"Bound Feet & Western Dress" by Pang-Mei Chang

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Bound Feet & Western Dress is a dual memoir by Pang-Mei Chang that documents the life story of the author's great aunt, Yu-I Chang's life in China, and the author's own story growing up in the United States. Pang-Mei was born to Chinese parents in the United States and was the first generation to be born in the United States.


To set the tone that highlights the tension between Western ideas and Chinese tradition, the first page of the book sees Yu-I telling Pang-Mei that "in China, a woman is nothing. When she is born, she must obey her father. When she is married, she must obey her husband. And when she is widowed, she must obey her son. A woman is nothing, you see. This is the first lesson I want to give you so that you will understand." (6) Born in 1900 and growing up in a well-to-do and highly respected family, Yu-I was subjected to the usual expectation of a female child in China during that time. Her parents attempted to exercise the traditional practice of binding her feet when she was three years old. In the book, Yu-I describes the excruciating process of breaking the bones in the foot, the removal of bloody bandages, the soaking, re-wrapping and tightening of the bandages (23). This tradition ties back to the role of a female during that time where bound feet were seen to be attractive and desirable to prospective husband. The underlying reason was also used to control women and keep them at home. The subsequent relentless protest from her brother helped saved her from that fate.
Although binding Yu-I's feet was a physical representation of control, the lack of educational opportunities was another form of control that produced ignorance. ...
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