A gift to UN Women showcases the world’s only female writing system from China

Date: Friday, April 20, 2012

Counsellor Minister Lu Hailing presents a Nüshu scroll to UN Women Deputy Executive Director John Hendra on behalf of the Permanent Mission of China to the United Nations. (Photo Credit: UN Women / Ryan Brown)

A scroll, given to UN Women by a Chinese delegation, has showcased a unique female-only script.

Deputy Executive Director John Hendra received the scroll from a delegation of experts from Hunan Province, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. The scroll was a translation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), to celebrate UN Women's establishment, and a new exhibition of the writings at UN Headquarters.

The Nushu script (literally, “women's script, and also known as NvZi and NvShu), has been passed from mother to daughter for centuries since its creation in Yongjiang County, Hunan, and is based on the Yongming dialect. Its origins are not known. However it was used by women or ‘sworn sisters' as a sign of friendship, in writing to each other, and for occasions such as marriages, birthdays and festivals. For women, the script was an innovative way of contending with their historically limited access to education.

Fewer people have learned and used this language since 1949, when girls started to attend school in greater numbers and learn mainstream scripts. During the Cultural Revolution, Nushu almost died out. However in the 1980s it was rediscovered by Chinese scholars, and is experiencing a revival in Yongjiang, with the younger generation starting to learn it again. It particularly caught the public imagination after a film, “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan was released internationally last year, based on a book, in which two girls develop the code to contend with the rigid cultural norms imposed on women in 19th Century China.

The script is made up of slim curved lines and dots, and features approximately 400 characters. It is commonly expressed in Nushu songs - often-sentimental folk tunes sung by women - and as weaving patterns in clothing.

The Chinese delegation was led by Counsellor Minister Ms. Lv Hailing, the wife of Ambassador and Permanent Representative of China to the United Nations Mr. Li Baodong, who donated the script to Mr. Hendra on behalf of the Permanent Mission of China to the UN.

The UN Chinese Book Club exhibition of Nushu writings has been organized by the UN Department of Public Information in celebration of Chinese Language Day on April 20.

More pictures of the event can be accessed at https://www.flickr.com/photos/unwomen/sets/72157629497826718/with/6951150182/