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Aching for Beauty: Footbinding in China

Wang Ping
Copyright Date: 2000
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Aching for Beauty
    Book Description:

    Even though footbinding was not practiced by every woman in late Imperial China, the aesthetic, financial, and erotic advantages of footbinding permeated all aspects of language. In Aching for Beauty, Wang interprets the mystery of footbinding as part of a womanly heritage-"a roaring ocean current of female language and culture."_x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9172-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. [Illustrations]
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)

    • 1 Three-Inch Golden Lotuses: Achieving Beauty through Violence
      (pp. 3-28)

      A PAIR OF PERFECTLY BOUND FEET must meet seven qualifications—small, slim, pointed, arched, fragrant, soft, and straight—in order to become a piece of art, an object of erotic desire. Such beauty is created, however, through sheer violence. For about two or three years, little girls go through the inferno of torture: the flesh of her feet, which are tightly bound with layers of bandages day and night, is slowly putrefied, her toes crushed under the soles, and the insteps arched to the degree where the toes and heels meet. Loving mothers suddenly turn into monsters that beat their...

    • 2 A Brief History of Footbinding
      (pp. 29-54)

      THIS SONG LYRIC ON BOUND FEET in Chinese literature was written by the popular poet Su Shi in the Song dynasty, when footbinding had just started to spread all over the country. Apart from various sayings and a few records scattered here and there in travelogues, no one knows exactly who started the practice of binding, and no one seriously researched its origin until the beginning of the twentieth century, when it was publicly ridiculed, legally forbidden, and about to disappear. In this chapter I summarize the speculations that have been made about the origin of footbinding and examine how...

    • 3 Footbinding and the Cult of the Exemplary Woman
      (pp. 55-78)

      FOOTBINDING HAS MANY DUAL FACES. It shines with beautiful embroidery and irresistible charm on the surface, yet underneath there is only deformity and foul odor. It makes a woman appear celestial and high-bred; when bared, the feet resemble a pair of hooves. Adorned with shoes, bound feet invoke art and magic; under the bandages, however, is the trace of violence. Outside, a bound foot is erect and pointed like a penis; inside, it is creased and curved like a vagina. A pair of bound feet are sacred and dirty, a taboo and an object of desire. Footbinding contaminates and cleanses,...

    • 4 Edible Beauty: Food and Foot Fetishes in China
      (pp. 79-98)

      NEARLY ALL EUPHEMISMS about bound feet have to do with food. And the sexual play is often involved with oral consumption—the mouth that kisses, bites, and licks the tiny feet as well as the language that dotes on them. The connection between food and foot seems only natural and inevitable since food and sex always go hand in hand in the Chinese history of expenditure. Once the lotus foot enters the realm of food, however, it is immediately associated with all the signs, functions, and rituals of food culture in China. As cooking is the symbolic process of transforming...

    • 5 Silken Slippers: Footbinding in Chinese Erotica
      (pp. 99-142)

      DENG XIAOPING DIED without any title in the Chinese government or the Party. In fact, the former Party president, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, had withdrawn from the political scene entirely in his final days. Yet when he died, all Chinese flags were lowered to mourn him, and newspapers all over the world reported his death and his funeral. Jiang Zemin, the president of China, was pictured in theNew York Timescrying like a son at Deng’s funeral.

      It didn’t matter that Deng had resigned his positions in the government, party, and the military force, or that he had Alzheimer’s. Deng...


    • 6 Binding, Weaving, Chatting: Female Bonding and Writing
      (pp. 145-174)

      ALTHOUGH FOOTBINDING was an entirely female practice, the discourse and literature that evolved around it over time were scarce and largely produced by men. They recorded and wrote most of the documentation of footbinding, either through accounts of missionaries or in scholarly studies or literary reflections. This general lack of data on footbinding, and particularly women’s silence on the topic, is itself an interesting phenomenon. The gap between social practice and textual expressions may indeed constitute the enchantment of the Ming entertainment world and serve to highlight the gender ambiguity on which the courtesan’s aura rests (Ko, 1997b, 78, 97)....

    • 7 From Golden Lotus to Prime Minister: A Woman’s Tale Living from Mouth to Mouth
      (pp. 175-198)

      AROUND 1770, CHEN DUANSHENG (1751—1796) wroteDestiny of the Next Life (Zai shengyuan),a verse narrative with seventy-seven acts in eight volumes.¹ Although Chen Duansheng came from a prestigious gentry family, well educated in composing poetry and lyric songs, she chose to write her play intan ciform, a singing and telling performing art that was extremely popular among the common people, women especially, but that was dismissed by intellectuals and poets as low and unclean. It allowed Chen Duansheng to weave the dialects, idioms, and vocabularies of common people into her tale of female Utopia, a tale...

    • 8 The Fabric of Masquerade
      (pp. 199-224)

      THIS CHAPTER EXAMINES the two basic groups of masqueraders inDestiny of the Next Life. One is represented by the transvestite Meng Lijun/Li Mingtang, who disguises herself as a man and fulfills her dreams as a scholar, teacher, and administrator.¹ The other type is represented by Liu Yanyu, who, deploying femininity as a masquerade, creates a space where she builds a foothold for herself in an environment that is otherwise impossible for women. These female characters use footbinding to fabricate a dazzling mask of femininity. When they cover their lotus feet with another mask, boots, they transform themselves into transvestites....

  8. Conclusion: Aching for Beauty and Beyond
    (pp. 225-234)

    FOOTBINDING IS THE CODE OF THE FEUDAL SYSTEM, the Symbol of the patriarchal oppression of women. But it goes beyond the exotic and curious custom of some Chinese women deforming their bodies to please men. As feet are bound and rebound, the body part (nature) is turned into a work of artifice, then transformed back into nature as the only proof of true femininity, true gender and sex. Thus footbinding brings out a series of critical issues of the quest for beauty that always goes hand in hand with violence, the making of culture, of hierarchy, of gender and sex,...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 235-248)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 249-258)
  11. Index
    (pp. 259-266)
    Eileen Quam
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 267-267)