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The History of Footbinding in China

We talk about the Chinese tradition of foot binding with photojournalist Beverly Jackson. Her new book is called "Splendid Slippers: A Thousand Years of An Erotic Tradition." (Ten Speed Press) Jackson is a collector of antique Chinese slippers, and will talk about the history, culture and implications of bound feet.


Other segments from the episode on August 11, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, August 11, 1998: Interview with Vincent Schiavelli; Interview with Beverly Jackson; Review of the anthology album "Vaya Rumba."


Date: AUGUST 11, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 081101np.217
Head: Interview with Vincent Schiavelli
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

MARTY MOSS-COANE, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Marty Moss-Coane sitting in for Terry Gross.

At the beginning of the century, Brooklyn was the destination for many immigrants coming to America. My guest Vincent Schiavelli family immigrated from Sicily to that New York neighborhood which they referred to as "Bruculinu." Schiavelli grew up there in the mid-50s surrounded by an extended family. It was a tight-knit community which he describes as having one foot in the mid-20th century and the other in mid-16th century Sicily.

That's from Schiavelli's new book "Bruculinu, America: Remembrances of Sicilian-American Brooklyn Told in Stories and Recipes." His grandfather was a master chef and food was the center of family life. Schiavelli has become an accomplished cook and has written extensively on Sicilian cuisine.

He's also a character actor with a long, distinctive face. You may have seen him in Milos Foreman's "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest," "Amadeus," "The People vs. Larry Flynt," and Foreman's early film, "Taking Off."

His other movies include "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," "Batman Returns," and last summer's James Bond flick, "Tomorrow Never Dies." Here he is playing the evil Dr. Kaufman threatening 007.


VINCENT SCHIAVELLI, ACTOR, PORTRAYING DR. KAUFMAN: My name is Dr. Kaufman. I am an outstanding pistol marksman. Take my word for it, ja?

PIERCE BROSNAN, ACTOR, PORTRAYING JAMES BOND: It won't look like a suicide if you shoot me from over there.

SCHIAVELLI: I am an professor of forensic medicine. Believe me, Mr. Bond, I could shoot you from Stuttgart and still create the proper effect.

MOSS-COANE: Vincent Schiavelli joins us on FRESH AIR to talk about eating and acting. I asked him to describe a typical family meal growing up in Brooklyn.

VINCEENT SCHIAVELLI, COOK AND AUTHOR, "BRUCULINU, AMERICA: REMEMBRANCES OF SICILIAN-AMERICAN BROOKLYN, TOLD IN STORIES AND RECIPES"; CHARACTER ACTOR: Well, you know, in our house as in many houses in the Bruculinu of my growing up, food was edible culture. Really, we could not separate what we ate from who we were. And meals were very seasonally based, depending on the season. For example, if it were summer, if it were very warm, we would have wonderful salads with vinegar flavors that were very restorative and very refreshing.

My grandfather made a wonderful tuna salad with olive oil and lemon and capers. We -- at these dinners, there might be hard-boiled eggs draped with anchovies or greenbean salad with lots of vinegar. Those kinds of things would happen in the summer.

In the winter time, there would be sort of soups and stews and very warming things. It really was very seasonally based. But that -- that meal was the place where we not only gathered around the table to eat, but where family members of different generations got to share the news of the day; got to share ideas; cross generations. And it kept everyone in touch with everybody's else's lives.

MOSS-COANE: So was the -- were these noisy affairs -- lots of conversation around the kitchen table?

SCHIAVELLI: Lots of conversation. Of course, it got quiet while people were eating.



But in between mouthfuls, then, lots of talk.

SCHIAVELLI: In between mouthfuls, lots of talk. And it was sort of the rule that you really did talk, but you really didn't go to places that would create discord or indigestion.

MOSS-COANE: Right. Now, your grandfather was a master chef -- somebody called a "monsou" (ph). This is a very revered person in Sicilian society. Describe a master chef to us.

SCHIAVELLI: Yes. Historically, at the beginning of the 19th century, it was fashionable among Sicilian aristocracy to import chefs from France. And they applied the French method to traditional Sicilian cuisine and they produced this cuisine which was incredibly refined and brilliant. Through the 19th century, this tradition continued using native-born Sicilians.

And the original Frenchmen were called "monsieur" because they were French. But after a while, they started to call them monsou, because they were Sicilians. And they were like the bad boys of food. They played tricks on the people they worked for. They held back recipes. They held their recipes very close. They had a very playful, playful relationship to the food and to the situation they were in.

