The medieval state of China in the early 20th century is revealed by a bit of script: “How can we run from the invading forces of Japan when our feet are bound?” Not only were women still crippled by intentional deformation in a time of modern warfare, but the language of the note is nu shu (“women’s writing”), invented by the Yao women of Hunan, who were forbidden to learn written Chinese. Suppressed by Mao, the language is now being preserved, although according to a recent documentary, fewer than a half-dozen authentic speakers are still alive. In her book Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Lisa See tells the story of Lily, who learns nu shu from the other cloistered women in her family. Destined for a life shut up in an attic, Lily is accorded an honor no one in her working-class family has ever had: the selection, at age 7, of a best friend from another village. The arranged friendship is called a laotong (“old same”), and the relationship was expected to last until death. Lily meets her laotong, Snow Flower, through a matchmaker, and the girls write their vows of friendship at a temple fair. Between Snow Flower’s visits and throughout both of their marriages, childrearing, and heartbreak, the girls communicate in nu shu written on a fan sent back and forth between their villages. Don’t ask me why, but book a nice long foot massage before See reads at 7 p.m. Monday, July 25, at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919.