Doing the Unimaginable – Bound Feet Blues at the Oxford Literary Festival

Writer/ performer Yang-May Ooi will be featured at the Oxford Literary Festival in a solo event as part of the St Hilda’s Writers Day on Saturday 09 April. Yang-May will perform an extract from Bound Feet Blues and talk about Doing the Unimaginable – how and why women in China practiced the brutal process of footbinding on their daughters for a thousand years.

Yang-May writes:

I’m delighted to have been invited back to Oxford by my old college St Hilda’s as part of the Oxford Literary Festival. Bound Feet Blues opens in Oxford as I stroll across Magdalen Bridge from St Hilda’s to a summer ball with a gang of my friends in our ball gowns with our boyfriends in black tie. So it feels just perfect to be heading back to Oxford to talk about my show and the accompanying book of the same name.

Here’s some blurb:

The brutal practice of footbinding is unimaginable to us today but was the norm for women in ancient China. In her one woman show Bound Feet Blues – A Life Told in Shoes, inspired by her great-grandmother who had bound feet, writer/ performer Yang-May Ooi explores what led those women to do the unimaginable in breaking and binding their daughters’ feet for the sake of beauty – and why footbinding is still relevant in modern times. In this talk for St Hilda’s Writers Day, she draws from the themes of love and courage in her theatre piece to discuss what it means to do the unimaginable as mothers, daughters and creative artists today. Yang-May will also be performing a short extract from the show.

There’ll also be the chance to buy a copy of the book – and I’ll of course be around to sign your personal copy.

Bound Feet Blues performance photo: Yang-May uses her hands on stage to demonstrate footbinding

If you’re in the Oxford area on Saturday 09 April, it would be lovely to see you at this one hour event. If you’d like to say hello afterwards, please do drop me a line and I’ll keep an eye out for you – or just come up and say “hi”.

If you know anyone in the Oxford area who might be interested to come along, please do tell them about the event. It would be great to see some warm and friendly faces in the crowd.


Bound Feet Blues: Doing the Unimaginable – Yang-May Ooi

When: Saturday 09 April 2016, 12pm (1 hour)

Where: Jesus College, Oxford – Lecture Theatre

Tickets: £12




If you can’t make it you can still Continue reading

Bound feet and what it means to be a woman – The Women’s Institute, East Dulwich 03 February 2016

Writer/ performer of Bound Feet Blues, Yang-May Ooi, will be speaking about bound feet and what it means to be a woman at the WI (Women’s Institute) East Dulwich SE22 on Wednesday 03 February 2016.


Yang-May writes:

I’m delighted to have been invited to speak at the WI at the Literary Evening with Local Authors. Here’s the line up for the evening;

Lloyd Shepherd is an author of three historical thrillers, The English Monster, The Polished Island and Savage Magic.  He will be speaking to us about his latest book, Savage Magic.

Yang-May Ooi will be presenting on her newest book, Bound Feet Blues which is a story told through the shoes she has worn in her life. Yang-May is also author of the best selling novel, the Flame Tree.

Rebecca Mackenzie will be reading an excerpt from her debut novel, In a Land of Paper Gods.

Harry from Dulwich Books will also be joining us with the above mentioned authors books as well as a selection of their top picks.

I’ll be talking about why bound feet are still relevant to us today as modern women in the West and how feet and shoes can invite us to think about what it means to be a woman.

bound foot in chinese slipper


normal foot in high heels


I’m also looking forward to meeting the WI members and hearing the other authors talk about their books. It’s going to be a fascinating evening.

It’s a private WI event – if you’rea member it would be lovely to see you there. If not, you can enquire Continue reading

How Yang-May Ooi’s great grandmother with bound feet inspired Bound Feet Blues [video]

In the  video below, writer/ performer Yang-May Ooi tells the story of her great-grandmother that inspired her to write Bound Feet Blues.

Yang-May writes:

The show was only one hour long so I made certain artistic choices in portraying my great-grandmother in the theatre performance. Her story is incomplete in the show because I wanted the audience to stay with the moment of transformation rather than seeing how her story ends.

