August 4, 2008


A New Three-day Missive (OSan Chao Shu) Discovered!!


Report of my recent field survey on womenfs script (Nushu):


0.     Preface

The purposes of my field survey conducted in August, 2008 were as follows:

(1)  To inquire at the Nushu Administration Center about the preservation condition of Nushu after my last survey.

(2)  To take Ms. T, a Chinese student from Hunan Province    (Γ) studying at my office, to the survey tour to show her the site.

(3) To search for any original materials such as three-day missives, etc. 

    After I decided to go on the survey tour, Ms. J, studying nonfiction literature at Iowa University in America, sent me an e-mail asking me whom to contact to visit the Nushu site. In reply, I invited her to join me on the tour scheduled toward the end of August. At once, she showed much interest in the matter, but she said, I am a Chinese American, but I cannot understand Chinese well.h I said, gThat could pose a problem. I cannot afford to hire an interpreter. h She asked me in reply, gIs it all right if I take my mother who was born in China?h  gThen, thatfs all right,h I agreed to her participation in the tour.

Later, the number of participants intended for the second purpose increased.  I could wish for nothing better, since I hoped that as many people as take interest in Nushu.  Especially, I hope young students will know the environment where the script was born, learned and transmitted when they visit its birth place.  The door is open to everyone who is interested in Nushu.  I am always ready to help him or her.

Ms. T, a postgraduate student in my university, is from Hunan Province, but she did not know Nushu before she came to Japan.  After she saw the Nushu materials in my office, she felt she could not be ignorant of the fact that there is such a wonderful cultural inheritance in her native place, and all at once, she became eager to study the script. @


1.    The statements by Liu Zhonghua (), officer of the Nushu Admistration Office of Jiangyong Countyi]ij


They want to hold a symposium on Nushu for the following reasons in October this year:


a.    To report to Ford Foundation, from whom they received financial aid through 2006 into 2008.

b.    To introduce Nushu.

c.      To ask for support for applying for the World Cultural Heritage status.


As for a progress report, the collection of Nushu-concerned materials was an important problem which the county government confronted. Electronic data are being prepared by scanning those items collected by Chinese researchers.  The government will open them to the public as a cyber museum with the symposium providing momentum.

They will invite researchers, the press, calligraphers, Chinese government officials, etc. in order to have many people know about Nushu.  For this, they will refurbish the gate of the Nushu Cultural Garden () and others on a large scale.  The PK Group which has managed the garden will withdraw in August, so that the county government will take over the management of the garden from September.

Nushu is enumerated first among candidates in Hunan Province for World Cultural Heritage status.  They will appeal to the central government so that it would be selected as an object intended for its application.

When I was interviewing the officer, Ms. Pu Liyuan(N) dropped by, saying she had just returned from Beijing.  She said she had introduced Nushu at the exhibition hut called gChinese Traditionh in the Beijing Olympic Park.  The publicity activity of Nushu in Beijing can be summarized as follows:

Nushu was selected as one of the five kinds of culture in Hunan Province. Pu Liyuan was sent to Beijing by the Cultural Affairs department of Hunan Province to introduce it and she stayed there for 25 days engaged in introducing Nushu.  Thirty tent huts were built in the park for introducing ethnic culture of various regions in China.  She worked at the tent hut for introducing the culture of Hunan Province. The hut was 20 square meters, where she introduced Nushu as one of the five cultures: ceramic art, paper cutting and embroidery. There were more than a hundred thousand visitors every day. A newspaper called gThe Chinese Traditionh was published every day during the period of the Olympic Games reported the same figures.

There were also many foreign visitors such as Canadians, Italians, etc.  Visitors showed much interest in Nushu. saying, gHow beautiful the characters are!h or asking, gIs it a secret means of communication?h  There were more questions, such as gWhich ethnic group does it belong to?h, gHow many people can read the characters?h, gAre there students learning them?h, etc.  These kinds of questions were typical.  Ms. Pu Liyuan responded  by saying that at present, there are only five or six women who can read Nushu.  It is not taught at school.  Once girls became able to receive school education, none of them could write it anymore.  It is not concerned with any ethnic group.  Many of the visitors came to the venue, thinking of Nushu as calligraphy.

Taking advantage of the Olympic Games held in Beijing to appeal to the world by the whole nation, there were 30 tent huts for introducing Chinese culture, and as many as a hundred thousand visitors came every day.  That may have presented a grand spectacle. It was just the thing that Nushu of Jiangyong County (]i) needed, a small and poor area in Hunan Province, was selected and introduced their culture to many visitors from all over the world.  I would like to express thanks and high regard to the Cultural Department of Hunan Province.


