Fox Searchlight hosted Trusteeship members to a pre-screening of the film, “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan”; the movie based on member Lisa See’s national bestseller.
Prior to the screening. we enjoyed an intimate dinner at a nearby restaurant to catch up and share the status of each other’s lives and then found our way to the Twentieth Century Fox lot for a Trusteeship-only viewing.
As the storyline goes, in 19th-century China, seven year-old girls Snow Flower and Lily are matched as laotong – or “old sames” -, bound together for eternity. Isolated by their families, they furtively communicate by taking turns writing in a secret language, nu shu, between the folds of a white silk fan. In a parallel story in present day Shanghai, the laotong’s descendants, Nina and Sophia, struggle to maintain the intimacy of their own childhood friendship in the face of demanding careers, complicated love lives, and a relentlessly evolving Shanghai. Drawing on the lessons of the past, the two modern women are compelled to understand the story of their ancestral connection, hidden from them in the folds of the antique white silk fan, or risk losing one another forever.
At the following Q&A, Lisa shared insight into the history and process of her successful book. She explained that in feudal China, women, usually with bound feet, were denied educational opportunities and condemned to social isolation. But in Jian-yong County in Hunan province, peasant women miraculously developed a separate written language, called Nu Shu, meaning “female writing.” Believing women to be inferior, men disregarded this new script, and it remained unknown for centuries. It wasn’t until the 1960s that Nu Shu caught the attention of Chinese authorities, who suspected that this peculiar writing was a secret code for international espionage.
We learned that Lisa first heard about Nu Shu when she reviewed a book for the Los Angeles Times on the history of foot binding. It was just a short three- or four- page mention, but she thought, “ How could this exist and I didn’t know about it? Then she thought, how could this exist and we all didn’t know about it?” So often we hear that in the past there were no women writers, artists, historians, chefs. Of course women did these things, but that work has been lost, forgotten, or deliberately covered up. Nu shu, on the other hand, was an example of something that women had invented, used, and kept a secret themselves for a thousand years. That amazed Lisa, and she became totally obsessed – so obsessed that she became the second foreigner to actually go there in order to gather information to write the story.
There’s no doubt our members thoroughly enjoyed the evening and appreciated a subject that focused on the importance of friendship between women.