Old Traditions of China & the Sufferings of Women

Pang-Mei Natasha Chang, a well-known Chinese-American writer was born in a famous Shanghai family in America and her parents were from China. Natasha wrote her first book “Bound Feet and Western Dress,” in 1990. It is a memoir which tells about the life of her great-grandaunt Chang Yu-I who was born in1900 in China at the time of the Boxer Rebellion. Natasha was the first follower of the Chang family who was born in the United States and in this book entitled “Bound Feet and Western Dress”, she explains the life of the Chinese people who lived in the United States and it also discusses her great grandaunt’s life history, their family, the author herself and the culture of China and how women-led their life there.

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“Bound Feet and Western Dress” is a novel that discusses the memories of Pang-Mei Natasha Chang and her aunt Chang Yu-I. This is a novel which tells about their life story and the great difficulties which Chang Yu faced in her life. In this book, Chang Yu-I tells her story and the condition of Chinese women to her grandniece Pang-Mei Natasha Chang who was born in America. She was born in 1900 and her married life was a failure as her husband was ill-treated and at 22 they divorced and she moved to Germany and hardly completed her education from there and became a teacher there. Chang Yu in this book says about the condition of women in China. She says, “In China, a woman is nothing”. (Yu-I, and Natasha Chang). In ancient China, women in society were treated as a second-class community for a long time. In the political, educational, communal levels as well as family life too, women were treated as mediocre to men. As they were away from any kind of human rights which the men folks possessed, for everything women had to depend upon men. When they were children they were to obey their fathers, after that they have to obey their husbands and at last they have to obey their sons. In ancient times, women didn’t enjoy any freedom of their own. They had no stand of their own and in their whole life, they were forced to suffer physically as well as mentally. For centuries, “women with bound feet” were a synonym for the female gender in China. (Chapter 1 Historic Liberation of Chinese Women). Chang Yu also experienced this ill-treatment in her life. She was forced to follow the old rules like foot bounding at her younger age itself and when her brother saw this he raised his voice against this but her mother was of the old belief that without bound foot she will not get married. And the Chinese men had control over the women by ill-treating them, but Chang Yu wished to study and for that, she worked a lot. When her husband forced her to follow Western culture and modern principles she found it difficult to follow as she believed in old Chinese culture. She suffers a lot in between western thoughts and the Chinese tradition. Chang Yu here gives a picture of the old Chinese tradition and the old painful practices like binding the feet. She was forced to marry whom her parents asked her to marry and then she became like a slave. Her husband started to ill-treat her and this led to their separation. Chang Yu-I felt the effect of this throughout her life. She experiences the incapacitation of foot binding, is expected to follow the rules of filial piety, is largely ignored in school, and never gets support from any of the men in her life. Here, one can see that there is a great contradiction between Western culture and Chinese culture. She is struggling hard to overcome this situation and she is the first woman who divorced her husband. Even though she lived around the people who live with old beliefs it is she who first showed the courage to divorce at that time. When Chang Yu-I told her story to her grandniece all the members understood that Chang Yu-I suffered a lot in her life. With this traditional concept and modern ideas, she struggled a lot. By hearing the great actions of her aunt Pang-Mei Natasha Chang became bold and understood the past culture and she fought to have a bridge between the old and new culture. This novel “offers a poignant look at the role that women have played in China and how they are defining themselves today.” (Beckahi) This work shows that an independent woman like Chang Yu is struggling to be free from the old traditions and duties which women have been undergoing for centuries.

In this book, one can see the two voices from the different generations. Pang-Mei Natasha Chang, the grand-niece of Chang Yu-I is searching for the identity of China and the different cultures of the country. This is a story of a woman who is fighting to come up from the old customs and traditions.

Works Cited

Beckahi, R. Chaffey. Customer Review. Amazon.com. 2005.

Chapter 1 Historic Liberation of Chinese Women. 2009.

Yu-I, Chang, and Natasha Chang, Pang- Mei. “Bound Feet and Western Dress.” Principal College – 1999: China and Mongolia Abroad. Ed. Brooks, Heidi, and Wakeling, Emily. 1999. Web.

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