From Publishers Weekly
One of the best known, most torturous examples of fashionable alteration is Chinese foot binding. In Every Step a Lotus: Shoes for Bound Feet, Barnard College history professor Dorothy Ko looks at the making and wearing of lotus shoes, the footwear for women with bound feet. Along the way she discredits some simplistic popular notions about foot binding and emphasizes the economic and social problems that it addressed. While the practice began as an exclusive custom of leisured elites, Ko explains, it spread to the peasantry in the 17th and 18th centuries, resulting in such incongruous artifacts as lotus rainboots and galoshes. Color photographs throughout the book illustrate Ko's explanation of shoemaking, foot binding and the symbolism of the shoes' decorations, though the beauty of the shoes (and this book, which includes step-by-step, how-to instructions for binding) belies the pain of the wearers.
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Foot binding is often cited as an emblem of the oppression of women and as such exerts a morbid fascination. But Ko, a history professor at Barnard, urges readers not to view the practice through modern eyes but to study it as a cultural phenomenon deeply embedded in Chinese history. Downplaying the tradition's erotic aspects, Ko offers a cogent discussion of Chinese women's lives during the eighteenth century, the pinnacle of the cult of the lotus foot. Mothers bound their daughters' feet, and foot binding evolved into a rite of passage into womanhood within the Confucian system, which valued female domesticity and textile arts. Shoe making became a highly prized craft and an integral part of the foot-binding ritual, and therefore Ko's enlightening narrative is accompanied by gorgeous reproductions of unbelievably tiny, exquisitely embroidered shoes for bound feet. As she identifies various shoe styles, interprets the complex symbolism of their elaborate designs, and elucidates the spiritual and religious aspects of foot binding, Ko convincingly defines the practice as a historical source of female identity, purpose, pride, and power. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.