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108 China Review International: Vol. 1, No. 2, Fall 1994© 1994 by University ofHawai'i Press Jicai Feng. The Three-Inch Golden Lotus. Translated by David Wakefield. Honolulu: University ofHawai'i Press, 1994. 248 pp. Hardcover $28, Paperback $12.50. Feng Jicai's 1986 Sancun Jinlian may now be read in English thanks to a translation by David Wakefield. To my knowledge, The Three-Inch Golden Lotus is die first extended piece of realistic fiction that places the vexatious topic of footbinding at the center of dramatic action. The narrative is incisive and ironic, as we see from Feng's opening remarks: "Some people say that a portion of Chinese history lies concealed in the bound feet of Chinese women. That's preposterous! These stunted human feet, three inches long, a bit longer than a cigarette, eternally suffocated in bindings—what could be hidden diere except for the smell?" The story follows the life of Fragrant Lotus from her first ordeal with footbinding to her last hurrah. The scene is Tianjin in the decades before and after the turn of the twentieAi century. Coming from a poor family and having lost her parents at an early age, Fragrant Lotus is fortunate to have a grandmother intent on maximizing her chances in the marriage market by teaching her the discipline of foot-binding. Her finely bound feet are noticed one day by her employer, Tong Ren-an, a wealthy merchant of counterfeit antiques. Tong Ren-an determines to marry Fragrant Lotus to the oldest of his four sons, who, as Fragrant Lotus learns in her marriage bed, is a half-wit and incapable of appreciating the intimacy of her tiny feet. But where her husband is crude and insensitive, her father-in-law provides a gentie hand as one infelicity follows anoAier. Fragrant Lotus soon learns that her position in the Tong pecking order is based on the fineness of her small feet, which she is called upon to exhibit periodically in staged contests with the ofher daughters-in-law and housemaids. The female contestants are judged by Tong Ren-an and his business associates, who also contest each other's ability to articulate the cryptic lore of the golden lotus. The competition among Aie women for the most delectable feet and among the men for the most scintillating tongue is often fierce and marked by guile and cunning . In the male persiAage leading to Aie first contest, for instance, Tong Ren-an goads an unsuspecting guest into showing offhis expertise on bound feet only to be challenged at each point by Tong's superior insight. The guest is made to look increasingly foolish until Tong decides to spare him further loss of face. The female contestants are less chary: when the second son's wife wins the first contest, she gloats over her victory and goes out of her way to increase the sting of Fragrant Lotus' defeat: "Having found somewhere a pair of giant, eight-inch shoes— snidely called big lotus boats—she laid them in front of Fragrant Lotus' door as a Reviews 109 further insult. Fragrant Lotus was so angry she cried, but she dared not remove the shoes. Others in the house dared not touch them either" (p. 74). Toward the end ofthe book, Aie modern movement to unbind feet and promote natural feet comes to Tianjin. All the men of Aie Tong family have died or absconded. Only a house full ofwomen—Fragrant Lotus, her sisters-in-law, daughters, and maids—are left to face the angry mobs who assemble daily at the Tong compound intent on liberating the women of their bindings. Whatever the author intended by creating this unusual circumstance, in which a large household of foot-bound women is left without a male presence or inAuence, one effect is to accentuate Aie notion Aiat foot-bound women became agents of Aieir own victimhood and then were victimized a second time in the name of "liberation." Coerced to bind their feet, then forced to unbind their feet, Fragrant Lotus and her cohorts appear to be victims of both masters, Decadence and Progress. On the oAier hand, Fragrant Lotus and her cohorts do not...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 108-111
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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