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Nvshu- A Hidden Chinese Language

Have you ever seen the film “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan”? In this film, there is a scene gave me a deep impression, and thus I know a magic Chinese language –Nvshu. Believing women to be inferior, men disregarded this new script, and it remained unknown for centuries. It wasn’t until the 1960s that Nu Shu caught the attentionof the public. Today, this kind of language is gradually disappearing.

What is Nvshu?

Nvshu, also known as women’s writing or female writing, is a syllabic script originally coming from Chinese square character and belongs to one of the variations of Chinese square character. It is used exclusively among women in Jiangyong County in Hunan province of southern China. Local people also called Changjiaowen, which is the only female word in the world and is only passed down by female. It is passed on from the older generation of the family, via private schools, getang (a singing activity), or self-learning. Generally speaking, Nvshu works are usually written on the refined handwritten book, sectors, cloth palmer and slips of paper. The NvshuNüshu has been included in the Unicode Standard since June 2017.




  • Unlike written Chinese, which is heavy and boxy. Rather, nv shu is long, slim, and frail.
  • Unlike the standard written Chinese, which is logographic, Nüshu is phonetic, with each of its approximately 600-700 characters representing a syllable.
  • Appear to be italic variant forms of Kaishu Chinese characters.
  • The strokes of the characters are in the form of dots, horizontals, virgules, and arcs.
  • The shape of Nvshu is like rhomboid which seems like the Oracle.
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It is not known when or how Nüshu came into being, but it is believed that a young girl from Hunan Province, who was chosen to become the emperor’s concubine, invented it. She was hardly prepared for her loneliness or the palace intrigues that surrounded her. In order to write truthfully to her mother and sisters back home about her experience, she invented the code. And many of the simplifications found in Nüshu had been in informal use in standard Chinese since the Song and Yuan dynasty (13th – 14th century). It seems to have reached its peak during the latter part of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911).


Two types of relationships developed

  1. A sworn sisterhood

In a particular village when all seven-year-old girls were having their feet bound, their mothers helped them form a sworn sisterhood. The girls would learn nu shu together, work on their diaries together, and prepare what were called “third-day wedding books” for each of their friends as they married out at age seventeen. Once all the girls had married out, the sworn sisterhood dissolved.


  1. laotong —old same

In Jiangyong, male friends are generally called Laogeng and female friends Laotong. When a girl is about to turn seven and begin her footbinding, she would meet with a matchmaker, to look for another girl instead of a suitable husband in another village who could match eight characteristics with her. The two girls had to match birth dates, be in the same birth order in both families, have the same size foot, and the like. The two girls would be brought together to sign a contract matching them for life as a pair of old-same. At seventeen, the girls would marry out to other villages and follow the normal course of their lives, but they would also continue to keep in contact with their laotong through their writing and occasional meetings for their rest of their lives.

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Forms of Nvshu

  1. Third day missives

The most representative Nvshu is the Sanchaoshu which is sent to the bride as a wedding gift. They were cloth bound booklets created by laotong, “sworn sisters” and mothers and given to their counterpart “sworn sisters” or daughters upon their marriage. They wrote down songs in Nüshu, which were delivered on the third day after the young woman’s marriage. This way, they expressed their hopes for the happiness of the young woman who had left the village to be married and their sorrow for being parted from her.


Other works, including poems and lyrics, were handwoven into belts and straps, or embroidered onto everyday items and clothing.



  1. Getang

It is a singing activity. The grandest, largest and longest Changgetang is Jingetang, Zuogetang, Hegetang, Kujia and Hesanchao during the wedding. Whenever a Nvshu song is heard, girls, married women and old women would gather together to sing the songs sentimentally. Everyone will be absorbed in the world of female emotions, performing, singing and enjoying themselves. In the homeland of Nvshu, maybe not everyone can write Nvshu, but almost everyone can sing Nvshu songs.



Today, as an increasingly endangered script, Nvshu has been attached great importance and we are started to popularize the effort to preserve this script, and some younger women are beginning to learn it. It is a unique part of our culture, we cannot lost it.





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