'Cause you have to understand, Sicily really was a feudal society 'til the end of the Second World War when the great land reforms divested these enormous landholders of their land. So it really wasn't until those land reforms that the feudalism in Sicily truly broke up.

MOSS-COANE: So how did your grandfather get to be a master chef?

SCHIAVELLI: Well, my grandfather was a young man from a very small town called East Nerlo (ph), which is a little town in the Modernee (ph) Mountains in Sicily. And at 16, he walked to a small city called Polizi Generosa (ph), where he -- to seek his destiny. And he tried doing several things. For a while, he was apprenticed to a goldsmith. He tried several things, and a friend of his said that this baron was hiring day laborers 'cause his daughter was getting married. And he was hiring people to work in the kitchen. And he became -- my grandfather became utterly fascinated by the whole process of cooking, and begged the master to take him as a permanent apprentice.

MOSS-COANE: And he did?

SCHIAVELLI: And he did. But then at a point, he really couldn't bear being under the heel of the baron or being under the heel of this aristocratic system, and he was young, early, early 30s, and he had no real family attachments. He was not yet married and so forth. And he moved to America to seek his fortune and to -- he was -- he was fascinated by the great freedom across the sea.

MOSS-COANE: So he went to Bruculinu.

SCHIAVELLI: So he went to Bruculinu.

MOSS-COANE: You have a wonderful passage where you describe moving in -- actually living with your parents; after your father died, you and your mother moved in with your grandparents -- and this great scene of you coming home from school and doing your homework at the kitchen table while your grandfather was cooking. Is that as nice an experience as it is an image?

SCHIAVELLI: Probably a better experience...


... than the image itself. I would sit at one end of the table and do my homework, and he'd stand at the other and cooked. And I must tell you that I didn't know it at the time, but he was really giving me a rather formal education as a chef. We started with mison plas (ph), which is putting things in their place, maintaining order in the kitchen. The first thing we ever cooked together when I was seven -- the first thing we cooked was a fritata (ph), or as the Sicilians call it, a "froja" -- as we call it, an omelet.


SCHIAVELLI: And when those eggs hit that hot oil and puffed, I was hooked. This was complete magic for me. Of this whole huge family, I'm the only person he chose to give this gift to.

MOSS-COANE: Why you, do you think?

SCHIAVELLI: I don't know. We were together. My grandfather was pater familias for this giant extended family, and I was the last child in his life. Maybe that's why. I don't know.

MOSS-COANE: What was his specialty?

SCHIAVELLI: He had several. Certainly, his signature dish was this thing which he called a "tumala." And tumala is named after the last Emir of Catania, whose name was Ibn al-Tuna (ph) from I believe the 10th century. And it is a layered rice dish which over the years has been transformed into kind of a "bom" (ph) kind of affair.

And what my grandfather's tumala was and is is rice which is cooked and mixed with eggs and pecarino (ph) cheese and then formed against a rather large bowl. The center is then filled with pasta, which is tossed with a meat sauce. It's basically the meats from that sauce. And then the rice covers the top. This giant thing is baked and then de-molded so it looks sort of like a mountain on a plate.

Probably a more original version of the famous timpano (ph) from Big Night (ph). But the extraordinary thing about my grandfather's tumala is that it had -- it has a tremendous lightness about it; a king of an airiness. And although, you know, here in the United States, we are very opposed to the notion of double-starches -- you know, "double starches!" -- it has this brilliant lightness about it.

MOSS-COANE: And have you been able to duplicate your grandfather's recipe?



SCHIAVELLI: Yes, I have. Yes, I have. I watched him make it often, and I have myself now been making it for some time. And I have. But I must tell you that I just always assumed that he cut it in slices. And last year, I found an old eight millimeter film, a home movie, and on this home movie was my grandfather cutting a tumala. And I always assumed that he just cut it in slices from top to bottom. And I see in this film that what he actually did is he would cut a slice and then cut that slice in half, halfway up, and then turn it over right-side down on the plate.

So I learned a whole new method for cutting the tumala from my grandfather, who has been dead now for 30 years, and he's still teaching me stuff.

MOSS-COANE: Our guest is Vincent Schiavelli, and he's just written a book. It's a memoir -- part recipe, part stories. It's called Bruculinu, America: Remembrances of Sicilian-American Brooklyn Told in Stories and Recipes.

We'll be back after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

Vincent Schiavelli is our guest today, and he's just written a book. It's called Bruculinu, America: Remembrances of Sicilian-American Brooklyn Told in Stories and Recipes. And Vincent Schiavelli is also an actor.

