It was a delicate, graceful script handed down from grandmother to granddaughter, from elderly aunt to adolescent niece, from girlfriend to girlfriend—and never, ever shared with the men and boys.
So was born nushu, or women’s script, a single-sex writing system that Chinese scholars believe is the only one of its kind.
“The girls used to get together and sing and talk, and that’s when we learned from one another,” said Yang Huanyi, 98, a wrinkled farmer’s widow who learned as a girl and whom scholars consider the most accomplished reader and writer among a fast-dwindling number of nushu practitioners. “It made our lives better, because we could express ourselves that way.”
Read the article for more details about the murky history of nüshu and its discovery by outsiders and the regional custom of “sworn sisterhood” it reflects,
and go to Adam Morris’s Brainysmurf entry for further links and a gorgeous image of the writing. (Thanks to Adam and to Pascale Soleil for alerting me to this story.)
Addendum. Laura Miller has written a stern critique of Cody’s article over at Kerim Friedman’s Keywords.
[April 2010: Sorry about the broken links!]