achingEver since I arrived in China I have been interested in the ancient practice of footbinding. I see all of these tiny Chinese women in my town stumbling around town in stiletto heels and platforms and always wonder to myself if this obsession with adding height and making their feet look teensy tiny is somehow leftover from the culture of footbinding, even though the practice has been outlawed for nearly a century. Therefore, when I saw Wang Ping’s book about footbinding, I had to buy it immediately.

The book’s description reads: “When Wang Ping was nine years old, she secretly set about binding her feet with elastic bands. Footbinding had by then been outlawed in China, women’s feet “liberated,” but at that young age she desperately wanted the tiny feet her grandmother had–deformed and malodorous as they were.”

Unfortunately the cover description is about the most interesting part about the book. I was barely able to get through a couple of chapters before I gave up completely on reading it, despite my early enthusiasm for the subject. The book reads like a master’s thesis, which it probably is. I had hoped that it would include some personal insight into the practice. Instead, as is common for students in China, the book borrows heavily from other sources, constantly citing literature and historical interviews with women who had their feet bound. Once I realized this book was more of a research paper about footbinding, I was still on board for awhile. I tried to push through because I wanted to know about the history and culture behind the practice, and I hoped there might even be some analysis or some insight into feminism in China. I do not know if she ever gets to this point because, as I said, I gave up on the book after a couple of chapters. The focus is mostly on the fetishization of small feet and the painful bonding between women that footbinding brought about.

I am still interested in this practice and would like to read more. I think that I will seek out the original sources that Ping borrows so heavily from in her book. I have also read that there is a fictional book about this subject that is much better (Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See), which I will probably download on my Kindle. I would not recommend this book unless you are planning to do a master’s thesis on footbinding or the treatment of women in pre-Mao China. Or if you have lots and lots of patience and perseverance.

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