Tell us how you first for interested in the theater; how you got introduced to acting and drama.

SCHIAVELLI: Well, I think -- this is my theory. I grew up in this household in Brooklyn with these Sicilians. Drama was no stranger to us.


MOSS-COANE: It was every day, right?

SCHIAVELLI: It was every day. It was every day. And situations that called for high drama were certainly filled with it. Also, being the only child in a household of adults, I think at a very early age I learned how to be different people. All of these adults wanted something different from me. I don't mean this in a dysfunctional or really awful way. I mean it in the sweetest way you could possibly imagine.

So I -- and I loved to play "pretend" as a kid. I loved to sort of imagine that I was someone else -- perhaps someone in a jungle adventure or a private detective or any number of these kinds of things, you know. And I think I learned that I had this ability in me as a child.

MOSS-COANE: Did the adults in your life encourage this play acting and pretending that you did? Was it something they encouraged?

SCHIAVELLI: Yeah, sure, sure. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, they didn't join in, but they certainly encouraged it.

MOSS-COANE: Well, I notice looking at your film career that you have had a long association with Milos Foreman. In fact, your first film with him goes back to 1970 -- a film called "Taking Off." How did you and Milos Foreman hook up?

SCHIAVELLI: Milos and I met quite by accident. I was working on a student movie. A shot needed to be taken out of a window on a street in New York called St. Marks Place, of that street. The student film director climbed the stairs of the window he wanted to shoot out -- shoot from. And sitting in that apartment was Milos Foreman.

MOSS-COANE: Just coincidentally?

SCHIAVELLI: Yes. And a few months later, he gave a lecture at NYU's film school and John Klein (ph), who was the student, showed him the film. And he said "Wonderful film. I love this film. I must meet everyone in this film."

And I met Milos Foreman the night of the Academy Awards in 1968, sitting in a hotel room at the Chelsea Hotel, sharing a Czech beer. And that's -- that's how he and I met.

MOSS-COANE: Now this movie "Taking Off" -- this goes back to 1970 -- what was that about? And what part did you play?

SCHIAVELLI: Yes. It was a film about -- it was a film with Buck Henry and Lynn Carlin (ph), and it was a film about a young girl who runs away from home, and her parents. And she's not actually run away from home. She's gone to audition for a play, and her parents become crazed that she's gone and join this organization called "The Society for Parents of Runaway Children."

And through this organization, they end up at this small house party where I teach them how to smoke pot.


The parents.

MOSS-COANE: A big part you had? Or a little part?

SCHIAVELLI: It was about 15 minutes.


SCHIAVELLI: It was very droll. You know, "This is a joint. You hold it like this and" -- it was very funny. And of course the parents all get stoned and then go back to somebody's house and get -- proceed to get drunk and play strip poker.


MOSS-COANE: I was rewatching Cuckoo's Nest, and you play a psychiatric patient in that movie, a fellow named Frederickson (ph). You have almost no lines, but you have such an expressive face. And I was watching your eyes in particular, which look almost darkened. But the eyes really do so much of the acting for that character, at least it seems to me.

SCHIAVELLI: But you know, in real life, people don't make giant gestures. Also, if you're playing somebody whose a paranoid schizophrenic, you might not want to show people what you were thinking. So you might want to keep it more -- you might want to hide it a little bit. But yet it can't help but come out. Do you know what I mean?

MOSS-COANE: Yes. But you have to do a lot of work, I guess, behind the eyes somehow.

SCHIAVELLI: Yes. Yes. That -- that film was an extraordinary circumstance -- the shooting of that film. I mean, we'd go out to dinner at night and Louise Fletcher, who played the big nurse, would say: "All right now, Vincent you sit here and Danny you sit here and you sit here." And we'd say: "OK." And we'd all take our seats that Louise directed us to.

MOSS-COANE: So you were in character?

SCHIAVELLI: Yes, but we didn't really know it. I mean, it wasn't like a joke. It was the way it was.


Do you know what I mean?


SCHIAVELLI: Yes. It -- we worked all day every day, 12 or 14 hours for 6 days a week. The hotel we were staying at never changed. You know, sometimes I would take my clothes and just throw them all around the room -- just to have some effect on it. And I'd come back from work, and the maid would have folded it all in neat piles again.

But the place where we were shooting changed all the time, and that became more like home than the hotel where we were staying. It felt more like a home environment.

