From Academic Kids

N Shu (Traditional Chinese: 女書; Simplified Chinese: 女书; Hanyu Pinyin: nǚ shū), literally translated as "Women's writing", is a writing system that was used exclusively among women in Jiangyong County in Hunan province of southern China.

Unlike the standard written Chinese, which is logographic (each character representing a word or part of a word), N Shu is roughly phonetic, with each of its approximately 700 characters representing a syllable. Although some N Shu characters appear to have been derived from standard Chinese characters, most are unrelated.

In ancient Hunan, women were discouraged from learning Nan Shu-"man's writing", i.e. Chinese written language; N Shu was therefore invented and used secretly, carefully guarded from men. Often, the characters were disguised as decorative marks or as part of artwork. Although N Shu has existed for centuries, it was not known to most of the world until recently (1983), due to the intense secrecy regarding the language.

Before the Cultural Revolution, it was customary to burn N Shu books during the author's funeral to comfort her in the next world. During the Cultural revolution, thousands of N Shu manuscripts were destroyed, partly due to the fear of secret languages and partly due to the mission (of Red Guards) to destroy old cultures. As a result, few N Shu manuscripts survived.

After the Chinese Revolution, literacy spread among women, and N Shu fell into disuse. At present only a handful of old women are capable of reading it. After Yang Yueqing made a documentary about it, the PRC government started to popularize the effort to preserve this rare writing system.

Yang Huanyi, an inhabitant of Hunan province and the last person proficient in this writing system, passed away on September 23, 2004 at the age of 98.

Compare with hiragana, a phonetic writing of Japanese used initially by women, that wrote "minor" works like the Tale of Genji.

External links

fr:Nushu nl:Nushu pl:Nushu de:N shu zh:女书

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