This is part of a series on the supposed death of nushu, considered to be the only language in the world spoken exclusively by women.
Here’s where it starts to get really tricky. The Chinese government has variously declared nushu dead and otherwise, as has suited cultural and tourism policy at a given time. Welcome to rhetorical mastery.
Some context. Minority cultures historically have not enjoyed a happy time in China. Even prior to the Cultural Revolution, the discovery and classification of “obsolete” cultures, supposedly representative of earlier forms of Chinese (Han!) society, aided the devaluation of minority cultures. Nushu culture was suppressed as part of this.
The Xinhua declaration of nushu’s death in 2004, as discussed last time, was followed as soon as 2005 by reportage declaring nushu only on ‘the verge of extinction’. What prompted such a rapid turn around? The need to promote a museum. The ‘museum, with the aim to build into a culture base for Nushu, will solicit over 80 pieces of Nushu manuscripts, 1,000 pieces of songs, and other articles,’ hardly represents the cultural wasteland Yang’s death’s reportedly engendered (references are to ‘Museum established to exhibit world’s only female specific language,’ a Xinhua piece from 8 July 2005).
Nushu, then, is alive and kicking when the government can take advantage of it to promote tourism. Having first promoted the idea of Yang’s death and nushu’s as simultaneous, a notion furthered by Western journalists, the government now allows a limited, tightly-controlled kind of “life” to nushu through measures like this museum. The line between language death and life is that line between keeping minority cultures suppressed and milking them.
So, what’s ended up happening is that the Chinese government will put out certain information about nushu, and experts have to watch what they say in academic and journalistic publications in case they contradict the government. Academic and journalistic determinations as to nushu’s status, then, are curtailed by the government’s power, just as all three groups undermine the power of nushu users to be acknowledged.
Government limitations on information, then, are such that it is virtually impossible to make a full determination as to the extent to which nushu still “lives”.