Smashing stereotypical portrayals of East Asian women in books and theatre [video]

Yang-May Ooi, writer/ performer of Bound Feet Blues spoke at the launch of the Anglo Asiatic Arts & Heritage Alliance launch in April about “Tiger Spirit Women” – dynamic, intelligent, independent and fierce East Asian women who are the anti-thesis of the stereotypical portrayal of them in books and theatre in Western culture.

Yang-May says: “My creative work is dedicated to smashing the stereotype of the docile, passive China-doll like East Asian woman who exists solely in the domestic sphere and to portraying us as we really are – active agents taking our place in the world, capable, empowered and forces to be reckoned with.”

In her talk, she discusses her two novels, The Flame Tree and Mindgame, and Bound Feet Blues as well as her new theatre and book project Butterfly in Blue Jeans.

You can watch her whole talk in this video below (approx 8 mins):


You can  BUY BOUND FEET BLUES, THE BOOK – please click on the links below:





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.

Do our shoes shape who we are? [video] – Yang-May Ooi, writer/ performer of Bound Feet Blues, thinks so

Yang-May Ooi, writer/ performer of Bound Feet Blues – A Life Told in Shoes, talks about how shoes and bound feet in her extra-ordinary theatre piece are a metaphor for who we are – and who we long to be.

Bound Feet Blues – A Life Told in Shoes is a solo story performance written and performed by Yang-May Ooi and directed by Jessica Higgs. A memoir of the same name by Yang-May Ooi is also being published.

In an epic journey from China via East Asia and Australia to England, British-Malaysian writer-performer Yang-May Ooi explores female empowerment and desirability through the oral histories of three generations of her family and the shoes in her life. Yang-May uses the ancient Chinese tradition of footbinding experienced by 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

Women as Decorative Objects – International Women’s Day discussion panel [Women’s History Month]

In ancient China, women were treated as decorative objects – beautiful to look at, unable to leave the house because of their crippled bound feet, silent and submissive. That was the argument I made in my talk for the International Women’s Day panel discussion on Body Image hosted by the Pan Asian Women’s Association (PAWA) last week at the Nehru Centre in London.

L to R: Jee Oh, Yang-May Ooi, Sally Gloyne, Edna Fernandes


And that attitude to women underlies the way that women are viewed and treated today – even in our modern Western society. Of course, great strides have been made in liberal democracies for women’s rights and equality as well as for diversity. But there is still much work to be done in unbinding us from deep rooted cultural traditions that shame us for being “bossy”, old, ugly and dressed unconventionally – ie for being undecorative and for trying to be more than eye candy.

I feel passionately that the past can offer us a way in to exploring current issues in our present culture. We may look at the brutal tradition of bound feet and think that it was a weird practice that has nothing to do with us. But for the women of that time, this practice lasted for a thousand years and was done to little girls by their mothers and grandmothers. They believed that it was the right and only thing to do to guarantee happiness and a good life for their daugthers. If they had that blindspot, what is our cultural blindspot?

Where we are forced to conform to one universal 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

Do you have knee high boots like Emma Peel?

I was a great fan of The Avengers when I was a child.

I’d never seen a woman as feisty as Emma Peel before – and it opened up my mind to what a woman could be! Here she is in her famous catsuit and knee high boots…


Wow, or what?

But at that time, I was a tomboy and did not Continue reading

Would you get naked in front of a hundred people? Ten Women did

In the finale of the theatre piece Ten Women, the women on stage tried an experiment. What would it be like to show our ordinary, un-Photoshopped bodies in all their frailty and glory to the world?

The all female cast asked themselves that and also invited any members of the audience to join them. Some of the performers stripped naked, others left their underwear on and still others remained fully clothed. No-one in the audience joined them apart from the writer/director and producer who were sitting among us.

It was a powerful, uncomfortable and also celebratory end to the work in progress show exploring what being a real woman with a real body means in a society where “the image of a hyper-sexualised, grossly exaggerated, objectified woman’s body is used to sell pretty much anything”.

TEN WOMEN smaller

Written and directed by Bethan Dear and produced by Amy Clamp from true stories drawn from the other women in the ensemble, Ten Women is a thought provoking piece that tells … Continue reading

My story performance Bound Feet Blues is a way in to talking about contemporary feminist issues

I  workshopped Bound Feet Blues at The Centre for Solo Performance with 6 other solo performers and two facilitators. What was fascinating was that after my piece ended, in addition to giving me feedback on my performance and the structure of the script, the others in the group started talking about contemporary issues of body modification, body mutilation, the outward signifiers of feminity and masculinity and the eroticization of different part of our bodies in different cultures and times.

The facilitator had to interrupt the animated discussion to bring Continue reading

Bound Feet Blues: Inside the mind of a woman crippled by bound feet in ancient China

What was it like to be a woman crippled by bound feet? This question has always haunted me ever since I was a child when I  learnt about the bound feet women in China.

I have been researching this question for my story performance Bound Feet Blues.

You can read my essay about the practice of footbinding and how it affected generations of women emotionally and pyschologically over at my main blog see “Bound Feet Blues: What was it like to be a woman crippled by bound feet in ancient China?”

“For a thousand years, women crippled their daughters to create perfect dainty little bound feet which were beloved by men and became the currency for a good marriage. What was it like to be one of those women? Why did they carry on such a cruel practice? 




Photo: flyer for Bound Feet Blues – A Life Told in Shoes – from the author’s personal archive