Student Report on “Chinese Female-Only Script: Unveiling the Stories and Influence of 女书 (Nvshu)”

Reported by Yixin Gu, Class of 2027

The event was jointly sponsored by the HRC Gender Studies Initiative and the CSCC Meanings, Identities and Communities Cluster.

On March 20, 2024, guest speaker Xiuyuan You was invited to the campus to conduct a lecture and workshop on the Chinese national intangible cultural heritage– Nvshu. Ms. You is the Jiangsu Nvshu Cultural Ambassador, Dean of Wuxi Nvshu Academy, and Associate Researcher of the Chinese Nvshu Research Center at Wuhan University.

During the event, speaker You showed clips from the movie “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” and a documentary about Nvshu to help attendees understand the characteristics and historical background of Nvshu.

Nvshu originated from Jiangyong, Hunan, China. Due to the lack of formal education for women in ancient times, Nvshu was created to satisfy women’s eagerness for knowledge and literature, as well as to help women communicate and express themselves. It also served as a means for women in Jiangyong to release their emotions and have a voice during difficult times. The transmission of Nvshu typically occurs among mothers and daughters, sisters, and master-disciple relationships. Due to the embodiment of female resistance to patriarchy, the wisdom and power of women, as well as universal sisterhood, Nvshu is highly relevant and beneficial to the idea of gender equality.

The reading methods of Nvshu involve recitation and chanting, and it is a phonetic script. Officially certified, there are nearly 500 Nvshu characters, which are sufficient for creative works and daily communication.

As the Dean of Wuxi Nvshu Academy, Ms. You introduced the efforts of their team to protect and inherit Nvshu, such as creating art works involving Nvshu elements, using technology for its preservation, integrating it with cultural tourism, and establishing Nvshu inns. Ms. You’s lifelong exploration and investigation of Nvshu led her to identify her determination to promote intangible cultural heritage and women’s empowerment.

In a subsequent workshop, Ms. You guided attendees to collectively write Nvshu characters, such as “福” (blessing) and “富” (wealth), to deepen their appreciation for the beauty and power of traditional Chinese culture. She also inscribed a piece of Nvshu artwork with the message of rooted global citizenship and presented it to Duke Kunshan University, hoping to spread Chinese Nvshu culture to a broader audience.