This language was used by only women in China


He Jingua, writing the phrase “mysterious scripts through the ages” in Nüshu characters (UNESCO)

Nüshu was taught mainly by mothers to their daughters in a feudal society that lacked access to education in reading and writing.

Nüshu is considered to be the world’s only writing system that is created and used exclusively by women in China.

Originating in China’s Jiangyong county in the nineteenth century, it is endangered today but the country’s local and national authorities are working to revive it.

Nüshu literally means “women’s writing” in Chinese. Today it is the world’s only script designed and used exclusively by women and was developed among the rural women of the Xiao River valley, in the Jiangyong county of China’s Hunan province, where there is a mixture of Han culture and Yao folkways.

The earliest known artefact in the Nüshu script is a bronze coin discovered in Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu province. It was minted during the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, a rebel kingdom in China from 1851 to 1864, which introduced important social reforms and adapted to a certain extent several policies regarding gender equality. The eight characters etched in Nüshu on the coin mean “all the women in the world are members of the same family”.

A culture among women

Nüshu was taught mainly by mothers to their daughters and practised for fun among women. It was used by women in a feudal society who lacked access to education in reading and writing.

This syllabic script was generally used for writing autobiographies, letters between sisters, and sanzhaoshu – “third-day missives” of good wishes, presented to a bride by her closest friends, three days after her wedding. It was also used to record folk songs, riddles and translations of ancient Chinese poems, and to compose songs for farm women that promoted morality and encouraging frugality in household management.

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