In Unbound Feet: A Social History of Chinese Women in San Francisco, Judy Yung narrates the story of the immigration of Chinese American women to San Francisco, their struggles to maintain their homes and raise their children, their ability to acculturate into a foreign way of life, and how these women were ultimately able to succeed in the United States. Unbound Feet is a multi-layered book, with Yung using her own family history as the starting place for her interest and research into the immigration of Chinese American women. Moreover, the title is a play on the Chinese practice of foot binding which “involved tightly wrapping the feet of young girls with bandages until the arches were broken, the toes permanently bent under toward the heel, and the whole foot compressed to a few inches in length.” The cultural practice of foot binding reinforced Chinese women’s secluded lives by making it difficult for them to walk, thus a “bound life.”
Yung takes foot binding and the bound lives it created from China to San Francisco by explaining how these women continued to live oppressive lives in America. The first generation of immigrants lived especially bound lives because of the “patriarchal control in Chinatown and racism outside.” Chinese American women were wholly subordinate to Chinese men. Chinese women were never able to choose their own spouse, no right to divorce, and no right to remarry under any circumstance. If passage to America were made possible by marriage, the women were expected to stay home and manage the household and raise the children. “As in China, Chinese women stayed close to home and appeared as little as possible in public.”
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...e American women were also known for their receptions for Chinese dignitaries and war heroes as they travelled through San Francisco. Less than fifty years after Chinese women began immigration to the United States, Chinese American women served their new country in the military. Yung points out that for China and the United States, defeating their common enemy in World War II took the efforts of all Americans, and Chinese American women stood steadfast in their commitment to help.
Filled with images of Chinese women and their families, Unbound Feet brings these Chinese grandmothers to life. Their stories and testimonies endear them to today’s generation as women who struggled and conquered in the face of great hardship and trials. Unbound Feet is an outstanding contribution to the history of Chinese American women and their social experiences in the United. States.
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