01 December 2007
The eye of the beholder
I'm currently trying to read all books that have won the John Newbery Medal. If you don't know, this is an award "for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children." I'm tracking my progress over at Lists of Bests and I am 18% finished! So why am I telling you this?
I recently read Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze, winner of the medal in 1933. The story takes place in pre-communist China and the main character's mother has bound feet. I found this whole process disturbingly fascinating. Of course, because I am me, my curiosity needed to be satiated. This lead me to a little site called Google in which I typed out the letters F-O-O-T B-I-N-D-I-N-G. I clicked on a few of the pages that popped up and stumbled upon a site named simply Bound Feet.
The gist of the webpage is this: photographer Joseph Rupp visited China in 1985. During his visit he saw a woman with bound feet. He thought this was a lucky occurrence, but soon discovered that there were a great number of older women who still bind their feet. Fascinated, he began interviewing and photographing these women.
This site is different than any other I looked at. Most feature a report describing the history and practice of foot binding. Some dive into the philosophy behind it, like whether the practice was solely for "beauty" or if it was for the subjugation of women. Others just use the pictures for their shock value, giving a few historical or medical details. At Bound Feet you actually get first-hand accounts of what it was like to go through the ordeal and how binding has affected these women's lives. There are only 16 interviews and they are usually only a few paragraphs long, but after reading a few you start to understand that this really was just status quo. Nothing abnormal.
As a young American, I differ from these women not only in age but in almost every aspect of my life. Trying to put myself in their place is practically impossible with every other foot-binding article I've read. It's too far removed, too informational. But with the interviews from this website I can at least begin to imagine what it might have been like. It puts a human face to the story, a face that I need in order to make this ghastly ritual something I can understand.
It is still difficult for me to really fathom how an entire society could ritualistically cripple their women for almost one thousand years. The amazing fact is that although most of these women see the benefits of "normal" feet, they still think small feet are more beautiful. Even if I never can fully comeprehend this, I need to keep one thing in mind: I can't judge them unless I've walked a mile in their teeny, tiny, three-inch shoes. Yep, no judging for me, I wear a size 9, for goodness sake!