CHINESE FOOTBINDING: ON FOOTNOTING THE THREE INCH “LOTUS HOOKS”
The Chinese ritual of footbinding was a thousand –year-long horror show in which women were grotesquely crippled from very early childhood. As Andrea Dworkin so vividly demonstrates, the hideous three inch long “lotus hooks”*—-which in reality were odiferous, useless stumps— were the means by which the Chinese Patriarchs saw to it that their girls and women would not “run around”1 All off the components of the sado-ritual syndrome are illustrated in this atrocity.
First there was the familiar fixation on “purity” in contrast to their counterparts in such countries as India, Chinese males did not have to confine their wives and daughters in purdah in order to protect their “purity”, but saw to it instead that their prisoners were hopelessly crippled. The foot purification (mutilation) ensured that women would be brainwashed as well, since their immobility made them entirely dependant upon males for knowledge of the world outside their houses. Moreover, since torture and mutilation of a small girl was carried out by her mother and other close female relatives, the lesson of ”never trust a woman” was branded upon her soul, and emotional dependency upon the seemingly less involved males was guaranteed. She was not supposed to know that men were the real Master minds of her suffering. Thus her mind was purely possessed, and it became axiomatic that the possessor of tiny feet was a paradigm of female goodness.
The second element of the syndrome—erasure of male responsibility—is evident in footbinding. From the Chinese male’s point of view, there was no question of his blame or moral accountability. After all, women “did it to themselves” One man, cited by Howard S. Levy, described his sister’s ordeal as a child, when she was forced to “walk” with bound feet:
Auntie dragged her hobbling along, to keep the blood circulating. Sister wept throughout, but mother and auntie didn’t pity her in the slightest, saying that if one loved a daughter, one could not love her feet.2
There is a kind of ignorant arrogance in this man’s assertion that the older women (the token torturers) felt no pity. According to his own account, they performed this ritual mutilation out of fear that otherwise the girl would not be marriageable. This was a realistic fear, since for a thousand-year period Chinese males—millions of them—required this maiming of female feet into “lotus hooks’ for their own sadistic, fetishistic, erotic pleasure. One male is quoted by Levy as making the following comment;
Every time I see a girl suffering the pain of footbinding, I think of the future when the lotuses will be placed on my shoulders or held in my palms and my desire overflows and becomes uncontrollable.3
Such male sadism, which dictated the creation of “ golden lotuses,” often masked itself as compassion. Nan-kung Po, a Chinese historical novelist, relates the thoughts of one of his characters upon beholding a courtesan’s “tiny feet”:
He couldn’t help feeling compassion for her lower extremities. Compressing the feet in order to thicken the thighs must have been the invention of a genius. And of course the inventor must have been a woman.4
Such feelings of “compassion” and “pity”, which were often described by Chinese men as experienced at the sight of ‘tiny feet,” contributed to their sadistic pleasure. It did not occur to them, it seems, that they were the agents behind the mutilation, demanding it, and enforcing it, deceptively using their mindbound women to execute their wishes. This “compassion” was pure doublethink, pure abnegation of responsibility, made plausible by the visibility of women cast into the role of each other’s torturers and mutilators.
Yet another Chinese “genius” who signed himself as “Lotus Knower” blatantly expressed the same self-excusing logic.
Women of antiquity regarded the tiny foot as a crystallization of physical beauty; it was not a product of lewd thinking (emphasis mine). 5
Yet a few lines later he expresses his own lewd thinking:
The lotus has special seductive characteristics and is an instrument for arousing desire. Who can resist the fascination and bewilderment of playing with and holding in his palms a soft and jade-like hook? 6
The examples can be multiplied. No one was guilty except the girls and women who attempted to disobey or escape. No one was to blame for the evil of maiming women, since the reality of evil and maiming was not acknowledged. There were only “beauty” and the “extremes of pleasure.”
Among the Chinese, footbinding was universally legitimated. Its apologists included philosophers, poets, authors of erotic literature, diplomats, and ordinary,” honorable men.”