Aching for Beauty: Footbinding in China

Wang Ping, Author, Ping Wang, Author
Wang Ping, Author, Ping Wang, Author University of Minnesota Press $30 (320p) ISBN 978-0-8166-3605-1
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-385-72136-3
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The earliest mention of foot binding in Chinese history may date to the 21st century B.C., when the founder of the Xia dynasty was said to have married a ""fox fairy with tiny feet."" Practiced by royal women and their courtiers since approximately the 11th century A.D., foot binding was eventually taken up by commoners as well, with all classes striving to achieve three-inch ""lotus feet."" The ""breaking process"" began for girls between the ages of five and seven, ""when their bones were still flexible"" and they were ""mature enough"" to comprehend the importance of the practice. Novelist (Foreign Devil), short story writer (American Visa) and poet (Of Flesh and Spirit), Ping illustrates that the two-year rite of passage not only introduced young girls to pain (it involved breaking bones and ""peeling... rotten flesh"") but also initiated them into a ""permanent bonding with [their] mother[s] and female ancestors,"" shaped in part by the difficulty of communicating pain through words. Ping, who has a Ph.D. in comparative literature, looks to language and literature in examining the deep cultural and power structures involved in this agonizing tradition. Referencing such heavy-hitting theorists as Derrida, Lacan and Foucault, Ping's prolific source notes also attest to an intriguing variety of sources--from Eve Ensler's hip and contemporary The Vagina Monologues to the remote Ming History of 1739. Although her language can be rather stiff and academic, Ping's spirited study should appeal to those intrigued by the mysterious link between violence and beauty. Photos. (Oct.)
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