by Jennifer Burstein
published in Mei Magazine, Fall 2008
Hundreds of years ago in China most girls were not able to go to school. They did not learn to read or write. However, they wanted to be able to communicate with their friends and women family members. This was especially important after they married and went to live with their husband’s family.
Over time the women in the Jiangyong County of the Hunan province developed their own secret writing system. This language was called Nushu. The word Nushu has been translated to mean “Woman’s Writing”.
Nushu is thinner and less square than traditional Chinese writing. It also looks more like cursive writing. Similar to traditional Chinese writing, Nushu is written in columns and is read from right-to-left.
Girls would learn the language from their mother, grandmother, aunts or friends. They would write it in fans or in books. Because most girls were experienced in embroidery, they would sew the words in their needlework. When a girl married, her women family members and friends would give her a special book. The women would write special messages and songs in Nushu for the new bride. Pages would be left blank for the bride to use the book as a diary.
In the 1920’s women were given the opportunity to go to school. As girls learned traditional Chinese languages, the need for Nushu mostly disappeared. There are only a few women who are familiar with Nushu. Much about Nushu remains a mystery.
“Nushu, a Women’s Script”, http://www.crystalinks.com/nushu/html, July 31, 2008.
“Nushu – the syllabic script used exclusively by women in Hunan, China”, http://www.omniglot.com/writing/nushu.htm, July 31, 2008.
“The Discovery of Nushu”, http://www.chinavoc.com/life/focus/wmbook.asp, July 31, 2008.
Make Your Own Secret Message Fan
1 piece of 8 1/2″ X 11″ paper in a plain color
1 piece of 8 1/2 ” X 11″ paper with a pattern (scrapbook paper is good)
1. Decorate the plain piece of paper using the markers. Write a special message. You can also use stickers, punches or other decorations; however, make sure that you can fold the decorations.
2. Place the patterned papers over the top of your message.
3. Fold both papers together to make a fan.
4. Secure the bottom of the fan with a paperclip.
5. Cover the paperclip with a ribbon. Tie the ribbon and make a bow facing the front.
6. Give the fan to your friend. Make sure you explain to your friend how to open the fan to obtain your message.