The book of Bound Feet Blues takes great-grandma’s story and extends and deepens it at the more leisurely pace that a long read can offer. So for those of you who Continue reading

Meet Bound Feet Blues Q&A Chair, Betty Yao (8th December 2015)

There are a series of 3 Q&A sessions during the 3 week run of Bound Feet Blues. One of them – on Tue 8th December 2015 – will be chaired by China consultant and curator, Betty Yao. We are super thrilled that she is taking part in that particular evening – the  Pan Asian Womens’ Association (PAWA) have bought up the whole theatre for a special outing for their members.

** Bound Feet Blues is NOW ON  at the Tristan Bates Theatre until Sat 12 December 2015. Don’t miss this “mesmerising” and “powerful” show – buy tickets below or via **

 Betty Yao, MBE

A sharp eye on everyday ChinaBetty is the Director of Credential International Arts Management, a consultancy providing project management expertise to organisations in the UK and China.  She has organised the Wellcome Library exhibition China: Through the Lens of John Thomson 1868 -1872 which has toured to 17 cities in China, Europe, US and seen by nearly 900,000 visitors.   

The evening is sold out but you can get tickets via PAWA as part of their charity theatre outing.


You can buy tickets for Bound Feet Blues on other nights during its 3 week run via


Tristan Bates Theatre
1A Tower St, Covent Garden WC2H 9NP

Tue 24 Nov – Sat 12 Dec, Tue – Sat at 7.30pm.
Tickets £16 / £12 concessions.
Q&As post-show, 27 Nov & 4 Dec.


Introducing the landscape of Bound Feet Blues: The Inner Chamber of a Bound Foot Mother

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.

Women at home – thanks

Woman, Qing Dynasty – thanks to, via Pinterest

Women with bound feet via Pinterest


You can buy tickets for Bound Feet Blues via


Tristan Bates Theatre
1A Tower St, Covent Garden WC2H 9NP

Tue 24 Nov – Sat 12 Dec, Tue – Sat at 7.30pm.
Tickets £16 / £12 concessions.
Q&As post-show, 27 Nov & 4 Dec.


Meet Hua Tan, set and lighting designer for Bound Feet Blues

Hua Tan travels between Shanghai and London, working on diverse productions from Chinese language dramas and operas to international collaborations like the National Theatre’s Chinese language production of War Horse. She has created an amazing set for Bound Feet Blues as well as complementing Yang-May’s performance with a nuanced and atmospheric lighting design.

HUA TAN – Theatre Designer

Hua TanHua Tan is an established creative lighting designer and scenographer based in London who works for theatre productions in the UK and China. Hua completed an MA in lighting design from The Central Academy of Drama in China, and an MA distinction in Scenography from The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. In her varied, successful career Hua has lit and designed for opera, drama, dance, and traditional Chinese operas. The highlights of her career to date include ‘Under The Hawthorn Tree’ (National Theatre of China), ‘Queen of coquetry’ (Shanghai Drama Art Centre) and ‘Open Country’ (Beijing Dance Academy). Her work has attracted awards and prizes including the ‘best lighting design’ at China Lotus Dance Festival, Shanghai Stage Art Society, Henan Theatre Festival, the ‘best set and Continue reading

Read Yang-May Ooi’s article on Coming Out as an Act of Personal Empowerment on Zusterschap for National Coming Out Day

The male gaze has controlled how women look and behave for centuries. In ancient China, that view of women as decorative objects led to the brutal practice of footbinding that crippled Chinese women for a thousand years. Today, women in the West are still expected to be pleasing to men in how we dress and act. In celebration of National Coming Out Day, writer/ performer Yang-May Ooi looks at how coming out as lesbian can be a defiance against that objectifying gaze that is as much about personal empowerment  as it is about sexual orientation….

Read the full article on Zusterchap by clicking on the image below:

zusterchap screenshot

Zusterschap is a blog for women who want to challenge social norms:

“Every woman’s voice is a victory and our goal is to highlight the power of women coming together. No topic is off limits and at Zusterschap we are dedicated to creating a safe space for women.

