Free Footbinding Argumentative Essay Example
John King Fairbank, the renowned scholar of Chinese history from Harvard, in his essay ‘Footbinding’ talks in detail about the social malaise that dominated Chinese society for almost 1000 years. He says “Foot binding spread as a mark of gentility and upper class status” and was a means to “preserve female chastity.” But I agree with his opinion that it was ultimately the manifestation of the oppression of women.
Since ancient times, women in China were considered chattels, born to serve the men in their lives, their fathers, brothers, husbands then sons. Foot binding was a custom started possibly during the reign of the T’ang dynasty to reinforce their subjugation. The feet of little girls between the ages of three and five were bound tight with strips of cloth to retard growth. The arch was broken, the four smaller toes were broken and folded under the palm of the feet so that the feet resembled half moons. It was an extremely painful process that was perpetuated in the name of beauty. It was only during the revolution of 1911 that the practice was finally banned.
Legend has it that Yao Niang, the concubine of a Chinese prince, during that era, walked as though she glided over lotus blossoms and it became fashionable to tie up a woman’s feet so that they would have ‘lotus feet.’ The second legend goes that Yao Niang had her feet bound so that they would look like half moons, while a third legend proclaims that women bound their feet to show sympathy for an Empress with club feet. Whatever may be the reason it soon became mandatory for women of the upper classes to suffer this excruciating torture. And this prevented concubines and wives of the rich from running away from beatings.
Soon this custom became a prerequisite for marriage and became a symbol of chastity. It also somehow got an erotic complexion to it. Paeans have been written during that period on the obsession of men for the bound feet. And women in turn became virtual slaves to men suffering excruciating pain throughout their lives.
Unfortunately this heinous tradition was perpetuated by women themselves with mothers binding their daughters’ feet. “This self-inflicted and inexorable pain in your formative years is welcomed in theory as a way to get a good marriage that may help your family with a fine bride price Your mother went through it all and helps you do the same As you go into marriage hoping to produce a male baby, you find your life confined largely to household duties” writes John King Fairbank.
But like the author says, can a woman with bound feet ever feel anything but repressed? Their bound three inch feet restricted their movement, kept them at home and psychologically destroyed their self confidence. But socially footbinding was a symbol of class and any woman with normal feet was ostracized, taunted and rebuked, and her fate was a life as a slave. Economically for the family it meant greater wealth in terms of the daughter’s bride price and better political connections to save them from exploitation. Sadly as Mr Fairbanks says “First and last one may guess that at least a billion Chinese girls during the thousand-year currency of this social custom suffered the agony of footbinding and reaped its rewards of pride and ecstasy, such as they were.”
But as is evident it was the ultimate weapon to subjugate women and perpetuate patriarchal hierarchy.
Fairbanks, John King. “The Great Chinese Revolution: 1800 – 1985”
New York, Harper & Row, 1986, p 68 - 73
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