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Bound Feet & Western Dress

3.84 of 5 stars 3.84  ·  rating details  ·  1,087 ratings  ·  64 reviews
"In China, a woman is nothing". Thus begins the saga of a Chang Yuyi, a woman born into a well-to-do, highly respected Chinese family. Growing up in the perilous years between the fall of the last emperor and the Communist Revolution, Chang Yuyi's life is marked by a series of rebellions that will make her one of the most famous women in Chinese history: her refusal as a c ...more
Hardcover, 215 pages
Published August 1st 1996 by Bantam Dell Pub Group (Trd) (first published 1996)
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6th out of 46 books — 40 voters
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Community Reviews

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Vanessa
Listened to the audio version of this book. Was great to hear the author's voice even though the production quality wasn't all that great.

I have been a fan of Xu Zhimo ever since I read his most famous poem "Saying Good-bye to Cambridge Again." It's a beautiful poem and even more beautiful in Chinese. My favorite stanza:
"Very quietly I take my leave,
As quietly as I came here;
Gently I flick my sleeves,
Not even a wisp of cloud will I bring away."

His poetry is so enchanting, beautiful, fluid.

Well,
...more
Lysmerry
I really enjoy Chinese memoirs, but this one disappointed. There were some strong parts- for example, where Yu-i is forced to make it on her own in a foreign country with no knowledge of the language. But for the most part Yu-i conforms to the Confucian norms she grew up with, making for a dull tale of duty. She is not a rebellious character, and strives to the ideal wife, daughter, and daughter-in-law. It's an interesting insight into the mindset of the time, but if you're familiar with Confuc ...more
Gracie
This was possibly the best book that I've ever read. OMG. Okay, maybe not The best on my list, but possibly a tie for second. It was amazing: a lot of detail, great content, and much much more.

I read this in a day, and let me tell you, it amazed me. In all the books on this genre that I'd read, this was a thriller.

A switch between traditional and ancient times, two women, both marked down with 'no value' stand up for their beliefs and show their uniqueness. Strong, they stand up for their righ
...more
RK Byers
I was expecting "Memoirs of a Joy Luck Good Earth". I was pleasantly disappointed.
Luanne Castle
While the book cover calls this a dual memoir–that of the author and her Great Aunt Yu-i–to me this is more the memoir of Yu-i as verbally told and recreated on the page by her younger relative. It is mainly Yu-i’s story. And what a story it is.

She was born at the very beginning of the 20th century in China. Times were changing rapidly. During the course of Yu-i’s life, she must learn how to become a more “Western” woman and still show respect for her elders and her heritage by adhering to the t
...more
Liya
Penetrating narration that shed light on the legendary poet Xu Zhimo. Can't help but wonder if this is too one-sided. Perhaps the author could have been more objective, but maybe Xu is the one solely to blame, for his cowardice in acquiescing to marry Youyi, for taking only what he needed from the marriage (physical pleasure), and for abandoning her in pursuit of so-called (irresponsible) freedom. Shortfalls of the book would be 1) Youyi's personality lacked defining characteristics, and 2) the ...more
Joyce
Bound Feet & Western Dress is a nonfiction book telling the stories of Pang-Mei Natasha Chang, a young first generation Chinese American woman, and her great-aunt Chang Yu-i who was born in China in 1900. Pang-Mei Natasha Chang comes across her great-aunt's name in a history book while majoring in Chinese studies and discovers details she had never known about her great-aunt's life before she emigrated to the United States in 1974. After this discovery, she approaches her great-aunt and then ...more
Trice
***1/2 Finished Bound Feet and Western Dress today. It felt very conversational, as if you were sitting in on a conversation with Yu-i and Natasha, hearing how they struggled with their own identity, their own sense of self and cultural identity. Yu-i says that in traditional China a girl was nothing, and yet the girls in her family seem valued and well-loved, though due to the family's lack of resources at a critical point they don't end up with the same advantages of education as their brother ...more
Monica
The beautifully told story of a remarkable life. Chang Yu-i was born in 1900 to a wealthy Shanghai family, one of 12 children, the second of four daughters. She was the first girl in her family to refuse to have her feet bound, the first to get a divorce, a successful business woman, a bank vice-president, a dutiful daughter and daughter-in-law. Her story is told by her great-niece, a first generation Chinese American who learned of Yu-i's story in her Chinese studies courses at Harvard.

Yu-i was
...more
Marcy
As the title suggests, this is a story that describes two related women, one young and one old, who have struggled with their own identity and their Chinese cultural values. The Chang family was a famous Chinese family. Most male members of the family were scholarly and sent to the west to study. Chang Yu-i, the older woman in the family, became scholarly as well, having been tutored inside and outside of China. The eldest daughter succumbed to an opium addiction.

Almost the entire family moved
...more
Hugs
I have cried while reading this many times. There are good things to take away, like never, NEVER saying a negative word about your in-laws to ANYBODY. I can see where some hardships could be avoided by living this way. Some of the difficult things included not being able to nurse and raise your own infant/child. In contrast, I LOVED that she nursed until she was SIX, and credits that for her strength and not getting sick! Some of the rules of filiel piety would do the world good today ("Your bo ...more
Emily
This beautiful double memoir gives insight into the conflict between tradition and independence in the lives of two very different generations of women of one family - a great-aunt's story in early 20th century China and her great-niece's story in the late 20th century America. It was a quick read that offered a particularly interesting historical context for women in China at the end of the last dynasty and into the Republican Period.
Kailin
As a Chinese, I am proud of my heritage. Nonetheless I had always known that girls in the past did not have it easy. This is why I am thankful that I live in the modern society with near equality between men and women. I am very much in awe with the women from the past like Yu-i who possessed such strong will to live through their hardships, despite being lowly, if not uneducated. I also learnt a lot about traditional chinese customs and how women as women should behave. Some of the traditional ...more
Jori
Interesting oral history into early 19th century Chinese culture. Yu-i's storry was great but I felt that Pang-Mei's was not all that great. I think it could have been structured a little differently.

