Corsets, 4-inch heels, and foot binding.

I hiked the Chilkoot Trail in 2000. When I was writing about it for Alaska magazine, somehow I stumbled across the information that women in that time, 1898-1899, wore on average forty pounds of clothes.

Can you imagine hiking up that

in forty pounds of clothes? That’s, what, like eight 5-pound chickens, or one three-year old child.

Now imagine that part of that forty pounds is a corset

and this is what it’s doing to your insides on the hike

Queen Elizabeth I likely died of complications from lead poisoning, with which she used to paint her face to make it whiter. Google “health problems from high heels” and you’ll get over 11 million results.

So when I first came to research Silk and Song and stumbled across the custom of foot-binding in China, I was unsurprised.

Sickened, disgusted, but unsurprised.

When one of the villains showed up on Silk and Song’s radar, I wanted her to be more than one dimension, but how do you humanize someone who has it in for your hero? I didn’t have to like her, but I did have to at least be able to sympathize with her.

Well, what if she’s a product of her times? What if her family want to ensure her a good marriage and bound feet and the swaying gait they cause are considered to be erotic? What if at age 4 someone broke every one of her toes and folded her feet back on themselves and wrapped it tightly and left it that way for years, so that her feet would never be more than four inches long? So that ever after she would never be able to walk normally? only teeter, or sway, which was held to be feminine and attractive to potential mates?

You’d feel sorry for her, wouldn’t you? That’s one hell of a physical handicap to overcome only by sheer personality.

She’s still a villain, though.

HoZ Silk and Song final.jpg

Which I will be signing at 2pm on December 2nd

[three days from today!]

at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Click here to pre-order.



Dana View All →

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13 Comments Leave a comment

  1. If you haven’t read Lisa See’s Snowflower and the Secret Fan……truly gives a good picture of foot binding.

  2. I watched a tv show a few years back where they interviewed some old ladies who had had their feet bound. One old lady said she heavily resisted but her mother forced her into it, to make her more marriageable. She said it was seriously agonizing for years. Then they interviewed her husband who seemed an amiable old chap but confessed he would have found her less attractive and maybe not have wanted to marry her if she had normal sized feet. Bit like having big breasts or indeed big buttocks today. Something similar I suppose could be said for female circumcision and indeed for that tribe in Africa where the women have to be fattened up to be obese to make them marriageable. Have you noticed that it’s always the grannies that do the enforcing?

  3. Haven’t gotten around to Lisa See’s books yet, Chris.

    And yes, hazelmary, I had noticed that. It’s almost as if okay, you don’t get off because I sure didn’t. Hate it.

  4. I remember reading about this in a reading group book in school: “Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze”, by Elizabeth Foreman Lewis. I think I was in fourth grade or so. And I remember being horrified. And I can imagine it would definitely make one villainous.

  5. I also have read Lisa See’s books, and she does a great job with ancient Chinese culture. Very interesting work. I’m looking forward to reading this new book of yours, Dana. Though I am still shell-shocked with the shooting of two of my favorite characters in your other books.

  6. first time I’ve done this so..BIG fan, love all your books, especially Kate Shugak ,(have a crush on Jim). Stunned also by ending of Bad Blood, but have been attending your book signings @ Poisoned Pen for the last few years and suspected something was up when you said you were going to work on a special book for a year or two. I can hardly wait to read what comes out in February, although I am on pins and needles waiting for the resolution to Kate’s mess also. Your site is so interesting!!! – thankyou

  7. Are you aware that one woman walked the entirety of the Long March on bound feet? That’s always kind of blown me away.

    (I’m slowly working my way through Silk and Song, and that, and even more your posts here have been having me think a lot on roads not taken, or at least not taken yet. I did a lot of my undergraduate work on Chines and Central Asian Turkic Languages and Culture. I lived in Turkey for a bit, and was supposed to go to Xinjiang the next year, but ended up not going for health reasons… and then my life took some very different turns. I can’t say I regret them – but oh! so many interesting things in the world. And it’s so much easier to keep my Chinese in some kind of working order than, say, my Kazakh or Uighur.)

    • It was a beautiful clear day when we visited Kashgar, and you could see the Pamirs standing against the sky in all their glory. All I could think was, Can’t we just keep on going?

      • My friend and mentor Ablahat grew up in Kashgar (though he’d been living in Urumqi more recently, I think.)

        Now I’m living (for science) in Ohio, which doesn’t have mountains to speak of, and I really have to wonder… (I’m heading home for a bit, which will help.)

  8. Dana, I have read your account of hiking the Chilkoot Trail, it sounds hard. Can’t imagine how hard it would be having to go up and down to get all the supplies they made you bring in. And then to learn some people brought equipment for small restaurants. Then to learn what the women had to wear. And then to live in Dawson City with all that mud. I very much love Silk and Song. Can’t wait for my signed copy of all three books put together. What a brilliant idea the plot of the story is. FYI I am on a Fine and Bitter Snow for the next database I am doing for you. I think all the Philippine food sounds fantastic. Have a great time Saturday. I hope the event will be Livestreamed.

    • I hope to get the chance some day to try the real thing. So far the closest I have gotten is when I was in Korea ages and ages ago. This has been great, going through the books and writing all the food. I have realized that Bobby is an excellent cook. Thanks for the link.

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