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…
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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. While her parents finally succumbed to sending Yu-I to boarding school for teacher training, it was only with the economic reality of being the less expensive option to having her live at home. In addition to capturing the constraints of personal familial expectations, the book also cements the societal view of a female's role when Yu-I's professors gave up on her education when they learned that she was engaged to be married (96). The idea of cultural discrimination was also brought to the fore by Pang-Mei's account when she was "surprised the first time the kids at school made fun of my favorite pair of pants, telling me that the legs were too short and the crotch hung too low . . . It hurt me to see China from my classmates' vantage point; it meant falling into the crack away from my Xu Ma" (29).
Although her parents were sufficiently progressive to forego binding her feet, Yu-I was unable to escape another tradition in the Chinese culture, which was to dutifully accept the reality of an arranged marriage. Again, this captures Yu-I initial statement, which characterizes the helplessness of a female role during that time from a dutiful daughter, where "you must always inform your parents where you are going and what you are doing" (10), to an obeying wife. A poet, Chih-Mo Hsu was seen as an intellect and a good prospective husband for Yu-I. Thoroughly engrossed by Western culture, Chih-Mo wanted his wife to have Western ideals, but still remain subservient to the Chinese traditions of unwavering service and devotion to her new in-laws and husband. According to Yu-I, "Hsu Chih-Mo had compared the two of us to bound feet and Western dress, which initially confused me, because I did not have bound feet. But during the months in the French countryside I realized, in many ways, I had acted as if I did. In Xiashi, I never dared deviate from the in-laws' expectations of me. I never questioned old Chinese customs and traditions" (136). The difficult marriage was summarized again as a conflict of ideals where Yu-I
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(“Bound Feet & Western Dress by Pang-Mei Chang Book Report/Review”, n.d.)
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(Bound Feet & Western Dress by Pang-Mei Chang Book Report/Review)
“Bound Feet & Western Dress by Pang-Mei Chang Book Report/Review”, n.d. https://studentshare.org/literature/1505823-bound-feet-western-dress-by-pang-mei-chang.
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