The Three-Inch Golden Lotus: A Novel on Foot Binding

Feng Jicai, Author, Feng Jicai, Author, David Wakefield, Translator
Feng Jicai, Author, Feng Jicai, Author, David Wakefield, Translator University of Hawaii Press $28 (0p) ISBN 978-0-8248-1574-5
Reviewed on: 02/28/1994
Release date: 03/01/1994
Paperback - 239 pages - 978-0-8248-1606-3
Hardcover - 244 pages - 978-0-585-25005-2
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In his intriguing 1985 novel, Feng explores complex topics (such as the troubled relationship between truth and falsehood and the dangers of overzealous attempts at social reform) primarily through Chinese foot binding, the traditional practice of breaking a young girl's feet and tightly wrapping them so that they remain only three inches long. Set in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the story follows Fragrant Lotus, a poor girl whose superbly bound feet bring her to the attention of Tong Ren-an. A dealer in antiques and a bound-foot fetishist, he selects his daughters-in-law by the excellence of their feet. In the household, competition for power is fierce; dominance goes to the woman judged by Tong's friends to have the best feet. Fragrant Lotus masters the ``rules, skills, tricks'' of caring for her most valuable asset, but when Tong dies and reform is in the air, she must learn new skills to battle the Natural Foot Society--which calls for women to unbind their feet, a painful process--and to confront her own secret relationship with this group's leader. An afterword by Wakefield, who teaches Chinese history at the University of Missouri, provides some context for the nonspecialist. (Mar.)
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