Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Bound Feet and Western Dress: A Memoir

Posted by nliakos on February 18, 2007

by Pang-Mei Natasha Chang, 1997; audiotape narrated by the author

The author if this fascinating little book is a Chinese-American woman who interviewed her great aunt, Chang Yu-i, about her life.   Chang Yu-i was born into a wealthy Shanghai family and was married at age 15 to a man who did not like her.  Trained to be obedient to her husband and his family, she did everything she was supposed to (bore a son, served her in-laws, obeyed her husband’s every wish) but was still despised by him.  He abandoned her in Europe, then divorced her in China’s first Western-style divorce (which did not take place in China).  Nevertheless, she supported herself as a teacher in Europe, eventually returned to China, continued to care for her ex-husband’s parents because his new wife refused to do so, managed a women’s bank, and finally emigrated as the Communists were about to take over Shanghai.  Living through such an interesting part of Chin’s history, she saw the social changes sweeping through China at first hand.

The text, which seems to be a direct transcription (or, perhaps, translation) of Chang Yu-i’s words, is interspersed with the author’s recollections of her own shorter history, as she discovered her family’s history.

Chang Yu-i’s story seems horrific to a “liberated” modern woman–the stuff of some sexist nightmare.  Her patience and strength despite the adversity she faced are hard to believe.

I enjoyed this book a lot.  I think it would be particularly interesting for Chinese students, who would probably find it quite easy to understand.

Click here for the Reading Group review and discussion questions of this book.

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