And there were certain rules, certain hospital rules that we had established. For example, there was one rule that you couldn't bring a pillow from the dormitory into the day room. Everyone observed those rules. Or if you wanted to take a nap in the afternoon and your bed was not available, you would actually ask the actor whose character's bed it was if it was OK if you like lied down on their bed.

It created a very strong reality.

MOSS-COANE: And do you think that's why the film is as good as it is, because of that intense reality of the actors?

SCHIAVELLI: Yes, because there's no acting in that movie. Everyone is being there. I -- it became real clear during the rehearsal period that acting crazy was not going to do. You had to be who you would imagine yourself to be if you were crazy. The thing that we had to learn, all of us, was how to be hospitalized because we didn't know what that was.

MOSS-COANE: You have a really distinctive face. How has that face, you think, opened doors for you in the movie and theater world?

SCHIAVELLI: Well, everyone likes something that is unique. It has opened doors on one level. On another level, it hasn't opened doors. They -- the world is not creative enough to have me play a leading man.

MOSS-COANE: I was wondering about that.

SCHIAVELLI: Although I am the leading man of my life.


MOSS-COANE: I understand that as well. But are there certain parts you don't get because of your face?

SCHIAVELLI: Sure. Sure, there are certain parts that I don't get because of my face and my physicality. But obviously, there is certain reality here as well. And then there are things that are just cultural. So it has opened doors and at the same time it hasn't opened doors. But I tell you, being a character actor in the United States, there's one thing you get: You get lots of free time. And one can take that time and use it very profitably.

MOSS-COANE: So you don't mind or resent the fact that perhaps people have typecast you in a very narrow way.

SCHIAVELLI: Yes, I have played a vast -- a variety of different parts. What is difficult is if I do a particularly good job in something, I then tend to not work for a while because people say "Well, he was that -- he was that ghost in 'Ghost'." Everyone has that image so strongly in their heads.

Instead of saying, I mean, what I'd like them to say is: "Well, he's a good actor. Look what he did."


MOSS-COANE: Mmm-hm. Mmm-hm.

SCHIAVELLI: If he could do that, maybe he can do this. The head doesn't seem to go to that place. So that's a little disconcerting.

But writing these books certainly is -- I can't disconnect the writing of Bruculinu, America from the fact that I am a character actor and do have this time.

MOSS-COANE: Well I know that you have just finished working on a Van Damme film.


MOSS-COANE: What kind of character do you play in that?

SCHIAVELLI: I play an Indian. I play Mr. Singh. (ph) I play Mr. Singh. I own the Bombay Cafe; very lovely place -- the Bombay Cafe. I play a cafe owner in this little town called Inferno that is being overrun by, you know, a motorcycle gang, drug manufacturer, radical right group. And of course, Van Damme comes in and kind of straightens everybody out and the townspeople rally behind him and pull their town back.

MOSS-COANE: And you get to prevail along with Van Damme?

SCHIAVELLI: Bien seur.


MOSS-COANE: Well I thank you very much for joining us today on FRESH AIR.

SCHIAVELLI: Thank you. It's been my pleasure. Thank you so very much.

MOSS-COANE: Actor and cook Vincent Schiavelli. His new book is Bruculinu, America: Remembrances of Sicilian-American Brooklyn Told in Stories and Recipes.

I'm Marty Moss-Coane and this is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Marty Moss-Coane, Washington, DC
Guest: Vincent Schiavelli
High: Actor and cook Vincent Schiavelli. He's just written a memoir about growing up in Brooklyn, New York. It's called "Bruculinu, America: Remembrances of Sicilian-American Brooklyn Told in Stories and Recipes." (Houghton Mifflin). Schiavelli is a character actor whose been in the films "Ghost," "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest," "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" and "The People vs. Larry Flynt." He's also had roles in TV shows including "The X-Files" and "Melrose Place."
Spec: Movie Industry; Radio and Television; Entertainment
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Interview with Vincent Schiavelli
Date: AUGUST 11, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 081102NP.217
Head: Chinese Slippers and Foot Binding
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:32

MARTY MOSS-COANE, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Marty Moss-Coane in for Terry Gross.

The Chinese practice of binding women's feet was outlawed in 1949. But for years, generations of women went through the painful process of disfiguring their feet in an elaborate ritual performed by women on little girls. Small, bound feet took on a sexual meaning and were seen as erotic by men.

My guest Beverley Jackson has an extensive collection of the intricately embroidered slippers, shoes and boots which were made by Chinese women for their bound feet. They're shockingly tiny because many of the women's feet were no longer than three to four inches. The slippers are also beautiful, with bright colors and complex patterns and designs.

