These words were expressed by Gangzhen and Cizhu, two peasant women born in the early twentieth century who lived in two villages in Jiangyong County of Hunan Province in southern China. When confronted with the loss of their husbands, these women relied on local tools familiar to women in this area—nüge and nüshu—to articulate their thoughts and emotions. Nüge (literally, “female song”), which includes bridal laments and folk narratives, was widely practiced among peasant women in southern China, especially prior to the Liberation of 1949. Nüshu (“female writing”), in contrast, was used extensively by peasant women in Jiangyong. Moreover, it is one of the very few writing systems in the world that is mostly illegible to men. This male-illegible script,3 which is semiphonetic compared to the ideographs of Chinese hanzi,4 was used for centuries among hanzi-illitetate women, but it remained basically undocumented and unknown to the outside world until the 1980s, just as it was becoming extinct. Prior to Liberation, Jiangyong women had used nüshu to write sisterhood letters, biographic laments, wedding literature, folk stories, and other narratives in verse form. Combined with nüge, they documented peasant women's experiences and gave voices to their existence.

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