Corsets, 4-inch heels, and foot binding.

I hiked the Chilkoot Trail in 2000. When I was writing about it for Alaska magazine, somehow I stumbled across the information that women in that time, 1898-1899, wore on average forty pounds of clothes.

Can you imagine hiking up that

in forty pounds of clothes? That’s, what, like eight 5-pound chickens, or one three-year old child.

Now imagine that part of that forty pounds is a corset

and this is what it’s doing to your insides on the hike

Queen Elizabeth I likely died of complications from lead poisoning, with which she used to paint her face to make it whiter. Google “health problems from high heels” and you’ll get over 11 million results.

So when I first came to research Silk and Song and stumbled across the custom of foot-binding in China, I was unsurprised.

Sickened, disgusted, but unsurprised.

When one of the villains showed up on Silk and Song’s radar, I wanted her to be more than one dimension, but how do you humanize someone who has it in for your hero? I didn’t have to like her, but I did have to at least be able to sympathize with her.

Well, what if she’s a product of her times? What if her family want to ensure her a good marriage and bound feet and the swaying gait they cause are considered to be erotic? What if at age 4 someone broke every one of her toes and folded her feet back on themselves and wrapped it tightly and left it that way for years, so that her feet would never be more than four inches long? So that ever after she would never be able to walk normally? only teeter, or sway, which was held to be feminine and attractive to potential mates?

You’d feel sorry for her, wouldn’t you? That’s one hell of a physical handicap to overcome only by sheer personality.

She’s still a villain, though.

Everything Under the Heavens


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7 thoughts on “Corsets, 4-inch heels, and foot binding.

  1. hazelmary says:

    I watched a tv show a few years back where they interviewed some old ladies who had had their feet bound. One old lady said she heavily resisted but her mother forced her into it, to make her more marriageable. She said it was seriously agonizing for years. Then they interviewed her husband who seemed an amiable old chap but confessed he would have found her less attractive and maybe not have wanted to marry her if she had normal sized feet. Bit like having big breasts or indeed big buttocks today. Something similar I suppose could be said for female circumcision and indeed for that tribe in Africa where the women have to be fattened up to be obese to make them marriageable. Have you noticed that it’s always the grannies that do the enforcing?


  2. Haven’t gotten around to Lisa See’s books yet, Chris.

    And yes, hazelmary, I had noticed that. It’s almost as if okay, you don’t get off because I sure didn’t. Hate it.


  3. Karen Lauterwasser says:

    I remember reading about this in a reading group book in school: “Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze”, by Elizabeth Foreman Lewis. I think I was in fourth grade or so. And I remember being horrified. And I can imagine it would definitely make one villainous.


  4. Cathy Phillips says:

    I also have read Lisa See’s books, and she does a great job with ancient Chinese culture. Very interesting work. I’m looking forward to reading this new book of yours, Dana. Though I am still shell-shocked with the shooting of two of my favorite characters in your other books.


  5. josette gray says:

    first time I’ve done this so..BIG fan, love all your books, especially Kate Shugak ,(have a crush on Jim). Stunned also by ending of Bad Blood, but have been attending your book signings @ Poisoned Pen for the last few years and suspected something was up when you said you were going to work on a special book for a year or two. I can hardly wait to read what comes out in February, although I am on pins and needles waiting for the resolution to Kate’s mess also. Your site is so interesting!!! – thankyou


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