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June 25, 2011

My grant ends in about 20 days and I am very behind in updating! I apologize for the lack of new posts, I have a huge stack of things to write about and there will be new posts soon.

A Young Woman’s Curves

June 19, 2011

“A Young Woman’s Curves” (少女之曲线美)
From Hubei Paper (鄂报 e bao, this is not an official translation of the title)
1941, no. 7

This is another piece from 鄂报 (Hubei Paper), published in 1941. I have read so much material that was published between 1910-1940 about the beauty of curves and nudity but this is one of the first non-art nude images of a Chinese woman published in a Chinese publication that I have found. The girl’s name is Li Hongying and she is seventeen years old, which is described puberty/youth (妙龄 miaoling). Her form still slightly has “child’s phenomena” (孩子气象 haizi qixiang). Then the text uses a series of chengyu to describe Li’s beauty:

天真烂漫 (tianzhenlanman) – innocent and artless; simple and unaffected. This chengyu has come up many times in my research in reference to natural beauty and women who do not use “artificial” beauty methods to ruin their bodies

螓首蛾眉 (qinshouemei) – refers to a large forehead and long and thin eyebrows, traditional symbols of beauty

秋水为神 (qiushuiweishen) – 秋水 (qiushui) refers to a woman’s fluid eyes, this is in reference to her spirit or essence?

巧笑倩兮 (qiaoxiaoqianxi) – Skillful + smile + pretty/winsome + particle, I have been looking in chengyu dictionaries for a real translation of this to no avail, I think I can assume it is about the charm of her smile.

In all honesty, there is something a wee bit creepy to me about the way this article gushes over Li’s beauty, especially after it made a point to mention that she still has some childlike traits. However, Li’s place as a young woman in between childhood and womanhood could be the reason why she was photographed for the magazine in the first place. She is still young enough that she does not necessarily have to be perceived as a sexual being. She is described as innocent and there is no reference to her assumed later roles as wife and mother, which in a way removes her from the realm of sexuality. However, the focus of the piece is on Li’s curves, which are sexualized. Furthermore, young women were precisely the group that anti-breast binding advocates were trying to reach because breast binding typically started during puberty. It is important that breast binding is never mentioned in the accompanying text. Li would have been born in 1924/5, after the debate on breast binding and “natural beauty” had already begun. Although women of all ages continued to bind their breasts during these debates, it is possible that Li was influence by these debates. But what kind of undergarments did she wear? Or, what if she did bind and her body was unaffected by it?

The person who photographed Li was so entranced by her beauty and her eyes that he (I assume he) forgot about everything else. The rest of the text talks about just how beautiful Li is: her skin is like “congealed fat” (凝脂 ningzhi) which I take to mean creamy, she is curvy, her breasts peak high and lofty (乳峯高聳 rufenggaosong), and she is graceful (绰约 chuoyue). Li Hongying is “so beautiful as to overrun cities and ruin states” (倾城倾国 qingchengqingguo) and she intoxicates people (陶醉 taozui). The text ends by claiming that Li is a rare beauty and treasure. Just from this little bit of text the reader can get some idea of what is valued in a woman: creamy (whiter?) skin, curves, breasts, a large forehead, thin eyebrows, and a certain spirit and smile. Li’s value as a woman is as an exemplar of beauty. Her life, interests, studies, work, and family are never referenced.

Women’s World

June 19, 2011

“Women’s World” (女世界)
From Hubei Paper (鄂报 e bao, this is not an official translation of the title)
1941 2(10)

This photo essay titled “Women’s World” was published in the early 1940s. I have not focused too much on this period yet but it is a pretty amazing piece and a great example of how much things changed during the Nanjing Decade. I appreciate that the four pages of images show women in a variety of occupations (actress, nurse, policewoman) and situations (relaxing, at home). Of course, I think it can be assumed that these are middle class women who live in larger cities or towns. I apologize that the scans are not very clear, I thought they had turned out well but they did not.

