Many Chinese women have had an unfair life living in a patriarchal society. They endured things like the barbaric practice of foot binding and harsh arranged marriages and the men forbidding them to read or write. Some of the more extreme practices don’t currently exist. But sadly, inequality is still very much prevalent in Chinese society today in everything from marriage to motherhood. Co-directors Violet Du Feng (Harbor from the Holocaust) and Zhao Qing (Please Remember Me), take a close look at the Chinese culture. They show how the women created their own secret language. That language is Nushu, which helps them cope with living in a male-dominated, and sometimes hard to live in world.
Hidden Letters deftly jumps from the past to the present, exploring the oppression Chinese women have faced throughout the centuries. It showcases how men have held them down as they dominated their lives. Even though they were forced into subservience to men, many of the women did not break. Part of their strength came from developing a secret language called Nushu. These women wrote and spoke Nushu to support one another through difficult times. In the present it looks at the lives of two modern women, both fascinated by Nushu. Both are facing archaic expectations that threaten the future they wish to forge for themselves. It takes a close look at the commercialization and misunderstanding of the language. And it looks at how those thing things threaten to cloud the true origins of how and why some Chinese women created the language.
Hidden Letters handles a difficult and complex story with care and delicate passion. It never loses sight of the past, and the struggles the women faced. Some of the most powerful scenes come when you least expect it. One scenes has the clueless men flirting with women in the present as they write Nushu. Another has tourists requesting women to sing in a language that women in pain use which men refer to as “the words of ants”.
These men’s bad behavior is never called out however. But pay attention to the expressions on the women’s faces or their actions. That way, you be able to tell that what’s happening is bothering them. Above all however, Hidden Letters is a movie about dedication, sisterhood and resilience. It shows how even the smallest hint of positivity can make a world of difference. Positivity, in other words, can alleviate the struggles of the individual.
Those who enjoy learning about history and cultures will enjoy Hidden Letters. Even if you’ve never heard of Nushu before, you will get drawn into the story. The pain and anger felt by the woman will make you feel what they felt, and their courage, determination and drive is inspiring. For their sake you will hope for change, but unlike other films with controversial subjects, the film doesn’t preach at you. It instead chooses to show you the facts and let you come up with your own conclusions and plans of action. It’s also a film both men and women will get something out of, because it doesn’t try to spark feminism or paint men in a bad light. It just states what happened, and what is happening in China.