefit of formal education that was afforded to their male counterparts in the county of Jiangyong in Hunan province. As the Cultural Revolution ensured that access to education was universal and equitable, the secret and confessional form of writing became—which locals refer to as “long-legged mosquito script”—antiquated and the last proficient and native user, a woman called Yang Huanyi, passed away in 2004, nüshu is now only known through study and research, instead of being passed on from mother to daughter as a provisional form of literacy Unfortunately, despite its new-found visibility with on bilingual shop signs to appeal to the tourists, it’s no longer the exclusive outlet of the under-valued but initiated (the in-grouping of the out-group) and much of what’s preserved with this resurgence is distorted and incorrect.