The top photo: A young woman in her room where, as the caption notes, men are forbidden. The caption mentions that although she wears beautiful clothing when she goes outside or when she has a guest over, she changes into more “common” clothing when she is in her room. This glimpse at the inner/private realm is fascinating to me. The home was always considered the woman’s world but the caption here delineates this space as her private space. Of course she shares it with other people since there is more than one bed in the room. But who – Her parents/family? Other young women? In one of my earliest posts about breast binding examinations, I mentioned the breakdown of private/public space during the Republican period. The photo above reminds me of how the definitions of public and private were changing during this period. Although the private realm is still the home, the home pictured above is nothing like the traditional home. The two realms interact with one another and women must navigate between the two.

Bottom left: The caption says that this young woman walked out from the bathroom and her slender (苗条miaotiao) body moved across the room to her bed, where she sat down and read some interesting things. It does not mention that she is nude in the photo. Not only is this image capturing a private, interior moment but it is also an elusive nude image of a Chinese woman, which is still quite a rarity in my research.

Bottom right: Part of the caption is cut off but it the photo is of two women whispering to one another.

Right: A woman lying in the grass on Hu Qin mountain in Suzhou, lost in her thoughts.

Top left corner: A group of theater actresses. They have to change clothes many times throughout a single performance, even in the summer.

Top right corner (left page): This is a group of young female nurses who work in a patient convalescence unit. The caption says that although nurses suffer quite a bit, these nurses have break time which the reader can assume is uncommon for the time. During their breaks they go to the library to read because time is scarce and they are ashamed of resting. I’m not entirely clear on the meaning of the last part but I am intrigued by the “sufferings” the caption hints at. Inequalities in the workplace? Poor working conditions? Low wages?

Bottom left corner: This is a group of Nanjing policewomen. They are “lively and exceptional” and on the job they are not second to men. However, during their leisure hours, sex difference is restored because these women spend their leisure time making clothes for their younger siblings. The caption sets up “male” vs. “female” leisure activities but what is more interesting to me is the extra work these working women have to take on in addition to their primary occupations. Not only do they seemingly work the same hours as men, they are also required to make clothing for their siblings. Even though they are “not second to men,” they are still expected to perform traditional female tasks.

Fast Fashion

June 17, 2011

Here is an interesting piece from NPR about Chinese fast fashion production in Italy. This isn’t necessarily tied to my research but it is interesting none the less!

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.)

Zhu Jiahua’s Breast Binding Ban

June 12, 2011

“Zhu Jiahua Proposes Ban of Women’s Breast-Binding” (朱家骅提议禁革妇女束胸)
From Guangzhou Minguo Ribao (广州民国日报)
July 8, 1927


“Guangzhou Order Bans Women’s Breast-Binding” (广州命令禁止女子束胸)
By Yan (燕)

“Breast-Binding” (束乳)
By Du He (独鹤)

“Footbinding, Breast Binding, and Ear Piercing” (缠足,束胸和穿耳)
By Fei Qian (飞黔)

All three in Revolutionary Women (革命的妇女) #8 July 20, 1927
Pages 13-16

Like my post on Guo Lin’s breast binding ban, I am going to put together some pieces about Zhu Jiahua’s breast binding ban from July 1927. The first is the Guangzhou Minguo Ribao article announcing Zhu’s suggested ban and the other three are articles from an issue of the Guomindang’s publication for women, Revolutionary Women. I have begun to look at Zhu’s other work and in the same issue of Minguo Ribao (Guangzhou) there is an article about Zhu’s suggestion to ban smoking and drinking for young people. I know that in the late 1920s he was a principal at Zhongshan University in Guangzhou but was moved to Zhongyin University in 1930. The reasoning behind Zhu’s ban is the same as Guo’s: protecting the nation and the race. There is clearly some kind of echo chamber within these Republican period publications; they all publish the same things over and over again about breast binding, often overlapping word for word with their rival publications. I am almost done writing about these and I am thankful for that as they have started to get too repetitive.

The Minguo Ribao article does not say much that I have not read before and it is well excerpted in Wu Hao’s book (here) so I do not have too much to add about it. The article says that because “our country’s womenfolk bind for beauty, hindering the development of the body and causing lung disease, [Zhu] specifically suggests to ban and reform.” Claiming that breast binding is only a beauty practice? Check! Hinting that it is women’s vanity and pursuit of beauty that is ruining the nation? Check!