2.     A culture shock at poor village

 I showed Ms. J and her daughter from Dallas and San Francisco respectively as well as Ms. T who was brought up in a town in Hunan Province round the villages where girls who had read and written Nush had lived.  On the way to visiting elderly women who might know Nushu walking between the houses lined close together, amidst vegetable rubbish and cow dung on the lane where children were running barefoot.  In the house, there was nothing but a shabby desk and chair on the earthen floor.  The visitors got quite a culture shock at such an inferior environment quite a bit.  Nonetheless, they seemed to take keen interest in Nushu all the more.  They wondered why such a beautiful script had been born in such a poor village and who had created it.

I also showed them to the Nushu Culture Garden which had been opened to the public in 2002.  Whenever I visit there, I find it desolated and cannot help but wonder if such a great turnout at the time of opening might be little more than an illusion.  This time, however, we passed by a group of about 30 visitors on tour.  That was not so common.  I was told they came in a group from a neighboring county.  We entered the garden just after they left, but we found no other visitors.  We saw Ms. Hu Meiyue (Ӕ), who always guides me in the garden when I visit.  She sang for us some songs she had learned from her grandmother.

As for the articles on display, I found a new article this time. It was a big palanquin placed in the entrance hall.  It was in ancient times used at a wedding to ride a bride to the household  she married into.  There was no change in display materials in the material room on the second floor.  The souvenir shop remained closed because the shopkeeper was out.

Then we came to the classroom where Nush is taught on a timely basis when anyone comes to learn Nushu.  There were two elementary school girls earnestly practicing writing characters.  One was Zhu Yan(), 11 years old, and the other one Zhu Lian (@), 14 years old.  They were cousins who came from a neighboring village called Xu Zhen Pu (]).


Zhu Yan and Zhu Lian

Zhu Lianfs notebook




The teacher, Ms. Hu Meiyue, said that they came there to learn Nushu every day from the beginning of August just after the summer holiday had started.@They were transliterating the Chinese characters of the sutra for female children gNu Ni Jing Zoh  into Nushu.  The teacher said that at the beginning she showed how to write the shape of a character as a sample and get them to memorize writing the script.


I asked the girls some questions as follows:


Q: Why do you learn Nushu?

A: We donft know.


Q: Do you like Nushu script?

A: Yes, we do.


Q: Do you enjoy learning the script?

A: Yes, we do.


Q: What are you writing?

A: We are writing songs transmitted from ancient times.

   After we listen to such songs, we have come to be able to write them.


Q: How are you going to learn Nushu after the summer holidays?

A: We will come here on Saturdays and Sundays.


I asked them to show me their notebook, and I found thin  small characters had been closely written in the notebook.  We expect much from teen-age girls, who have excellent memories.


RDA Three-day Missive found

    Last year I visited Huang Jia Ling Xiang Xi Villageib䋽jto investigate how the three-day missive had been going on since I found its existence when I conducted a field survey in 1997.  The villages around were extensively investigated by the county government in 2006.  I found out in 1997 that one volume of the three-day missive had been owned by a middle-aged man.  At that time, he strongly refused either to have its picture taken or its copy made in spite of my earnest request, because he said it would go down in value.

When I revisited the village, his mother said that her son or the middle-aged man had gone to Guandong Province (Lȁj for work and that he had sold the missive for 190 yuan in the previous year or 2006.  How deeply regretful I felt!  If the local government had conducted a thorough survey, they ought to have been able to come across and buy it.

The government says that because they have no materials, they have to ask researchers for them and take copies.  I dare to say that is a too easygoing way of collecting materials, considering the case as mentioned above.  There is a good possibility that more materials still remain, so they should search for them in the villages thoroughly before it is too late.


After the 1990fs, when this script came to draw peoplefs@attention, Ms. He Jinghua (É) and her daughter Ms. Pu Liyuan (N) began to actively write the script.  It is indispensable to collect as many original materials as possible for even distinguishing  between the traditional style in writing by Ms. He Jinghua and the new style by Ms. Pu Liyuan (N). 

In 1996, 1997 and 1999, I entrusted some undergraduates and graduates of Beijing University and Huaqiao University as well as Chinese students in Japan with the task of conducting field surveys in total of 150 villages.  The survey items were as follows:

1)    Whether there is anyone who can read and write the script or not.

2)    Whether there is anyone who studied the script in her girlhood or not.

3)    Whether there is anyone who has any materials written in Nush such as handkerchiefs, folding fans, three-day missives, etc. or not.

4)    Whether there is anyone who knows who has such materials or not. 


@@The surveyors filled in answers in the survey slips.  This time I checked the survey slips, where concrete information was written, such as gMs. Y in the village X said that Ms. Z had a three-day missive, but she had not lived in the village.  She also said that Ms. B in the Village A had one.  Ms. C said that her mother living in the Village D had one. h   I planned to revisit only the villages where I had not confirmed such concrete information as mentioned above.  Ten years already passed since then, so that I feared that materials might have gone somewhere.

