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Nu Shu: A Hidden Language of Women in China
A film by Yue-Qing Yang
Canada/China, 1999, 59 minutes, Color, DVD, Subtitled
Order No. W00655
In feudal China, women, usually with bound feet, were denied educational opportunities and condemned to social isolation. But in Jian-yong county in Hunan province, peasant women miraculously developed a separate written language, called Nu Shu, meaning "female writing." 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 attention of Chinese authorities, who suspected that this peculiar writing was a secret code for international espionage. Today, interest in this secret script continues to grow, as evidenced by the wide critical acclaim of Lisa Sees recent novel, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, about Nu Shu.

NU SHU: A HIDDEN LANGUAGE OF WOMEN IN CHINA is a thoroughly engrossing documentary that revolves around the filmmaker's discovery of eighty-six-year-old Huan-yi Yang, the only living resident of the Nu Shu area still able to read and write Nu Shu. Exploring Nu Shu customs and their role in women's lives, the film uncovers a women's subculture born of resistance to male dominance, finds a parallel struggle in the resistance of Yao minorities to Confucian Han Chinese culture, and traces Nu Shu's origins to some distinctly Yao customs that fostered women's creativity.


  • Vancouver International Film Festival

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    "An eye opener. Good documentaries are able to not only uncover facts but get to the emotional core of their human subjects. Yue-Qing Yang does just that."
    Mark Andrews
    Vancouver Sun

    "Yang's film is an intimate look at all aspects of the women's lives: their abusive husbands, the hardships and hunger they faced, and the beauty of their songs and embroidery."
    Lisa Smedman
    Vancouver Echo

    "We just don't get a chance to see China on such an intimate level. This film is absolutely fascinating."
    Netty Wild

    "Revelatory is the best word to describe this accomplished, insightful documentary."
    Vancouver International Film Festival

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    Nu Shu: A Hidden Language of Women in China is included in the following Special Collections.
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    Lisa See's Website
    Official site for the author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Book synopsis, reviews, information about Lisa See and more.

    Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
    Order the recent novel about Nu Shu by Lisa See, from Random House.

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A beautiful and moving film with high artistic merit.
Laura Miller
Asian Educational Media Service
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WMM offers film collections on a variety of specific subject areas, including the collections VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN: Ending the Silence, BODY IMAGE, and AFRICAN-AMERICAN: Celebrate the Lives of African-American Women.

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© Women Make Movies, 2005
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Women Make Movies is a multicultural, multiracial, non-profit media arts organization which facilitiates the production, promotion, distribution, and exhibition of independent films and videotapes by and about women. contact us