A few lines down, the article says “This proposal looks into our country’s womenfolk’s evil body-ruining practices of which there are two, one is footbinding, one is breast-binding, 20 years ago footbinding pain existed in all walks of life, the government strictly forbade it and it has already been relieved, now today’s Guangdong women under 30 years old do not receive this binding, [but] to discuss indirectly experienced pain, [breast binding] is much worse than footbinding…it surpasses the evil practice of footbinding.” Why does breast binding surpass the evil practice of footbinding? While footbinding only affects the feet and mobility, breast binding (supposedly) affects the heart, the lungs, the stomach, and the breasts and thus also affects digestion, circulation, breathing, and breastfeeding. Throwing about the word footbinding (缠足), and thus all of the associations the word carried, was a powerful rhetorical tool for these reform-minded men even if it had very little to do with breast binding. At this point, the word would be so tied with ideas of backwardness and oppression that people in cities would want to disassociate themselves as much as possible from it. However, over the course of my research I have come to think that breast binding was a practice more akin to buying one’s first bra and that it didn’t permanently change the body the way that footbinding did.

Almost two weeks later, the Guomindang’s publication for women, Revolutionary Women, featured an article about Zhu’s ban followed by three articles about breast binding. This publication was put out through the GMD’s Shanghai Offices and its women’s bureau and the first issue was released in June 1927. It is really important to remember what was going on with the Nationalist party around the time of this publication: the GMD had only just established control over Shanghai a few months earlier when they took the city in March 1927 and a month later, in April 1927, they led a purge of Communists in the city. This particular periodical could be a means of reasserting the Nationalist vision on the “women question” and its early issues have articles on the relationship between women’s liberation and economic power, the main problems of women, and women’s education.

The first article in Revolutionary Women, “Guangzhou Order Bans Women’s Breast-Binding” (广州命令禁止女子束胸), is a discussion of Zhu’s ban. The article argues that the only reason women bind their breasts is simply “to engage in social activities and a social class’s absurd thoughts.” Of course the Nationalist party was not particularly hellbent on class warfare so what does this mean? It is a way of asserting a new class system, one that is as equally stratified as before but now based on the new “little family” (小家庭) with an educated, reform minded man as patriarch. Gone are the old days with their extended families and ancestor worship and when the higher classes cloistered their women! However, the Nationalist vision for women was rooted in women’s places as wives and mothers. So this isn’t a question of “liberation” vs. “oppression,” but one of just changing the scenery and terms of the basic conditions and inequalities of women’s lives.

This can be seen in Du He’s article on the same page titled “Breast Binding” (束乳). Note the use of 乳 ru to connote breast in the title, which connects the breast with milk and children, instead of 胸 xiong, which means chest and can be gender neutral. Du mentions Zhu’s proposed ban and says it deserves our attention because this issue “truly has a great connection with the citizens’ (国民)physique.” Du adds that breast binding is not just about women’s health, it is about the physique of the race. Women are the mothers of the nation’s citizens (国民的母乳) and the source of life, so when the mother’s body is weak when she gives birth it of course influences the citizen (国民). Du’s argument is that a woman’s role as a mother to future citizens is her most important one and she should re-orient her body to focus on it. To me, this doesn’t sound very different from the “old” ways of doing things except that now women are not producing children for the family and its glory, but for the state and its power. There is a profound shift in the focus of daily life during the Republican period. Whereas previously the family was at the center of society and a microcosm of the state/world, now the nation/state has subsumed all other concerns and has become the center of life. Its interests supersede individual interests.

Fei Qian’s article from the same issue of Revolutionary Women is preceded by a note saying it was written after Yan’s essay. It begins like the other two with a few sentences about how inhumane and barbarous this supposedly “beautiful” practice is but Fei wants the reader to know that he/she is not groundless in his/her assertions and that “anthropology” (人类学) has found many examples to support her argument. This is just the first example of Fei using “scientific” theory to prove his/her point and I am particularly interested in how these new categories of knowledge, like anthropology, come to be seen as cold hard facts. I don’t have anything particularly inspired to say about this change in knowledge and fact but it is definitely worth noting.

