The secret language of Nushu was used by Chinese women, who were forbidden to read or write for thousands of years.
There are very few people today who know the secret language of Nushu. Written in poems or songs on paper-folded fans and handkerchiefs, the historical language was developed by Chinese women, who were forbidden to read or write for thousands of years. These hidden letters bonded generations of Chinese women in a clandestine support system of sisterhood, hope and survival.
Two millennials, young women called Hu Xin and Simu, are linked through their knowledge of Nushu. A world away from their foremothers who used it by necessity, Hu Xin and Simu are independent women who carry and protect the legacy of this private language of hope and resistance.
Yet, as Violet du Feng and Zhao Qing’s gentle, pertinent, film reveals, the weight of patriarchal tradition and expectation still rest heavily on Hu Xin and Simu. Influenced by Nushu’s legacy of female solidarity, the two women struggle to find balance and forge their own paths in a culture steeped in female subservience to men.
Dancing with water: women’s cinema from contemporary China is a film season (Feb-April 2024) curated and programmed by Kiki Tianqi Yu and Shan Tong, which captures a burgeoning energy of fluidity, flexibility and resilience of Chinese women filmmakers and their cinemas, resonating with the Daoist concept of yin and water as being not only soft and formless but also pervasive and tenacious. For more please check out www.dancingwithwaterfilm.com
The screening on Sat 17 Feb will be followed by a Q&A with Prof Harriet Evans and Kiki Tianqi Yu (Curator of Dancing with Water and senior Lecturer in Film, Queen Mary University of London).
Harriet is Emeritus Professor of Chinese Cultural Studies (University of Westminster) and Visiting Professor of Anthropology (LSE). She has written extensively on the politics of gender and sexuality in China, and on political posters and visual culture of the Mao era. Her third monograph, Beijing from Below: Stories of Marginal Lives in the Capital’s Center was published by Duke University Press in 2020. Grassroots Values and Local Cultural Heritage in, co-edited with Michael Rowlands, and based on a research project funded by the Leverhulme Trust, was published in 2021 by Lexington Books. Apart from her academic work, Evans is actively involved in promoting human and LGBTQ+ rights.