However, considering my bitter experience last year, I went the rounds of the following eight villages once again this time to confirm such information.


Village K: At the entrance of the village, I found two old women sitting by the pond.  I approached them and showed a sample of the three-day missive to ask, gDo you know this one?h  One woman answered, gYes, Ifve had one once before, but I couldnft read it, so I threw it away with the garbage.h  The other said, g In my girlhood, I saw someone writing Nushu.  A three-day missive was taken away by Hu Si Si (ӎll)before. h

Village T: I called on Ms. Y, who a villager told me had a three-day missive when I visited the village in 1999.  I met her son, a high-school student, who said his parents had been working in Guangdong, so they would not come back till the New Year.


Village B: I met a woman in her  60fs.  She said that her husbandfs ex-wife had ever had a three-day missive, but her daughter sold it for 500 yuan.  She could not remember when it was.  Then I met a man in his 70fs, the eldest village senior.  He said that he had ever had one, but it got moldy, so he threw it away.  He had several three-day missives during the Cultural Revolution, but he threw them away in terror.  He added that there were no three-day missives any more in the village.


Village R: I called on Ms. OG of 80fs.  When I saw her in 1999, she had had the three-day missive given by her mother who was from Xin Zhai Village (V).  At that time, its leather cover was decaying.  This time I went to the village to confirm whether it remained or not.  I met Ms. OG who had been plying cards with her friends sitting on the stone at the entrance gate of the village.  She said, g I had my motherfs three-day missive, but I sold it to my neighbor in 2006.h@Even so, I bit my lip with regret, although I had known that it had been in her possession till two years before.


Village J: I met a man in his 70fs.  He said, gMy grandmother had one with a black cover.  It was a little bit bigger and more beautiful than the sample. h@I met Mr. OS, who was 87 years old.  He said, gIfve never seen anyone writing the script.  My elder brotherfs wife from Xi Li Wei  (K) could write it.  She had a three-day missive until her grandchild sold it for 200 yuan some years ago.h 


Village S: When I visited this village in the spring of 1999, a woman of 40fs said, gWe have a three-day missive belonging to my husbandfs mother.  I will sell it to you if you pay 900 yuan.h  When I revisited the village in 2001, I was informed that it was owned by Ms. OTfs mother and OT held it.h

     To make sure of that information, I revisited the village.  When I asked a man at the entrance whether a man called OT was around or not, at once he showed me to his house.  There was Ms. N, Mr. OTfs wife, at home.  Usually I ask a question of a villager showing a sample of a three-day missive whether she or he has this kind of booklet, but at that time, I asked her directly whether she had one or not.  She answered, gYes, I have.h  Right away she entered her house and soon brought a green fabric bag, which was used by slinging its belt over onefs shoulder.  Such bags were often used by students and workers in China during 1960fs and 1970fs.  It was nothing other than a three-day missive that she took out from the bag.  It had no damage at all and the way of binding was by ancient girlfs handicraft at its highest sophistication.  The characters were written finely,  and beautifully, and the end of the paper with songs written was decorated with red paper.  As the treasure I had been looking for under a burning sun was found out so easily, I felt some strength leave me.



New discovery of  a three-day missive

Inside of the  three-day missive




Ms. B said her husband OT was the second son, and her mother YK from the village Bai Shui () had a three-day missive.  His mother said she had received it from her sisters-in-law living in Bai Shui when she got married.  The mother-in-law died at the age of 77.  The elder sister of her husband was 68 years old and living in good health.  


    The elder sister of OT was born 68 years ago.  Supposing that her mother got married at the age of 18 and soon her daughter was born, she might have been born early in 1920.  If she received the three-day missive when she got married at the age of 18, it may have been made about 70 years ago.

I offered to buy it, but she refused to sell it because her husband was not at home at that time.  So, telling her I would come again the next day, I left her home.

Next day, I again called on OT past 9:00 a.m. He was just having breakfast.  His wife seemed to be out.  Eating rice in a big bowl, he came out.  Several children of seemingly one to five years old were following him and some of them were fighting. 

OT told me that he was 59 years old this year and that he was taking care of six grandchildren of his four sons working away.


