Chinese women's writing


Jiangyong Nüshu is essentially premised on the simplification and stylization of standard Chinese characters. The women who created it chose one character to stand for one sound in their language (in contrast to standard Sinographic writing, where one sound may be represented by dozens or scores of discrete characters. In this way, the memory load on the users of the script was much reduced.

In addition, Nüshu adheres to the principle of what I call “rhomboidization”, whereby the square shapes of Sinographs are tilted diagonally. Another noticeable feature of Nüshu is its exaggeratedly long, curved strokes to suit the particular medium they may be using, e.g., embroidery, one of the chief forms in which the script is practiced.

In some respects, Jiangyong Nüshu is distinctive, but it is not an utterly unique specimen of a script that was originally used primarily by women. Another is the Japanese cursive syllabary called hiragana, which was also known as onnade 女手 (“women’s hand / writing”). Genji Monogatari (The Tale of Genji), one of the great novels of the world, written in the early 11th century by the noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu, was written in hiragana.

Women’s writing: dead or alive, Victor Mair in Language Log