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Chinese Footbinding: The History of a Curious Erotic Custom by Howard S. Levy

Chinese Footbinding: The History of a Curious Erotic Custom by Howard S. Levy

Now, this was quite a strange book. I bought this from the used bookstore for $100 NT because it was about Asian culture, and history - two of my favourite things! The reviews on GoodReads for this book are also quite solid as this seems to be the ‘bible’ of footbinding.

There are many aspects to this book. There are sections on: the history of footbinding and the the movement to abolish it, how to footbind, essays on sexual positions that ‘lotus lovers’ loved, essays on a dissection of a bound foot, and interviews from women who grew up with bound feet.

Now, I did learn a lot here, but this book is a bit all over the place. In parts it feels very scholarly, and in other parts it feels like Levy is recounting stories he’s heard from people. The whole problem with research on footbinding seems to be that: (a) nobody knows exactly when it started (b) nobody knows exactly why it was done. This leaves a huge vacuum for academics to interpret the scant evidence to answer these questions.

Some parts of this book felt to me like they had an Orientalist vibe. I’m not sure that was the intention, but this book certainly could use an update, as this was published in 1967. There is great research in here, but there certainly isn’t a very clear narrative in the book once you get past the first chapter. This fragmentation does work in its favour because there are big sections you can easily just skip if you aren’t too interested in them, say the 18 ‘lotus lovers’ kama sutra descriptions for example.

I see there are some more current books about this topic that look worth checking out. I am interested in reading this more current book, Cinderella’s Sisters: A Revisionist History of Footbinding, so see how she treats this delicate topic.

Rating: ★★★★

Book #37 in my #ReadingChallenge2021

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