Introduction

Leaving China & the
Journey Across the
Pacific

Cultural Traditions

Women in Early
Chinatowns

Anti-Chinese Violence
& Women's Resistance

Chinese Women at
Work

Educational
Opportunities

Women in Cultural
Work

The Great Depression
and War

Conclusion

Additional Resources


 

 

 

Footbinding

Chinese women with bound feet California, 1905.
The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, BANC PIC 1905.17500 v.29:101—ALB

Footbinding was a custom practiced on young females for approximately one thousand years in China, beginning in the 10th century and ending in the early 20th century.

In Chinese footbinding, the feet of young girls, usually at age six but often earlier, were wrapped in tight bandages with their toes bent back, so that the foot could not develop normally; it eventually broke and became highly deformed, not growing longer than four to six inches.

Footbinding was usually practiced only by landlords, the scholar-gentry, and merchant classes in China, for a “small footed woman” was incapable of mobility and work.

Many first generation Chinese immigrant women in the United States, who were merchants’ wives and who had been born and raised in China, had bound feet.

During the 1880s, when the first Chinese Americans were driven out of towns across the West, the women with bound feet could not endure the forced marches. In Tacoma, WA, for example, as the Chinese were marched nine miles from town, in the mud and rain, white vigilantes threw women with bound feet into wagons. 14

A child's footbinding shoes.
Courtesy of Jean Pfaelzer

“Once in San Francisco Grandmother lived a life of confinement…When she went out, even in Chinatown, she was ridiculed for her bound feet. People called out mockingly for her, ‘Jhat!’ meaning bound. She tried to unbind her feet by soaking them every night and putting a heavy weight on each foot. But she was already a grown woman, and her feet were permanently stunted, the arches bent and the toes crippled. It was hard for her to stand for long periods of time, and she frequently had to sit on the floor to do her chores.”
--- Connie Young Yu 15



 

 

Feminism In China