OT and his grandchildren


At first, when I asked him how he thought about the value of Nushu, he answered he did not know.  He said: gso far only one person came to see the three-day missive.  It was one month before.  He wanted to buy it, but when I said I would sell it for 500 yuan, he left without buying it.  I suggested that because it is humid here, it is difficult to keep it in good condition.  There are already some worm-eaten spots.  So how about asking the prefectural government to take care of it?h  The government prefectural government officer also tried to persuade him, gIf it is properly kept, it will last long.  If you want to see it, you will be able to see it anytime.  We will put it on display, describing clearly your name, your motherfs name (its owner) and the name of the village where it was found.  If you sell it, it would become very difficult to know its whereabout.h

OT said he wanted to consult his four sons working in Guangdong.  He was temporizing.  Before long, he said he must consult his wife.  He asked one of the villagers gathering around him to call for his wife B.  

He finall agreed to sell his three-day missive to the prefectural government by its officerfs persuasion after about one hour.  I was very lucky to find out a real three-day missive on the third day after I visited the area.  Otherwise, it may possibly have been sold a month before.

    In the evening, I went for Ms. He Yanxin (V) in He Yuan Village (͕) and on the way back to the prefecture, she recalled a woman who had said she would sell a three-day missive for 10,000 yuan before.  So I asked her to lead the way to her home.  Then, I met a woman called ZH in her 60fs and asked, gFor how much did you sell your three-day missive?h  She answered, gI didnft sell it, but I gave it to someone.h  I said, gOh, did you?  Thatfs very admirable!  But I wonder why you did so?h  In response, she told me a regrettable story.

ZH gave LM three volumes of three-day missives owned by her mother-in-law who had come from Tian Quang Dong (cL) and a notebook with Mao Zedongfs poetry written and had received the certificate of merit.  Then, I thought that they might be what had been given without doubt.  However, I was not convinced of her talk, and she went home to take the certificate of merit to show it to me.

 In 2003, He Yanxin introduced ZH to LM who were from Beijing. 

ZH said she would sell all her three-day missives and the notebook for 3,000 yuan, but saying she wanted to borrow them, she went back to Beijing.  After that, she received the letter of appreciation. 

    She showed me the certificate of merit, which read gTo Mr. HT and Mrs. ZH. The award of honor for donating three three-day-missives. h The names of Mrs. ZH and her husband Mr. HT and the reason for the honor were written.  Lastly, the name of the library of the university which LM belonged to with the date of June 29, 2003 was written.  It was a fine twofold certificate of merit. 

    In fact, ZHfs husband died the year before, but before that, she became aware that she had been cheated, and she telephoned LM many times, but LM did not answer at all.  It was her earnest wish to take them back somehow or other.

    When LM began to study Nushu in 1980fs, it was not strange that there were those who would give away a three-day missive, since villagers did not know the value of Nushu materials at that time.  However, afterward villagers came to know that Nushu materials were valuable cultural heritage and they looked for them desperately in 2003.  At this point of time, although the owner of materials wanted to sell them for 3,000 yuan, it would be impossible that the owner would donate them.  Despite such a situation, LM borrowed the materials and later honored the donor with an award, dealing with the matter as an instance of a good deed done. This is indeed a way of insulting and trampling down the local people.

    Through the discovery of a three-day missive in Village S and the affair of the award of honor for donation of three-day missives in 2003, it turned out that there remain the following points as for the existence of three-day missives which are the essence of Nushu.

1)    It was known ten years ago that there were three-day missives, and it is possible that some of them would still remain.

2)    Some of them were sold these few years.

3)    There was a person who tried to sell three volumes four or five years ago.    


    These points show how careless the survey conducted by the prefectural government in 2006 was, overlooking many important things. If they thoroughly research the villages where Nushu materials were discovered, there is a good possibility that more materials would be found. 


4. He Yanxinfs New Works

    Before I went to Jiang Yong County, I asked her to write something in Nushu. When I visited the prefecture and saw her, she nicely wrote a long song filling five sheets of paper for me. It was titled the gFlower Mountain Shrineh (ԎR_).  The song means that an unhappy girl whose parents died early and has no relatives wishes the god of the shrine to help her on the festival day, saying, gPlease help me, God. If you help me, I would do anything you want.h

    He Yanxin said that she had never written this song before and it was not found in  Zhao Limingfs ()@book. To make sure, I checked her five books titled gThe Collection of Chinese Womenfs Scripth (W)  (published by Zhong Hua Bookstore, ؏, 2004) containing 651 songs, but I did not find the song, gThe Shrine of Blossom Mountainh there.

    According to He Yanxin, the song was written by her grandmotherfs grandmother in R.O.C. 03 iRj(1914) and she learned it from her grandmother.  The line gThis year, R.O.C.03, is an unhappy year.h is found in the song. 

    She said, gI have become very forgetful of late. I cannot write any more.h  She uttered such a pessimistic expression, but it was my pleasure to find that she had still such a stock of memory that she could write new works. This was one of the big harvests that I gathered in the recent field survey.


singing gThe Shrine of Blossom Mountainh written in Nushu