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October 17, 2004

The Reader

Finished the Reader - very powerful and moving book, strongly recommended! Reflections - I hope - to follow. Now starting on the Piers McGrandle Trevor Huddleston biography - where I recommend the letter in last week's Church Times! - mainly (the reading of the Huddleston book!) for the Rowan Williams piece on racism for next weeks sermon...but I hope to read the rest.

October 11, 2004

Chinese Calligraphy

And another followup to the Bonesetter's Daughter, via Plep, is this page on Chinese Calligraphy.

October 10, 2004

The Reader Bernhard Schlink

The new book a novel about the holocaust and the German view of past and present. Interesting in view of our trip to see Goodbye Lenin about another fault line in German history. It will be interesting to see how it compares to Weisel's novels - from the other side of the barbed wire and Primo Levi's books.

I recently read Haffner's Defying Hitler a view of opposing the rise of Nazism inside Germany, also the review here.

But back to the Schlink!

October 07, 2004

A recent Obituary

From a US paper - entirely without permission - but links in quite well (IMHO) with the Bonesetter's Daughter
Other obit at www.chinaview.cn
Yang Huanyi, Final Speaker of a Women-Specific Language

Staff Reporter of the Sun
New York Sun Staff Editorial
October 1, 2004

Yang Huanyi, who died September 20 at her home in Jiangyong, China, was
thought to be the last native speaker of Nushu, a language spoken only by
women in a small part of Hunan province. She was in her late 90s, and had
learned the language along with other girls in her neighborhood beginning at
about age 10.

Nushu, Mandarin for "women's calligraphy," was traditionally used to speak of
women's emotions, including elaborate laments at marriage, which was seen as
the end of the happiest time of life.

The language survives in a unique form of writing, consisting of 1,800
phonetic characters. Often, messages were composed as needlework in sanchaoshu
("third-day missives"), booklets that were given by close friends to brides.
Scholars have speculated that the unique appearance of Nushu script may be
related to textile design, while others have noted similarities to scratchings
on ancient Chinese oracle bones.

Yang learned Nushu from expert speakers: a set of seven "sworn sisters," women
who shared a special life bond that they formalized with a traditional oath.
"I learned it while working alongside the older women as they cooked, cleaned,
and sewed," she told the South China Morning Post earlier this year.

The upheavals of the Japanese invasion, the Chinese Revolution, and the
Cultural Revolution all helped to curtail Nushu. Traditionally, women were not
educated, and Nushu developed in part as compensation. Once women started
attending school, Nushu became less necessary. During the Cultural Revolution,
Nushu was considered reactionary and antirevolutionary. Manuscripts were
burned, and women who were caught speaking Nushu were denounced and punished.

Yang herself had not spoken Nushu in four decades when scholars who had heard
reports of it first approached her, in the early 1980s.Although completely
illiterate in standard Chinese, Yang was able to recall enough of the language
to form the basis of a dictionary and guide to the language.

When authorities realized that the language might have touristic potential,
they began supporting moves to preserve it. Faux-Nushu documents are already
being hawked to tourists.

Hunan provincial archives now contain specimens of Nushu on paper fans and
manuscripts, as well as in embroidery on handkerchiefs, aprons, scarves, and
handbags. Documents are rare, in part because many were traditionally
destroyed at the death of the author.

The oldest example of the language is, oddly, preserved on a 19th-century
coin, and scholars have widely divergent estimates of the language's age and
provenence. Some claim that it stretches back to the third century C.E., when
the government forbade the education of women. Another tradition holds that it
was invented by a local woman who was forced to become a concubine of the
emperor and needed a way to send secret messages home.

While some scholars stress the harshness of women's lives in the development
of Nushu - foot-binding, having no choice about their husbands, being kept
shuttered at home - others have stressed the positive side of women
socializing together. The rich rice fields of Jiangyong often made it
unnecessary for women to farm, and they gathered in groups to make shoes and

"Beside a well, one does not thirst. Beside a sister, one does not despair,"
goes one Nushu saying. Others have a bawdier appeal. Wrote one woman to
another, "At least animals go into heat in seasons. But you ... ." Another
common lament in marriage books: "The emperor has made the wrong rules."

In 1995, Yang was invited to attend the United Nations Fourth World
Conference, in Beijing, where letters, poems, and prose that she had written
were collected into a book that was published earlier this year.

Until recently, Yang edified visitors by singing Nushu songs and showing them
examples of Nushu script. But when a reporter from the Los Angeles Times
visited her two years ago, Yang said, "Now there's no use learning it any

Linguists dubbed her "living fossil of the women-specific language," according
to an obituary published by the official Xinhua News Agency.