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March 03, 2004

Nushu

Local authorities in Hunan province are taking a renewed interest in nushu, a writing system developed and used exclusively by women from times when only men were taught to read and write Chinese.

What seems clear is that nushu was fostered by the region's ancient custom of "sworn sisters," whereby village girls would pledge one another fealty and friendship forever. The tight sorority, which included growing up together in cobbled village lanes and gathering with adult women to weave and embroider, inevitably was shattered when the time for marriage came. Tradition dictated that a bride go away to her groom's home -- and that is where nushu came in.

Three days after the wedding, the adolescent bride would receive a "Third Day Book," a clothbound volume in which her sworn sisters and her mother would record their sorrow at losing a friend and daughter and express best wishes for happiness in the married life ahead. The first half-dozen pages contained these laments and hopes, written in nushu that the groom couldn't read. The rest were left blank for the bride to record her own feelings and experiences -- in nushu -- for what would become a treasured diary.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at March 3, 2004 10:50 AM

Comments

This sounds similar to the place of women in Japanese literature. In classical times, courtiers in Japan learned Chinese, the language of law, government and scholarship (similar to the place held by Latin in Europe's Middle Ages). the women of the court were definitely not given this education; thus, they wrote in Japanese...and thus inadvertantly initiated native Japanese literature. Sei Shonagon's "Pillow Book", Lady Murasaki's diary, "The Tale of Genji" were a few major examples from this time.

Posted by: Jim at March 3, 2004 12:29 PM

Check out Pillow Talk on the Flea's blogroll!

Posted by: Ghost of a flea at March 3, 2004 01:37 PM

What Jim said.

Prof. Flea, why won't you e-mail me?

D

Posted by: David Strain at March 3, 2004 05:42 PM

Email's brewing! Big apologies! Arghh! Work!

Also, I broke my brain today. Long story.

Posted by: Flea at March 3, 2004 08:03 PM