Women’s Bodies and Subjectivity: Foot-binding and
Anti-Foot-binding in the Republic of China (1911–1949)
Although the Republic of China inherited a deep-rooted culture of foot-binding, the Nationalist Government brought changes to this culture through a series of Anti-foot-binding Policies starting from 1927, which had a significant impact on the historical development of women’s bodies in China. This study examines the oral histories of 190 Chinese foot-bound women, supplemented with their memoirs, autobiographies, biographies, as well as governmental archives and reports, to reconstruct the history of the foot-binding culture and Anti-foot-binding Policies in the Republic of China.
This paper is divided into three parts. The first provides a brief introduction to foot-binding in traditional China. In the second part, the restrictions that the Chinese foot-bound women came across in the private and public spheres of their lives are investigated by analysing their oral histories. The life experiences of those who “voluntarily” bound their feet will be specifically studied in order to understand the foot-bound women’s dilemma between insisting on personal choice and succumbing to social norms. The last section focuses on the Anti-foot-binding Policies carried out by the Nationalist Government from 1927. The impacts of these policies on social norms and on the manifestation of the subjectivity of the foot-bound women are analysed. The paper concludes with observations on the decline of China’s deep-rooted foot-binding culture and the loss of autonomy over their bodies that Chinese foot-bound women experienced.