A Novelist, columnist & playwright

Unchangeable faith of womanhood

29.APRIL.2016 | Archetypeinaction.com

My name is Yangli. Once upon a time I was born in a small village called Liuyi in China. Our house was like a little box set just a few steps away from the rice fields. Three generations under one roof, my Grandmother, parents and my three older brothers.

“My beautiful lotus flower” my Grandma would call me. When everyone left the house to work in the fields, she would wake me up and comb my hair. She’d have prepared hot water in a wooden bucket mixed with special blend of herbs and almonds, it always smelt wonderful. It would moisten my feet and while she massaged them she’d say, “My princess, my beautiful lotus flower.”

Today was my fourth birthday and people from the village gathered in front of our house. That day was the day of the lotus flower that came from the moon. The guests brought presents for me. When the moon lightened the night, they were all gone and that was when my Grandma came to me with tiny little red shoes in her hands.

“My beautiful lotus flower, I made these shoes for you so that you will never forget that you are a princess.” She then took the long ribbons from the tray my Mum was holding. She took my pruney pink feet from being washed all day between her hands, moved my toes towards the sole and began binding. Screaming at the top of my voice followed by Mum’s slap on my cheek, holding my breath, in agony.

“I can’t take it any more Grandma, I’m begging you please stop.”

My begging silenced the leaking moonlight in the dark, women of the village got scared, Mum felt ashamed, Grandma kept binding, the pain was too great for my tiny body.

The following few weeks passed with Grandma unbinding my feet to clean the pus and then binding them back up even tighter, again and again. I was now a child who could not bear to look at her feet or her toes.

Years passed, I grew in my bed but my feet didn’t. One day they dressed me up in new clothes and deodorized where I slept with flowers. I understood that later an extremely rich man, whom we did not know, would come to visit me. First I heard his voice, then I found myself being held by him.

Why am I being dragged away from home in the arms of this man? I cried out “Mummy don’t leave me, please.”

“Welcome to your new home my treasure.” the man said while laying me on a massive bed. I do not remember how I was taken there or how long I laid lifeless in that bed. I never spoke and the more I kept quiet the more I forgot…and the more I forgot the more I began to believe in this new me…and the more I believed the more I got used to my new circumstances…and the more I got used to all this, then even I began to see myself as a real princess.

The servants would come to my room to dress me in colourful dresses with an array of shoes to choose from. A man would come to my room to caress my feet. I’d be carried on a palanquin, without any eye contact.

The man who told me he was my husband, handed me a long wooden stick one night, “My lotus treasure, I brought you a present from Shanghai to ease that pain in your beautiful eyes. Now take a puff from it and you’ll see your pain disappear. I’ve bought the most effective opium just for you, because you are my treasure.” I did as he said and he began to unbind my feet.

He took watermelon seeds and almonds from the bowl held by his servant and placed them on to my toes. I will never forget how much I felt ashamed or the smell of the pus invading the room. He began smelling my feet, the more he smelled the more I felt sick. I blacked out from the opium, it made me dizzy and numb. As he began sucking at my feet, I remember myself begging to disappear in the darkness of this endless night.

By the age of fourteen I’d given birth to a beautiful baby girl, I named her Chau. Rather than looking into her eyes when they handed her to me, I first checked her feet. I kissed her feet, combed her hair and brought her up. I washed her feet with herbs, rubbed with almonds. My perfect tiny baby girl.

I had the task of binding my own daughters feet. Chau was four when her cries and screams took life out of me, I had to do it. For almost fourteen days the crying didn’t stop. I told her “All of this is for your own good. So that you will not live and suffer like my Mother and Grandmother in the fields, so that you can continue to have the luxurious life you have.”

Chau was nine when the police of the Nationalist Government raided our house. They took us into the village where the streets were filled with women struggling to walk. I shouted, bearly able to stand but stamp my feet on the ground. We were being dragged to a square; my feet smeared the ground with blood. Screams of thousands of women, being whipped for their cries. An armed man took my daughter from me, my arms were numb. I couldn’t hear anymore, my face on the ground, feet bleeding making streams of blood. Then my Grandma’s voice came to me “my lotus flower”.

The men who used to eat almonds from our feet were now forcing us to walk on our shapeless feet with broken toes. They whipping and kicking to death the women who failed to walk. Our husbands watched quietly in the square.

We, the women, who destroyed our bodies for men only to throw us away like the pages of an old calendar.

Lifeless bodies on the ground; the unchangeable faith of womanhood.

Photo Credit: “Shi Yu Hong, 78 (1930-)” by Jo Farrell