Our goal is to create a supportive community that anybody can support. We want to encourage people into thinking it’s okay to be different and that it’s okay to want to challenge what society tells us. You don’t have to believe what is being sold to you because it’s all made up anyway.”

Zusterschap was founded March 24th, 2015 by Tara Costello and Katherine Hockley.


You can buy tickets for Bound Feet Blues via


Tristan Bates Theatre
1A Tower St, Covent Garden WC2H 9NP

Tue 24 Nov – Sat 12 Dec, Tue – Sat at 7.30pm.
Tickets £16 / £12 concessions.
Q&As post-show, 27 Nov & 4 Dec.

See 5,000 pairs of tiny lotus shoes at the Museum of Shoes for Bound Feet – Women’s History Month

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 Foot Warrior – Qiu Jin – Women’s History Month

She had bound feet but she loved riding and martial arts. She wore men’s clothing and was a firebrand orator. Her name was Qiu Jin and was a revolutionary in the early 1900s in  China.

Here is a snapshot of what Qiu Jin achieved, from Wikipedia:

“She was an eloquent orator who spoke out for women’s rights, such as the freedom to marry, freedom of education, and abolishment of the practice of foot binding. In 1906 she founded a radical women’s journal with another female poet, Xu Zihua, called China Women’s News (Zhongguo nü bao), though it published only two issues before it was closed by the authorities.[4] In 1907 she became head of the Datong school in Shaoxing, ostensibly a school for sport teachers, but really intended for the military training of revolutionaries.”

Of her early life, we learn this from Don Tow:

“Qiu Jin was born in 1875 in Fujian Province in China, and grew up in Shaoxing, Zhejiang Province. As a child of a fairly well-off family, she was very well educated, much more than other girls of her time. She was very good in literature and writing, both prose and poetry. Unlike most other girls, she was also very much interested in the outdoor and physical activities, such as riding horses and martial arts. Although her feet were bound[1] starting from about five years old as was the norm at that time for Chinese girls from reasonably well-off families, she was quite good in martial arts and other physical activities, an indication of her determination, commitment, and drive. Later as she grew older and started advocating equality for women, she stopped binding her feet.” See Qiu Jin (秋瑾) – China’s First Feminist | Don Tow’s Website.

As for footbinding and women’s rights, we can read a snippet of her writing here via the On This Deity blog (15 July 1907 The Martyrdom of Qiu Jin):

“We women, who have had our feet bound from early childhood, have suffered untold pain and misery, for which our parents showed no pity. Under this treatment our faces grew pinched and thin, and our muscles and bones were cramped and distorted. The consequence is that our bodies are weak and incapable of vigorous activity, and in everything we do we are obliged to lean on others … Sisters, let us today investigate the causes which have led to this want of spirit and energy among women. May it not be because we insist on binding up our girls’ feet at an early age, speaking of their “three-inch golden lilies” and their “captivating little steps”?

Continue reading

March is Women’s History Month -2015 theme: Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives

2015 Theme

It is almost as if the theme of this year’s Women’s History Month was designed just for Bound Feet Blues!

March is Women’s History Month and this year’s theme is Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives. The website of the National Women’s History Project (US) says of this theme:

“Accounts of the lives of individual women are critically important because they reveal exceptionally strong role models who share a more expansive vision of what a woman can do. The stories of women’s lives, and the choices they made, encourage girls and young women to think larger and bolder, and give boys and men a fuller understanding of the female experience. Knowing women’s achievements challenges stereotypes and upends social assumptions about who women are and what women can accomplish today.”

In my show – and the book – Bound Feet Blues, I tell personal stories from the lives of the women in my family and weave those threads with my own coming out journey. But the themes go beyond the stories of one woman and one family to touch on the universal questions of female desirability, identity  and empowerment. In ancient China, women were objectified as decorative objects through their tiny, crippled bound feet. My great-grandmother broke free from tradition to run away from her cruel husband despite her crippled feet. What cultural traditions still bind us to a standard of beauty that denies us our essential powerful identities? How can we break Continue reading