However, I did learn a lot from it. It has been 3 years since I read it and it is still sticking with me.
Irene

I am very partial to oral history, so this book was a good fit for me. The author was born and raised in Connecticut by immigrants from China. Although she had always known that her paternal family was prominent in China prior to the revolution, she was surprised to see her paternal great aunt’s name in a college text book. That unexpected revelation inspired her to interview her great aunt and record her story. I was fascinated with the everyday details of life in China in the early 1900s. I wa
...more
Leslie
Excellent book. The picture on the cover is worth the price of the book. It is the first photograph that I have ever seen of the size of bound feet. I suppose I could have googled the image but the comparison of the "normal" shoe and that of a woman whose feet had been bound was powerful.

There are a few things that would make me uncomfortable with a young teen reading this book. However, I intend to go back and list the pages of concern so that you can decide for yourself.

I found this book at t
...more
Jonathan
I very much enjoy stories which paint the vibrant life of a regular person in the historical context of a different culture, especially an oppressive one (see also "Reading Lolita in Tehran"). There is no need for this book to preach, or to beat you over your head with a message. The way Yu-i interacts with the world flows out of every page, and the lesson you take from this book is the lesson you will learn just from following her life. The story itself is but a well-written record.

The level of
...more
Jen
When Chang Yu-I was three her mother tried to bind her feet. But the child's cries so tormented her brother that he convinced their mother to stop. This break with convention foreshadowed the extraordinary life Yu-i was to lead. After following her husband, poet Hsu Chi-Mo, a noted philanderer, to Oxford, she made history by becoming the first Chinese woman to have a western-style divorce at age 22. Determined to make her own way, she moved to America and served in a series of prestigious positi ...more
Lucy
I really enjoyed learning about Chinese culture and traditions.
Monika
This book felt like just another story about the struggles of a Chinese woman. Too many books like this already out there. Some of Yu-i's stories are quite amazing but you just don't get the enormity of these stories in the writing. They come out rather bland. I did learn about a few Chinese traditions and about the woman's role in the Chinese family. Having grown up in Europe and the States, it is so difficult for me to understand how men can treat women as if they are nothing. It is a sad soci ...more
Bridget
Jun 09, 2010 Bridget rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in Chinese family traditions, women's roles, etc.
Although this is not the most creatively told story, it is fascinating to learn about the family dynamics of the old-fashioned Chinese family, particularly the woman's role. A couple things I learned: bound feet were considered beautiful, which meant a girl's toes were bent down (and eventually broken) to touch the heel of the foot, then wrapped with cloth. This made walking, even short distances, very painful, which is why most women just stayed home most days. A quick read and very interesting ...more
David Marxer
This is one of my favorite books about Chinese women dealing with the changing times that span the 20th century. The book is story of the author's grandmother mixed with and compared to her own modern life. The author's grandmother was born and raised in a world where to have unbound feet was ugly and a shame...her grandmother's arranged marriage to a famous poet took her to England and Germany where her husband abandoned her with their new born son...A hard story to read, but harder to put down ...more
Pat
This is a memoir of both the author and her aunt. Her aunt grew up in China in the early part of the 20th century and was the first woman in her family to not have bound feet. She was also a woman who left her country for Europe with her first husband and then learned how to make her own way in the world when her husband left her in Europe. It is quite a story. The author interweaves a little of her own story into the memoir, but the emphasis is clearly on her aunt. Very interesting!
Lorraine
"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," is how the book begins. She tells the story of the first modern divorce in China in 1922, which is her story. Womanhood, success, eastern values versus western values are all dealt with in this book. Every American woman should read it.
Lucie "a heart so wild"
well, I always love a great memoirs... looking at other's life especially in old days during turbulent era in China.
This is the story which is written by Natasha Pang Mei, as first generation of chinese-american. She paints an unforgetable saga of her Great-aunt's memoirs in a perilous years between the fall of the Last Emperor and Communist revolution.

Great, just Great!
Annette
I was deeply moved by this book. BOUND FEET & WESTERN DRESS and WILD SWANS, both written by thoughtful, courageous, and talented Chinese women, speak truth about the warped, twisted traditions of China. This book was given to me by a China-born young woman whom I love dearly. A newly naturalized US citizen, she does NOT want to return to live in China.
Ann
Another book I picked up because of a previously enjoyed book about China. This is China on the cusp of change, the 1920-s to 1930's as told by a grandmother and recorded by her grand-daughter. One can see the old influences of culture and the pride in one's ancestors. Also, the costs of honor and family responsibility. Admired the Chang family!
Mark
What an honor to discover someone from a different generation so full of history and this book now capturing it into words. Thanks Natasha.

So much has happened to us Americans and your Chinese family and to see how these two cultures are mixing and blending is truly fascinating.

I hope you keep on writing.
Terry
Really interesting story of a woman who grew up in changing times. Coming from a traditional upbringing in China to moderen living in the west was not an easy or clear progression for Pang's great aunt. I'm into my woman and travel stage of reading. This was a learning experience about pre revolutionary China.
Rachel
Rachel marked it as to-read
Jan 29, 2015
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