Bound Feet Blues – the Book continues apace. I am now 42,000+ words in as the fourth chapter builds up its word count. This chapter is entitled “Lotus Feet” and expands on the scenes in the show that dramatize the history of footbinding and the painful process of a mother binding her daughter’s feet.
I can finally share a lot of the research I did for the show but which could not be squeezed into the 25 page script that makes up the one hour long show. It has been very satisfying writing away over the last few weeks, gathering it all together in a coherent way so that those interested in the themes of the show have the chance to learn more about the details and history of this brutal yet macabrely alluring practice.
Here are the last few paragraphs I have written so far;
In 1644, the new emperor of China and the progenitor of the Ming dynasty, a Manchurian who had taken power by violence and invasion, banned footbinding. It was part of a set of laws that dictated what the Chinese people wore, mandating queues for men and the Manchu-style tunic with its high Mandarin collar for both sexes. While those latter laws came to be obeyed and over the centuries even evolved into symbols of Chinese identity, footbinding continued for almost four hundred more years.
It is a testament to the will and defiance of generations of women.
Manchu women did not have bound feet. But the allure of the tiny bound foot was so powerful that over time, even they wanted to have dainty little feet. I believe that some Manchu women bound their feet and their daughter’s feet. Others wore a version of high heels that gave the impression of tiny feet beneath their long gowns.
These Manchu shoes sat on top of a small pedestal that acted like short stilts at the centre of the sole. The slightly wider pedestal base acted as the surrogate foot, while the real foot in all its hugeness was balanced a few inches above, hidden from view. These stilts would have made walking precarious and would have required the women to mimic the small, mincing steps of a woman with real bound feet. As with women with real bound feet, the fragile unbalance of these women in Manchu heels would have made them seem vulnerable and dependent. They would have needed help a helping hand, an offered arm, as they stepped out of sedan chairs and made their slow, elegant way up and down stairs.
Chinese women could have stopped footbinding four hundred years ago. They could have saved 16 generations of women and girls from the horrendous violence of being crippled by their own mothers and grandmothers. Manchurian women need not have voluntarily signed up to this brutal practice.
And yet footbinding bound them all in its thrall.
The next section I will write will explore the reasons why women chose not to give up this painful practice despite the imperial edict. What made this cultural practice so powerful that it continued on for centuries until the early part of the 20th century?
Yang-May Ooi, is a creative artist whose work explores the transformational power of personal narrative. She has been an award-winning TEDx speaker, bestselling author and acclaimed story performer. Her current project is a solo story performance Bound Feet Blues, scheduled for Nov/ Dec 2015.
Twitter: StoryGuru_UK Website: StoryGuru.co.uk
Photo: thanks to China Culture