The Three-inch Golden Lotus is a piece of Chinese Literature written by Feng Jicai controversial for its depiction of the cruel practice of Asian woman binding their feet. Binding one’s feet involves the grotesque act of wrapping a three-to-five year olds feet with bindings, so as to bend the toes under, breaking the bones and forcing the front and back of the foot together. The purpose of this procedure was to produce a tiny feet, the golden lotus which was three inches long and was thought to be sexually alluring. The genesis of this practice is ambiguous, however brief texts have revealed its beginning as early as the Han Dynasty (206B.C-A.D 220). The first documents referring to foot binding is from the court Southern Tang dynasty in Nanjing (A.D.937-956.) Dancing girls entertaining the court were famous for their tiny feet and beautiful bow shows. This practice then became the epitome of feminine beauty in the imperial court spreading downward socially and around the world as, according to some scholars as the lower classes “latest thing.” and imitated this new fashion of the elite. Zhu Xi (A.D. 1130-1200) is one notable person who had spread the fashion of foot binding.
His commentaries on the Confucian classics would form the canon of Neo-Confucianism which will dominate Chinese intellectual and philosophical life for six hundred years up to the twentienth Century. The famed scholar and writer Lin Yutang, Zhu Xi was a passionate advocator who introduced foot binding in Southern Fuji in order to spread Chinese culture and the proper relations between men and woman. Chinese writer in the twelve and Thirteenth Centuries mention the practice as normal. Friar Odoric of Pordenone, in the Order#12112356 The Three-inch Golden Lotus Pg.2 early Fourteen Century, spent three years in China and informed that little feet were the most beautiful, and therefore when girls were born their feet were bonded so tightly they could not grow. To write a novel about foot binding requires, a certain bravery for any author. This issue is so linked to what the Chinese think as sexually appealing that it makes it uncomfortable to discuss it seriously.
To others it suggests the embarrassing barbaric, backward practices of Chinese culture. Men, and not just Chinese men believe that it is troubling as it suggests men find the act of gruesomely crippling a women’s feet as sexually or seductively attractive and that they are further capable of utilizing superior social status to make woman conform to beauty that makes them deformed and is grotesque. Women look at foot binding as unsettling because it reveals mothers crippling their daughters so that they can meet some ideal image of what a man prefers. The Three-inch Golden Lotus incites, upsets, and horrifies every reader who fall into at least one or more of these categories. It is a bold novel further because it is similar to the scar literature of the late 1970’s and 1980’s. The setting of the story is the forty-year period from 1890 to 1930 following the cultural revolution, which was from 1966 to 1976, is not readily clear. Feng links the cultural Revolution to the more extended process of revolutionary transformation that spans the entire twentieth Century in China. The author calls the process into question. His descriptions of the painful excesses of the anti-foot movement in the 1920’s in chapter 13, 14, 15 is reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution.
Many innocent people, including fragrant Lotus and her family are forced into vortex of change, and which make. Unlike Scar literature which places blame for China’s national trauma on simple minded Red guards and the ambitious power hungry leaders. Feng’s work suggests a deeper cause. He is fond of saying naively, that the Cultural Revolution would have never occurred in the United States, because American’s would not act this way. Feng implies, by asking a question which underlie much of his writing. Why did the Chinese in large numbers act this way? Feng often encourages Chinese Writers to dig deep into the souls of the Chinese people, for is clear to Feng, the cause of the Cultural Revolution does not lie with the misguided youth, or power hungry leadership however it lies with the values the Chinese people hold deep. Feng questions why we do such terrible things to ourselves? Why does our misery last so long? Why must any change be so painful and chaotic? Feng thus addresses about the subject of foot binding, The this cause of the cause. He clarifies as well as confuses a final judgment on the process of social change in twentieth Century China.
To the readers of The three-inch golden lotus the subject of foot binding is an evil however, it’s abolition was both chaotic and unfair. The victims of this diabolic practice ironically and incomprehensively suffered as targets of the anti-foot binding movements by being forced to unbind their feet; an act which is considered even more painful than the binding. Feng asks if these injustices were necessary or inevitable? In the novel, Feng suggests that they were. He believed the beauty of bound feet was a value deeply rooted in the Chinese sexual culture. In Chinese culture the women who bound their feet, were beautiful and highly desirable for marriage. Big feet were considered ugly and so were the woman. Changing such deep felt views the feelings associated with them must be turned around. What was beautiful must be turned into something ugly and something ugly must be turned into something beautiful. The goal was to destroy one and replace it with the other, the beauty of bound feet had to be assaulted as well as the woman who had them.
