Women’s Script Compositions in China: Recording Collective Memories

By Anne E. McLaren.

Published by The International Journal of the Book

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic Free Download

Women’s script is the translation of a Chinese term, Nűshu. It refers to a script devised and transmitted by communities of women in Jiangyong County located in Hunan province in south China during the late imperial and early modern period. The term also refers to the body of writings recorded in that script, such as letters written to women friends and petitions to local deities. Nűshu is regarded as the world’s only gender-specific script. It was used only by women in the pre-contemporary period. Nűshu was primarily used to forge friendships amongst women living in segregated communities within traditional Chinese society. This study will explore a number of stories recorded in women’s script that relate to memories of past events in the region, including traumatic events of war and suffering, and the tumultuous years of the transition to socialism. Nűshu writings provide rare insight into how collective memories help regional communities to construct a sense of group identity and offer a remarkable example of the expressive power of marginalized groups in pre-modern Chinese society.

Keywords: China, Women’s Script, Expressive Culture, Cultural Memory

The International Journal of the Book, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp.51-60. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 450.733KB).

Anne E. McLaren

Associate Professor, Asia Institute, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, Australia

Anne McLaren is professor in the Chinese program of the Asia Institute, University of Melbourne, where she teaches Chinese language and literature. She is the author of Performing Grief: Bridal Laments in Rural China (University of Hawaii Press, 2008), and many studies on the expressive culture of Chinese women and popular narratives of late imperial China.


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