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Bound Feet and Western Dress: A Memoir
     

Bound Feet and Western Dress: A Memoir

3.3 8
by Pang-Mei Chang, Jennifer Ann Daddio (Designed by)
 

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"In China, a woman is nothing."

Thus begins the saga of a woman born at the turn of the century to a well-to-do, highly respected Chinese family, a woman who continually defied the expectations of her family and the traditions of her culture. Growing up in the perilous years between the fall of the last emperor and the Communist Revolution, Chang Yu-i's life is

Overview

"In China, a woman is nothing."

Thus begins the saga of a woman born at the turn of the century to a well-to-do, highly respected Chinese family, a woman who continually defied the expectations of her family and the traditions of her culture. Growing up in the perilous years between the fall of the last emperor and the Communist Revolution, Chang Yu-i's life is marked by a series of rebellions: her refusal as a child to let her mother bind her feet, her scandalous divorce, and her rise to Vice President of China's first women's bank in her later years.

In the alternating voices of two generations, this dual memoir brings together a deeply textured portrait of a woman's life in China with the very American story of Yu-i's brilliant and assimilated grandniece, struggling with her own search for identity and belonging. Written in pitch-perfect prose and alive with detail, Bound Feet and Western Dress is the story of independent women struggling to emerge from centuries of customs and duty.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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 businesswomaneventually 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. (Sept.)
Library Journal
A nonfiction Joy Luck Club from a Chinese American lawyer.
Kirkus Reviews
Chang, a lawyer and first-generation Chinese-American, tells the story of her great-aunt's long, often hard, remarkable life.

Chang Yu-i was born in 1900 to a large and affluent family. As she grows up traditional China is gradually becoming Westernized: Yu-i herself is the first girl in her family to escape foot-binding; she is always aware of how this gave her freedom. Married at 15 to a scholar (and later renowned poet Hsu Chih-mo), a mother at 18, Yu-i is a docile wife and daughter-in-law who obeys the customs of filial devotion dutifully. But her husband is uncaring, often absent, and she feels restless and uneducated. Their marriage continues to deteriorate even after she leaves their son in China and joins her husband in Cambridge, England. He disappears, and pregnant, lonely, and depressed, Yu-i moves to Berlin with a brother and studies to become a teacher. Her husband returns to ask for a divorce, and Yu-i reluctantly agrees, without her parents' permission, to what would be the first modern, "no-fault" divorce in China. She emerges from this experience a determined, strong young woman. After the tragic early death of her second son, Yu-i returns to China and combines her traditional background and Western knowledge to become a successful businesswoman and bank vice president. Believing strongly that "love means taking responsibility, fulfilling a duty," she takes care of her in-laws and parents until their deaths. After a second marriage in Hong Kong, she ends her long life in New York City, resilient to the last.

Around Yu-i's first-person story Chang writes of her own struggle to assimilate into suburban America and succeed as both a regular American girl and a dutiful Chinese daughter. However, these parts of the book pale beside Yu-i's fascinating life and her plainspoken wisdom.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780385479646
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
09/28/1997
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
853,668
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.53(d)
Age Range:
12 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

"In China, a woman is nothing."

Thus begins the saga of a woman born at the turn of the century to a well-to-do, highly respected Chinese family, a woman who continually defied the expectations of her family and the traditions of her culture. Growing up in the perilous years between the fall of the last emperor and the Communist Revolution, Chang Yu-i's life is marked by a series of rebellions: her refusal as a child to let her mother bind her feet, her scandalous divorce, and her rise to Vice President of China's first women's bank in her later years.

In the alternating voices of two generations, this dual memoir brings together a deeply textured portrait of a woman's life in China with the very American story of Yu-i's brilliant and assimilated grandniece, struggling with her own search for identity and belonging. Written in pitch-perfect prose and alive with detail, Bound Feet and Western Dress is the story of independent women struggling to emerge from centuries of customs and duty.

Meet the Author

Pang-Mei Natasha Chang was raised in Connecticut. She received her B.A. in Chinese Studies from Harvard and a J.D. degree from Columbia University School of Law. She practiced law in New York City before moving to Moscow, where she currently resides with her husband. Bound Feet and Western Dress is her first book.

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Bound Feet and Western Dress 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked the story, it reminded me of "The Joy Luck Club". It was a bit hard keeping the characters straight though, as the author used the characters multiple names throughout the story. The history was facinating
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent story illustrating old Chinese customs-especially the role of Chinese women at the turn of the century. You can visualize how it must have been like during the perilous years of China. It's filled with conflicts of traditional Chinese values vs. Western values. A perfect novel to learn about life in China in the 20th century.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The story lets us follow Yu-i on her struggle against a Communist China, about to be modernized. Yu-i is the first generation in her family to have unbound feet, and this, she says, means that she have to become modern. When she is married to her Husband, Hsu Chih-mo, her life will change tremendously. She will have to adapt to him, his way of livin, and his family. This means the end of her freedom, as there is many rules for brides in China at that time. The story is good, but sometimes hard to follow, and not always easy to know who is who, as I am not Chinese, and I do not know the differences between Seventh Brother and Second Brother, and also many other chinese words she uses sometimes.Overall, it is a good book, so if you are interested in China and chinese history, you should absolutely read it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
And proud of it!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Taylor Kelly More than 1 year ago
Worst boook ever........confused throughout the whole thing
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book very much and learned much about what it was like to be born a woman in China at the turn of the twentieth century. I think Chang Yuyi had a lot of courage and I am glad that Pang Mei took the time to write the story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A brilliant memoir, well described.You'll enjoy it as much as I do.There's no doubt about it.You'll be totally captured by it.Sensational!!!!!