Hidden Letters

Hidden Letters is a story about the power of female talent, the bonds of sisterhood, and the parallels between generations of struggles drawn together by a once secret language.

Funding Initiative
Diversity Development Fund
Open Call

Violet D Feng

Violet Du Feng is an Emmy Award-winning independent documentarian. Her producing credits include Singing in The Wilderness (Hot Docs premiere), Confucian Dream (Karlovy Vary Special Jury Award, Chinese Documentary Academy Award), Maineland (Jury Winners of SXSW and IFF Boston, NYTimes Critic's Pick), and Please Remember Me (IDFA premiere, GZDoc Show more Best Documentary, Chinese Academy Documentary Award nomination, Doc Impact Hi5). Her films have screened at over 120 international festivals and institutions, with US and Chinese theatrical releases, public broadcasts, and digitally released globally on multiple platforms. Feng started her career as a co-producer on the critically acclaimed 2007 Sundance Special Jury winner, Peabody and Emmy winner Nanking, which was distributed theatrically around 30 countries throughout the world, and was the highest-grossing documentary in China. Violet is the director of the acclaimed recent PBS documentary Harbor From The Holocaust and producer of the forthcoming film People’s Hospital and director of her first feature-length documentary Hidden Letters. Show less


Zhao Qing


Mette Cheng Munthe-Kaas


Jean Tsien

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The Film

For centuries leading up to the 1949 Communist Revolution, Chinese women succumbed to the oppression of patriarchy. Yet persistent struggle led to resistance, and when the written language of Nushu emerged in a remote village in Central China, one of the most extraordinary forms of feminist protest was born, created by and for women to commune in secrecy.

For several hundred years thereafter, Nushu was written in calligraphy as poems or songs on folded fans and handkerchiefs, hidden letters passed down from generation to generation as a way for women to share their stories, express hope and solidarity, and affirm one’s dignity. This outlet saved lives during an era when women’s feet were bound, movement was confined, and many were denied the privilege of literacy.

In a more modern era, 30-year-old Hu Xin grew up being told her purpose was to take care of her family. She found solace in the songs of her mentor and last living Nushu master, He Yanxin. When Hu Xin began working as a guide at the local Nushu museum, her life took a dramatic turn. She met her husband, who later forced her into an abortion for carrying a girl. Soon after, Hu Xin divorced him – a taboo within her rural community. She has longed for a new family ever since. Her identity as a modern woman is complex and contradictory, hoping to fulfill the societal role of becoming a mother while striving for independence. A world away from Nushu’s rural home, in the metropolis of Shanghai, 32-year-old Wu Simu learns Nushu from Hu Xin. Simu checks the boxes of a “respectable young Chinese lady.” But underneath her soft-spoken exterior, there is a stubborn independent spirit. Simu’s fiancé adores how her Nushu practice exemplifies her sophistication at first. However, it isn’t long before he sets his expectations of her role as a wife, daughter-in-law, and mother-to-be.  

Hidden Letters is a story about the power of female talent, the bonds of sisterhood, and the parallels between generations of women’s struggles drawn together by a once secret language. Confronting a revived patriarchy, Nushu pushes both Hu Xin and Simu to re-examine their understandings of gender in the modern world, and to discover the connections between traditional Chinese womanhood and contemporary feminism.