Fei sets up a narrative of civilization’s progress in which as consciousness grows and civilization progresses, “barbarous nature/gender” (蛮性 manxing) practices have slowly been eliminated. I assume that these “barbarous gender” things are footbinding, breast binding, and ear piercing. These practices were involuntary in the past but now times have changed and women have risen up from slave status (女隶 nv li). They have shed this kind of bondage on their bodies and demanded control of their bodies but if this is the case, Fei wonders, then why do women still hold fast to the fetters of these body bindings? Even the women who have received education and are a part of society still hold on to old thinking about beauty, old thinking which sees “sallowness” as beautiful. What are they doing? Fei Qian notes that of course footbinding is already a thing of the past but breast binding, which is the “#2 death penalty/punishment,” continues to make women sink into a morbid state. In “civilized” cities, breast binding is still in vogue with a class of fashionable women.

“Our” biggest goal, Fei writes, is not only to abandon this kind of morbid beauty/harmful practice, but to “melt away the differences between the men and women and unequal body development.” Fei quotes a German writer named Fuerding in Chinese (弗尔丁) as a scientific basis for her argument. I’m not sure who exactly this is but he wrote a book called Controlling Sex (支配性 zhipei xing) in which he argued that the differences in men and women’s nature (体性 tixing) are not natural but created by context. During the time of male dictatorship, men worked outside and their bodies became strong. If the roles were reversed, women would have strong bodies and men would have weak bodies. Fei uses this kind of thinking to say that “cheap tricks” like footbinding, breast binding, and ear piercing were started by men to weaken women’s abilities and weaken them to the point of being unable to resist men’s oppression and slavery. Women are not naturally weak, they were just groomed to be that way. Thus, “we” must liberate women from their place as family slaves and ensure that their bodies completely develop. When the sexes are equal, their physical strength and intelligence will be equal and independently developed. There will be no need for there to be a subordinate sex because men and women will have equal membership in society. True equality is a part of the story that is still to come but today, Fei requests that sisters liberate their chest, breasts, and ears.

Fei’s use of Fuerding’s ideas about male and female bodies is interesting. To argue that men and women are not naturally unequal and that it is just environment and society that determines their strengths and knowledge is new for this period and one I haven’t seen often in my work. But what is the standard of equality? Is it having the same skills as men? Is it gender neutrality?

Breast Binding Bans

June 12, 2011

I spent most of yesterday looking over public notices over breast binding bans. These notices are almost always written in the most unbearable officialese jargon:

1. Hunan Province, Changde County – Guo Lin’s Breast Binding Ban (here)

2. Chongming County (崇明县) – Published in Domestic Affairs Bulletin (内政公报)
Zhu Sun, a Chongming official claims that breast binding hurts hygiene and weakens the body, so he asks to order a ban on women’s breast binding. It not only hurts people’s hygiene but it greatly harms the race’s eugenics (优生 yousheng). This bulletin explicitly mentions the importance of reaching out to female students because they often “contract” this bad practice.
Note: Chongming County is Chongming Island, a part of Shanghai

3. Jiangsu Province, Baoshan County (宝山县) – Published in Baoshan County Education Monthly (宝山县教育月刊)
It lists the order as County Government Order #1192, Jiangsu Province Republican Government Order #8392
Quotes from Guo Lin’s breast binding ban, it orders a ban of breast binding because it is an evil practice which hurts the body. Especially orders the public education bureau to publicize the ban.
Note: Baoshan County is now part of Shanghai but the listing notes that it is in Jiangsu Province

4. Zhejiang Province, Yuyao County (余姚县) – Published in Zhejiang Province, Yuyao County Government Bulletin (浙江余姚县政府公报)
Zhejiang government #206
The bulletin notes that although there was a previous order, many women still bind their breasts. There were 100 bulletins printed and distributed about the ban and it was up to the county head to order them to be put up. Breast binding must end “so as to exhalt the race’s spirit.” Women’s education officials (女职教员) must be the first to liberate their chests as an example to others.

5. Guangdong Province, Guangzhou – Zhu Jiahua’s ban
More on this in my next post!