Yang-May Ooi’s astonishing one woman show Bound Feet Blues will open in one week’s time on Tuesday 24 November 2015 at Tristan Bates Theatre. Have you got your ticket yet?
Not yet? Don’t miss this extra-ordinary tour de force solo performance. You can still buy tickets via bit.ly/bfbtickets
Bound Feet Blues takes us back to ancient China to the inner chamber of a mother with bound feet as she describes and demonstrates the brutal practice of footbinding on her daughter. We may judge this in our modern times as cruel but if we were women living in that time, would we do the same out of love for our little girl?
In Bound Feet Blues, writer/ performer Yang-May Ooi takes us to a a diverse range of settings and times – from Oxford in England to the Australian Outback, and also the landscape of ancient China. We are giving you a glimpse into these different places here on this blog over the next few weeks.
In a central scene in Bound Feet Blues, Yang-May demonstrates on stage the gruelling process of footbinding on a little girl. So, today, we introduce you to the inner chamber of a mother with bound feet where such a process would have most likely taken place.
The home was a woman’s domain in ancient China. Within that was the inner chamber, a private space for the women of the household only. There the women would sew and read and tell stories. And also probably carry out the ritual of footbinding on the daughters of the family.
The Museum of Shoes for Bound Feet re-opened this year after a fire closed it last year. It would be fascinating to visit it as part of my Bound Feet Blues project but it is in Anren Town of Dayi County, in southwest China’s Sichuan Province.
The press info states:
“In addition to the everyday shoes, the museum also displayed “special-occasion” shoes, which women with bound feet were to wear at wedding ceremonies, birthday parties and funerals as well as rain boots and high-top boots.”
I love the way they have displayed some of the shoes – as in the photo above – as if in a modern Continue reading →
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 Continue reading →
This Chinese wood and glass mirror box – showing a man and woman making love: you can see her tiny bound feet (c.18th century) Photo: Courtesy Science Museum, London/Science and Society Picture Library
A detail of one of the panels is below – notice the woman’s red shoes and her disproportionately small feet.
This tiny ivory couple shows a Chinese man and woman making love. You can see the man on top, with his bare feet. Under him is the woman with her legs wrapped around him. You can just about see her breasts and if you look very closely, you will see her tiny bound feet.
In this video, a 90+ year old Chinese lady in Malaysia is interviewed, talking about her experience of having her feet bound.
The practice of footbinding did not take place in Malaysia but many women who had had their feet bound as childre migrated to Malaya (as Malaysia used to be called before independence from British rule) in later life.
The Guardian has a terrific gallery of photos showing a selection of totally bonkers high heels including this pair of killer stilettos…. – from an exhibition aptly entitled Killer Heels at the Brooklyn Museum, on now till 15 Feb 2015.
The gallery shows that high heels were also in fashion in ancient China – see this pair below. They emulated bound feet for the ruling Continue reading →
On this wet Sunday afternoon, I am feeling very sorry for myself – laid up with a cold – but I am distracting myself by researching the history of the the cheongsam for Bound Feet Blues, The Book.
What I am learning is that clothing has national and political significance. The cheongsam originated with Manchu rule in China when the Manchurians from the North East overthrew the Ming Dynasty in 1644. They required all men to wear their hair in a plait – known as a queue – and everyone had to wear clothing in the Manchu style: with the high collar and side buttons. Those who defied this requirement could be punished by death. It was a way of dominating the Continue reading →