One of the difficulties facing art historians and curators when approaching recently produced artworks is how to interpret such works within the dominant narrative of art history and its traditional axis of historical time and geographical place. Often such works are interpreted as ‘global’ and effectively reduced to a western interpretation of the artworks. While this is a helpful approach for many artists and artworks, it can be less helpful to the interpretation of works that seek to address local issues that the ‘global’ approach might miss. Moreover, the criteria of the ‘global’ might exclude such works from being perceived as ‘contemporary art’. The problem today is acute when dealing with artworks in East Asia, especially China, because so many works have been accepted as ‘global’ only occasionally mentioning that they are ‘Chinese’. Hence the uneasy term ‘Contemporary Chinese art’ and the debate between its interpretation as ‘global’ and/or ‘Chinese’. If the latter perspective is applied, some form of ‘Chineseness’ will explicitly or implicitly be applied. This article takes the ‘local’ perspective in order to interpret a group of works by the Hong Kong/Macau artist Lo Yuen-yi in memory of the rural women who practised nüshu (women’s writing) through chants, embroidery and writing in Hunan province, China. In so doing, Lo can position herself within an alternative narrative of female literate and artistic ancestral narrative from which she is not excluded as a Chinese female artist. The article argues that the work cannot be fully understood from the ‘global’ perspective and thus requires a perspective that would necessarily adopt a strategic concept of ‘Chineseness’.