Skip to content

Breast Feeding after Breast-Binding

April 14, 2011

“Breast Feeding After Breast-Binding” (束胸后的哺乳)
Published in New Shanghai (新上海), issue 9, 1926, pages 57-59
Written by Jing Xia (景霞)

This article is written by (or perhaps in the voice of…) a young mother who tried to breast-feed after breast-binding as a student. Instead of going piece by piece through the article, I thought I would publish a full translation (albeit a flawed translation!) for people to read and then analyze it at the end of the post

My son who came into the world with a cry (呱呱啼着地小儿) — we two crystallized from love. His sisters (姊妹) all with a smile say to me, “Older sister Xia, you are of high means/your tricks are high, unexpectedly to search for/to ask/to demand to get a male (son?) / powerful” (“霞姊, 你手段高, 竟是一索得雄”).
(this is the one part that I am really confused about translation wise – I think Xia is being congratulated on her high skills in receiving a son since sons are seen as more precious and lucky than daughters?)

Within 48 hours of my son entering the world, my senses were not yet restored. My breast size/measurement (乳量) is not naturally big, thus my son’s milk materials were, as the custom in my hometown, given to other people (a neighbor woman 邻妇.) Three to five days later, my son’s appetite first came. My breasts (乳房) gradually became large, as if they were full of breast milk and had the appearance (样子) of being able to breast feed, but in the past when I was in school, I assimilated with my classmates [literally: received the assimilation of classmates] and tightly bound my breasts with a chest belt (胸带) and “little vest” (小背心) (there wasn’t a day they did not use these…) Thus, today my nipples sink in. My son used much force, however the result was that no breast milk was sucked in. All sorts of [times] without [results?], to go to induce five year old niece (阴姪 – moon/female essence niece?) to suckle on his behalf, [her] sharp teeth gripped the areolas (乳晕), the fragments became swollen, the nipples (乳头) of course protruded and it gave my son a (徽徽地) suck, [it caused] extraordinary pain and anguish, [and] tears streamed down. I roused my indomitable, steadfast and preserving heart and he used all of his strength. At the end, we did not reach any amount of breast milk. Perhaps the inner breast glands started to change.

The ruthless declining sun rolled down under the horizon, the cosmos gradually darkened at the dead of night. All is quiet and I see my son by the bedside, his plentiful and tense skin has become wide and loose, he is wailing and crying, it is almost not a voice. Hearing the rains and winds (风雨 also metaphorical for hardships) outside the window, the whistling of winds, I recalled the happiness of my school days, keeping in mind the creation of a family, improving the race……for all sorts of reasons, today it became a dream. Dear sisters (姊妹), there is no earthly reasons for you to want to follow behind them (她们). At that time I thought it did not influence my whole body, that heart disease and lung disease were still due to chance. Affectionate him [son? husband?], when I returned home from school he comforted me saying, “I am already looking for a wet nurse, you can set your mind at ease.” However, within a quarter hour of searching, we found one but we still have many difficulties because within breast milk there is a kind of man-made (人工制) thing you can not use. The nursing infant drank it, thereupon it could influence his intelligence (智力) and nature (天性,) even his facial features (面貌.) There is a common saying that says “To eat breast milk, three parts likeness” (“吃乳三分像.”) This truly is logical. The class within which you look for wet nurses (寻母) still brings many hereditary chronic diseases, the nursing infant who ate her milk can also receive the same illnesses. I must strictly say that under China’s current social system, finding a healthy bodied wet nurse is very hard. That she receives an education and often be in a fine environment and good living conditions is almost impossible [to find.] Thus we searched many times and still did not get a wet nurse according to our wishes. Later we used a milk powder substitute (代乳粉) to make milk. However, the times we used the milk powder, its defense was not attentive and satisfactory and germs/bacteria very easily infiltrated and caused disease, thus, the quality of it is to blame for thinking it is still inferior to breast milk.

Illness and mental setbacks are to blame for thinking that the cruel punishment of the time of tyranny has not passed. Today my breast milk is plentiful and the circumstances of breast feeding difficulty have been experienced enough. My breast-binding sisters, in the future if you value children – society, nation, do not give breast-feeding to a wet nurse. May [we?] experience the growing numbers/sea (滋海) of this very colorful golden thread (黄连 – “the rhizome of Chinese goldthread.)
(the last line is also of some difficulty for me: 也许尝尝这酷色黄连的滋海)


1. This is from a women’s perspective and she addresses it to her sisters/her breast-binding sisters. I am, of course, intrigued by the idea of this article and others like it fostering an open dialogue amongst women (of a certain class, but more on that later) and of these periodicals being a tool for women to connect with one another outside of school and family. But even within this article written by a woman and addressed to women, there is an anxiety about women’s schools. Jing blames her breast-binding on following the habits of her classmates. Were these schools boarding schools? If they weren’t, where was the influence of the family? Footbinding was a family activity in that mothers and grandmothers were active in binding a young girl’s feet but the family seems to be completely absent from breast-binding (unless you count the brothers and husbands who liberated their ladies’ breasts.) The influence here seems to be other girls who, if these articles are to be believed, egged each other on and pressured one another to bind.

However, Jing Xia might not even be a woman at all? It was common during this period for male writers to take on female names and voices in periodicals.

Which brings me to another issue about the increased emphasis on breast feeding: “changing” gender roles. While many of these writers argue that women’s liberation can only come from the liberation of breasts, the natural breast movement was clearly not just about liberating women. Those same writers argued that the nation and the nation’s children were weak because women were ill from breast-binding and their children were weak from not being breastfed. But breast feeding means not only that women’s roles as mothers are emphasized but also that women have to stay at home after having children (this was a time with no breast pumps) and remain in the house feeding their children instead of being out in the world.

2. There is a class division within the piece. Of course, Jing Xia is a woman of a certain class: If she is wealthy enough to have gone to school (and “indulged” in breast-binding,) educated enough to have written this, and wealthy enough to be able to afford a wet nurse, can her voice really stand in for all women / is her example one that all women (her breast-binding sisters) can follow? She is writing in New Shanghai, so one might assume that she lives in Shanghai but what about other areas of China? Furthermore, it is clear in her piece that lower class women (the kind of women who are hired as wet nurses) are not educated and that they don’t often live in “good life circumstances,” in Jing’s words. More importantly, Jing says that women of a certain class breast-bind and lower class women do not, which is why they can breastfeed children.

3. Eugenics was big deal amongst Chinese intellectuals at this time and that influence is in this piece. Jing’s assertion that the breast milk of wet nurses have certain “man-made” things that can not be used screams of eugenics. She continues by writing that breast milk can transmit disease (and she says that wet nurses invariably have diseases) and can affect the intelligence, nature, and the facial features of a child.

4. Breast milk substitutes! Somehow Jing goes from using breast milk substitutes to having strong breasts again and breast feeding. This transition is still confusing to me but this is not the first time I have come across milk substitutes. Below is a page from Kwang Chi Medical Journal advertising Nestle’s milk substitute:

This ad says: “This is most appropriate for any child over 5 months old and the weak and sick (both male and female.) This powder’s material is excellent and it has a longstanding good name, and each country’s doctors introduce people of all walks of life to take it. All gentlemen if they need to request a sample to try, fill out your full name and address on the form and mail it to the company.”

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Janet permalink
    April 19, 2011 2:56 pm

    You and Lua should write something together about this topic in the historical and contemporary context — fascinating!


  1. How to Choose a Wet Nurse / The Frequency of Breastfeeding « We Drive East

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: