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Remove Breast Binding

June 16, 2011

Side by side comparison of bound breasts (束胸) and freed breasts (放胸)

“Remove Breast Binding”
Qian Bo (千波)
Popular Education Journal (通俗教育月刊 Tongsu Jiaoyu Yuekan
, 1928

“Recently, some women’s clothing is made very small and tight; at 13-14 years old, the breasts gradually swell large, they [women] believe this is distasteful and thus just like footbinding the breasts are tightly bound, they violently trample on healthy beauty given by nature and these women believe this is beautiful, they don’t know how much harm it does! First, it hinders breathing and in the course of time creates lung disease; second, it is inconvenient to labor work and it is easy to gasp for air; third, it harms the health of children. These are relatively easy to see points, in short a woman whose body receives the pain of binding, gets thin and sickly in appearance, a hundred diseases grow, what kind of beauty can she still have? Dear womenfolk, quickly remove these many breast binding things that harm health, the little vest (小马甲) — the short shirt (小短衫)!”

I love the drawing that accompanies this piece; it is one of the few visualizations of breast binding garments from the period and you can see the perceived effect of such garments on the body. Freed breasts – are these breasts that never experienced binding or breasts now “liberated” from the practice? – are full and round while the woman with the binding garment on is flat chested. I like the detail that the bound woman clearly has short hair as well. In the text that accompanied the drawing, there is a list of three reasons why breast binding is bad. The second one, that it makes it hard to do “labor work,” is a new one. Immediately I think of people like Liang Qichao who wrote in the 1890s that China was so behind because its women were “crippled” by footbinding and could not perform manual labor, which of course neglects and erases the long and important history of women’s labor within the home. The emphasis on “labor work,” which I assume means manual labor, in this piece furthers this belief of productive labor as labor done with the body. The kind of labor that is important is the kind that would be hindered by a breast binding garment, although there is plenty of skilled and unskilled labor that doesn’t require that kind of movement (and that is assuming that breast binding really limited breathing.)

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