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Bound Feet & Western Dress

3.86  ·  Rating Details ·  1,444 Ratings  ·  80 Reviews
"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
Paperback, 215 pages
Published September 15th 1997 by Anchor (first published 1996)
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RK Byers
Aug 09, 2014 RK Byers rated it really liked it
I was expecting "Memoirs of a Joy Luck Good Earth". I was pleasantly disappointed.
Aug 04, 2011 Vanessa rated it it was amazing
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.

Feb 14, 2014 Lysmerry rated it it was ok
Shelves: chinese, 2013
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 ...more
Very enjoyable biography of the author's aunt, with just enough personal story from the author to make this a personal family story rather than a remote biography. This is a small story - the life story of the author's aunt. She's not a hero exactly, though she has moments of extreme grace and strength. She's not a revolutionary, though she was thrust into a more modern life than the one she'd envisioned when she found herself part of one of the first public no fault divorces in China. She lived ...more
Oct 28, 2011 Gracie rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 15, 2016 Emma rated it it was amazing
Just excellent.
Jul 26, 2012 Hugs rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Nov 28, 2015 Yi rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Luanne Castle
Nov 14, 2014 Luanne Castle rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
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
Mar 15, 2014 Monica rated it really liked it
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
Feisty Harriet
Mar 26, 2015 Feisty Harriet rated it liked it
Shelves: china
I love the idea behind this autobiographical/memoir which mostly focuses on Yu-i, a woman born in China at the beginning of the 20th century who grows up and comes of age as her country moves away from its more traditional ways such as foot binding, arranged marriages, socially accepted concubines, filial responsibilities, and a abhorrent preference for sons. Yu-i's story is told by her 20-something great-niece, Pang-Mei, who was born in Connecticut and is trying to understand her American and ...more
***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
Apr 24, 2009 Marcy rated it it was amazing
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
Remy DeJoseph
Nov 15, 2015 Remy DeJoseph rated it it was amazing
The only reason why I read this book was because I took a Gender studies class and it is a required read. I was hooked from the cover and the summary but I fell in love with it after the first chapter.
The book is a dual memoir based around two Chinese women, one from the 1900's named Yu-i and the author born around the 60's, Pang-Mei Natsha Chang. It is about two women born Chinese in a time of change yet they are generations apart, it is their struggle to identify themselves by their ideals an
Nov 09, 2014 Joyce rated it really liked it
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
Mar 18, 2015 Erica rated it it was amazing
A gorgeous and compelling memoir. Pang-Mei Natasha Chang tells the story of her great aunt, Chang Yu-i, and the story of early twentieth century China, including interesting information related to the customs, traditions and mores of the old Chinese culture. Yu-i was one of the first Chinese woman to go through a modern divorce. She was young, poorly educated, with two children, one of whom tragically died shortly after her divorce. Yu-i transforms from a poorly educated, highly dependent woman ...more
Nov 07, 2011 Leslie rated it really liked it
Shelves: chez-mama
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
Jul 23, 2008 Jen rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Sep 16, 2014 Liya rated it liked it
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
Dec 29, 2013 Irene rated it liked it

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
Dec 07, 2012 Jonathan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
David Marxer
Jan 23, 2012 David Marxer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Feb 15, 2014 Kailin rated it really liked it
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
Jun 07, 2009 Monika rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Jun 09, 2010 Bridget rated it liked it
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 ...more
Michelle Heegaard
Jan 07, 2016 Michelle Heegaard rated it liked it
I bought this book a while back and just now finished it. I bought because stories from the eastern world always fascinates me. It is such a different culture from ours.
I had different expectations for this book. I gues I thought it would be more like another biography from China I recently read. It was not. Nontheless it was a very interssting read. I didn't know the 'famous' people the author refered to. If I had it probably would have been even more exciting
Mar 04, 2009 Lorraine rated it it was amazing
"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.
Apr 05, 2014 Emily rated it it was amazing
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.
Apr 18, 2010 Pat rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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!
Jul 22, 2009 Mereke rated it liked it
A very interesting real-life story with plenty in it about elite Chinese culture in the 20's. My biggest criticism is that the writing is kind of stunted and seems almost more like a high school essay on the author's great-aunt, than a professional piece of literature. But overall enjoyable, quick-read.
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