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Bound Feet & Western Dress: A Memoir Paperback – September 15, 1997
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When Chang Yu-I was three her mother tried to bind her feet. But the child's cries so tormented her brother that he convinced their mother to stop. This break with convention foreshadowed the extraordinary life Yu-i was to lead. After following her husband, poet Hsu Chi-Mo, a noted philanderer, to Oxford, she made history by becoming the first Chinese woman to have a western-style divorce at age 22. Determined to make her own way, she moved to America and served in a series of prestigious positions, including president of a bank. Written by Yu-i's great niece, Pang-Mei Natasha Chang, Bound Feet and Western Dress chronicles the life of this exceptional woman. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
In this exquisite memoir, Chang Yu-i, the daughter of a distinguished Chinese family, recreates her life for her American-born grandniece, Pang-Mei, a Harvard student who is conflicted about her identity. Born in 1900, during the Boxer Rebellion, Yu-i was a victim of the tension between Western ideas and Chinese tradition. Her parents were sufficiently progressive not to insist on binding her feet but nevertheless believed that a woman was nothing except the obedient servant of her husband, in-laws and children. Dutifully, Yu-i accepted the marriage they arranged for her to Hsu Chi-mo, a poet so entranced by Western culture that, on their wedding night, he declared his intention to have the first Western-style divorce in China. Although this did not happen at once, after Yu-i had born him a son and submitted to several years of his cruelty, he deserted her while she was again pregnant. Refusing his demand that she abort the child, but ashamed to face disgrace at home, and rejecting thoughts of suicide, she joined her brother in Germany, where she educated herself, becoming a teacher and a successful businesswoman?eventually the first woman vice-president of the Shanghai Women's Bank. With details of a life that straddled pre-Communist and Communist China, this is an enthralling tale of a woman who achieved independence despite great odds. Photos.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
Nevertheless an excellent read which I couldn't put down. Very interesting cultural, historical content and a very sad story as is the case so often with modern women living within ancient cultures.
The author seems to be a bit of a braggart - look at how successful my life has been! The characters in the book are very one dimensional, flat, and emotionless. When the baby son of the great-aunt dies, no one shows any emotion! At first, the great-aunt's husband is tentatively cast as a villain, but the author ends up making excuses for his behavior (in both her own voice and that of her great-aunt's). There is too much apologizing and rationalization of the husband's actions. And don't even get me started on the cast of characters and the confusion of the names - people go in and out of the story.
I bought a used copy and it arrived full of underlining, so I surmise that this book was used in some high school lit or history class. It's certainly not a scholarly book on the history of women in China like it pretends to be.
I liked the read of this book, and finished it the same day I started it. It is a good human interest story about the westernization of a Chinese woman. It shows the difficult emotional journey from the ancient east to the modern west.
Honestly, I thought I could vicariously feel my heart cracking under the weight of some of Yu-I's confessions, amazed by some of the things she was able to tell her granddaughter.
One of the best things about this tale is the detail that Yu-I goes into about China, and about the way things were seen in the past versus the way things became seen as war loomed on the horizon. Yu-I gives a great amount of detail about what it was like to be a child in a country like China, and she vividly recollects what its like to have one's feet bound and the reasons why this practice took place. All that breaking and rebreaking, the tying of the big toe over and over again; when I read this I cringed because it seemed so debilitating just to have a crescent-shape added to the foot. Furthering this are pictures in the book, showing what the feet actually look like when this happens - you can see the shriveled remains of feet that look almost mummified, and you can tell some of the extremes that went into making a foot look like that. Yu-I talks about the pain that's she, herself, experienced because of this practice, too; she tells her granddaughter about being three and having her mother try to bind her feet, and then talks about the torment of those moments and how it was her brother that made her stop this because he couldn't deal with her suffering. Yu-I goes on to tell of the pain that this caused her, too, with her always feeling as if she were ugly because she had "big feet" and "big feet" made a person almost untouchable when it comes to marriage. Still, she does marry the poet Hsu Chi-Mo and, for a time, she thinks this is perfect and learns the rites of being a wife. She cares for the mother-in-law, she takes care of the husband's family; basically she becomes a slave and thinks that this dedication is seem by her husband as love. It is only when she moves to a foreign country with her husband that she finds out what he is like and how she is alone, and when she understands that she is utterly abandoned she explains how it feels to want to die.
There are other painful things in the book, too, things I can't disclose without messing up part of the tale, but I can say that when she is in Germany and loses something more dear to her than anything that this was devastating to read, making the book almost too heavy to pick up because its honesty was like a barb in the soul. I appreciated that, to be honest, and can say that I have read a lot of pieces of literature but that I have rarely encountered a person like Yu-I that both loves the world she lives in, understands the things that she has experienced, and even knows what forgiveness is like.
While this normally would not be something I would recommend, it has my highest recommendation and the most humble form of respect I can give, thinking it an enduring read that really has something to say.
I cannot give the book or the voice behind it enough praise.
Most recent customer reviews
The bound-feet woman rebelled and marked the hallmark of her own position.Read more