This unrealistic process of change demanded its price, and the payment made was often found in the form of great individual suffering. Feng says, ”A writer should always wear black. His Profession requires that he get into the thick of the often ugly contradictions of life.” Feng in his novel has engaged the ugly contradiction of foot binding and has illuminated a symbol for the process revolutionary change in Twentieth Century China. When it comes to balancing historical progress against the suffering of the innocent individual, Feng asks Has the progress been worth it? And more importantly, has it succeeded? Feng’s answer to the first question is in the case of foot binding, yes, however no in the case of the Cultural Revolution and as to the effects of the deeper values of Chinese people, he recommends to keep an open mind. The Three-inch Golden Lotus, is Feng Jicai’s most daring novel to date. He completed a first draft in July 1985, and in October revised it while in residence at the University of Iowa’s writers project. The novel voices the same themes of his previous novels, which uses athletic competition as a literary device. This athletic competition appears here in fine descriptive detail of several bound- foot contests, including the most memorable scene when Fragrant Kicks a shuttlecock with her tiny feet.
Feng’s fascination with Tianjin and its often strange folklore pervades the work, “Some idle talk before the story,” as he attempts to shake the readers distinction between the real and the fantastic. Feng’s dedication of history makes it appearance as he tells the historical background of foot binding in Chapter 4, and it is this focus on this centuries old practice of foot binding, breaks new grounds for Feng himself and for modern Chinese literature as a whole. Jicai writing style is meant to provoke by highlighting the extremes without exaggerating the piece flows even in translation with aspects of the Chinese writing style. The novel serves as a historical, political, cultural, parable of writing which covers the scene of sliver, (A sliver deals exclusively with foot binding) of the change period between the end of the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in 1949. The Three-inch Golden Lotus doesn’t center on the Cultural Revolution, however it does follow the timeline of Golden Lotus; the daughter of parents who had died and left her grandmother- Granny.
The novel first deals with the serious, life-changing implications of having beautifully bound feet. Jicai cleverly draws the story of a young peasant girl who would have been lost in the society where there was a clear difference between the rich and poor, where she is instantly saved by her bound feet, finding herself in a position where influential men can be manipulated. Soon the heroine Golden flower; finds her enemies are cutthroat and overwhelming when in position of power. Golden does not have choice to play the game only for her own survival. It is a contest on how beautifully the foot is bounded. It is through this power struggle Golden Lotus is taken to the lowest point she has ever known in her life. She tries to save her daughter from the fate of the game, contrary to what her grandmother has done for her. In Golden Lotus’s perspective, it becomes a question of being either powerful while suffering is involved or being undistinguished and happy, in the end. Despite her efforts, her daughter ends up in a position of power, which leaves readers to make out the meaning of Golden Lotus’s thoughts when she dies. Irony exists throughout the novel as Golden Lotus is the one who ends up being her greatest enemy. The conflict is between two different standards of beauty.
The Cultural Revolution occurred there were large movements to unbind and not bind the feet at all. Jicai addresses the battle between the two who deemed it necessary. It is those originally who where in the Cultural Revolution who started the attack against those with still bond feet. Golden Lotus is known to have the most beautiful feet in an influential family. She immediately was the leader of those who wished to keep their feet bound. Jicai, in the end conveys that change should not be forced on anyone, however it should take time. Jicai’s style is as if he is having a conversation with the reader. His story covers the aspects of the lifestyle at this time even drawing a scene where the most respected men get drunk and seem small in the eyes of the reader. To these men, woman’s bound feet are what is important and it is apparent that Jicai’s tries to show the sexual aspect of the obsession for bound feet. This concept is what may be overlooked by unsuspecting readers who have their own views on the concept of foot binding as something sexual. However, there is no question about the bound feet sexual meaning after it is shown, which makes this author a far more daring writer then one had already suspected.
If one would should assume writing about sexual topics with such vivid detail at that time of the period would seem inappropriate. However then again this could be our western assumption as Jicai constantly tries to bring and push the readers perspective. The reader is taken with Jicai’s humor, storyline and historical insight and is particularly impressed with descriptions of the scenes which are unique and memorable. Jicai’s usage of syntax such as personification and similes, imagery and figurative language brings this translated piece to life. His vivid descriptions and personification of the foot binding as an entity and non-entity was profoundly striking. The detailed descriptions served to bring the piece to life and to create a story of foot binding.
The story is a parody of the Cultural Revolution capturing the struggle between shifting cultural and traditional ideals. It tells the misfortunate of those submitting to the society’s standards of what beauty is and the people caught in the change in that history where new ideas are introduced while those who follow the traditional standards are shunned.
The Three-Inch Golden Lotus (Fiction from modern China) by Chi-Tsai Feng, David Wakefeild (Translator) Foot binding: Search for the three inch golden lotus- Channelcanada.com/article638.html Three inch golden lotus meeting of the last surviving Chinese woman with bound feet- monkeyfilter.com/link.php/7840 Marie Vento: One thousands years of Chinese foot binding: Its origins, popularity and demise-WWW.Academic.Brooklyn.cuny.edu Splendid Slippers-A thousand years of an Erotic Tradition- New book by Beverly Jackson-WWW.Silcom.com/~bevjack/thebook.html