A Practice of Difference: Uncovering Women’s Space with Nüshu, Women’s Script

By Yuen-yi Lo.

Published by The Arts Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Nüshu, translated from Chinese (Mandarin), means women’s script. Nüshu is believed to be created and practiced by the local women in Shangjiangxu Township, Jiangyong County, Hunan Province, China for some hundred years. A phonetic system of writing derived from the local dialect, nüshu writings have a different scheme of syntax and structure from the Chinese. The exclusive use of this matriarchal script among the local women for generations well indicates that though not being able to receiving education, some women had been able to create their own means of communication to express their own desires. In so doing they developed a tradition of storytelling, orally in chants, in embroidery work, and in written form. They have exposed the ideological limitations and transformed their spaces within a culture that allowed them limited access, defining for themselves an identity which was forgotten in History.
Nüshu has died and is no longer practiced; I visited the region 3 times in the span of 5 years from 1998-2002 and interviewed some 28 women. It is significant to gain experience from the few remaining elderly women who articulated their stories in a different way through a unique set of writing script. Written between fiction and theory, the rhetoric of the individual and collective memories, fragmentary and repetitive, acts to interrupt the linear tradition of history and explore a fluid feminine practice of writing as informed by the women in the nüshu region.

Keywords: Nüshu, Matriarchal Script, Secret Script, Women, Chanting, Visual Narratives, Sexual Difference, Herstory

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 5, Issue 6, pp.41-56. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 2.051MB).

Dr. Yuen-yi Lo

Assistant Professor, Faculty of Education , Faculty of Education, University of Macau, Macau, China

LO Yuen-yi is an artist, writer and lecturer. Showcasing extensively in Hong Kong and Britain, her creative work concerns oral and scripto-visual communication. She has contributed writings in the areas of art and culture, feminism and oral history. Lecturing in creative practices and cultural studies, she is currently teaching visual arts in the Faculty of Education, University of Macau and is conducting research on the oral history and the visual representations of elderly women in Macau.

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