Jackson is an Asian art collector and textile lecturer, and the author of a new book called "Splendid Slippers: A Thousand Years of An Erotic Tradition." Among the photographs of these slippers are X-rays and photos of bound feet.

Through extensive interviews and research, Jackson explores the tradition of foot binding as an expression of duty, pain and sexuality. I asked her how this practice first began.

BEVERLEY JACKSON, PHOTOJOURNALIST AND AUTHOR, "SPLENDID SLIPPERS: A THOUSAND YEARS OF AN EROTIC TRADITION": Basically, it started in southern China in the palace of a rather popular prince who had a large number of wives, a large number of concubines, and one favorite concubine who used to delight him by dancing inside a wooden carved lotus blossom. It had been gilded in jewels. These were very popular in the east at that time. You still find them in maharajahs palace museums and everything. They were in India as well as China.

And this concubine would dance for him inside this carved flower, probably on her toes. And they say that she wrapped silken scarves around her feet rather seductively, and played with them. Do you know anyone whose ever seen a striptease artist on television or in the movies or even in person, knows that they will take off a glove or some garment that they're wearing, and play with it rather seductively.

And I think this is more or less what she did, but she was the favorite concubine, and the others attributed it to her dancing on her toes with these bandages, and slowly started to copy it as best they could.

MOSS-COANE: This was a tradition that was practiced by women on women. What did small feet mean in Chinese culture?

JACKSON: In the beginning, it meant beauty, the favorite. It was jealousy in the palace. And it was the women of the palace who copied it first. But you know what happens with fashion. It might start with $100,000 gown at Givenchy in Paris or something, and it works its way down to $14.95 little copies of it, you know, somewhere in the suburbs.

And the same thing happened there. By the 17th century, the custom as it became -- tradition -- had worked its way from the palace through the nobility to the aristocracy to the very rich. And by the 17th century, as close as the statistics they've gathered can come, about 93 percent of the Han (ph) Chinese women bound their feet.

MOSS-COANE: Let's talk about the process of binding a little girl's feet. And this was done when she was something like five or six years old. There were certain rituals and traditions associated with this. Why did they choose autumn as the time to begin this foot binding process?

JACKSON: For two reasons, really: One, it's around the time of the birthday of the goddess Quanyen (ph) and the goddess of mercy. And the night before binding began, the mother and daughter would make sacrifices of food, incense, money and things at the altar of the goddess Quanyen. The main reason, really, was that you're heading into a cool season of the year, and for a girl going through a lot of pain, the cold weather can bring a little comfort in numbing the feet slightly. To start binding going into the hot weather could make it even more unbearable than it already is.

MOSS-COANE: And it began with a kind of soaking process; that the little girl would soak her feet in warm liquid solution for a couple of hours.

JACKSON: That's right. That was to soften the bones and to soften the skin. They would try and rub off as much of the dead skin as possible. And they wanted the bones softened because when the binding began, they were going to take the four smaller toes of the foot -- the big toe was always left just as it grows. But the other four toes were pressed under, into the sole of the food and ultimately broken.

MOSS-COANE: So they took the four toes and curled them under the foot, and then began the binding process of wrapping those toes underneath the foot?

JACKSON: They started by wrapping the toes flat -- not so much curled, but trying to flatten them. They wanted to break them as quickly as possible so they were flat into the sole of the foot. And then in a rather figure-eight sort of motion, they would take these bindings that were about 10 feet long, or they could be shorter, but generally they were quite long and they were about two inches wide. It was sort of like a white ace bandage, but very long.

And they would wrap it then around the heel and up forward in this figure-eight around the toes and back around the heel, because there are two things they were out to achieve: break those four toes and press them into the sole of the foot; and to slowly break the arch by pulling the heel forward.

MOSS-COANE: So the process then was of keeping on tightening the binding over time to create these broken bones.

JACKSON: Exactly. Exactly. The feet were rebound on the average of once or twice a week in the beginning, if at all possible. And each time, they'd be bathed and they'd put lots of alum and things on to try and ward off infection as much as they could.

MOSS-COANE: Well I wonder what little girls could take for the pain?

JACKSON: Many of them took nothing. There were some cases, especially if the mother was an opium addict herself, where they'd give them bits of opium. Mainly, they made them suffer. In lots of cases, if they had the space -- they could afford it -- they had a room specially where the girl stayed so they didn't hear her screaming at night, away from the main compound.

MOSS-COANE: Now, once a woman then, or a little girl becomes a woman and her feet are then permanently disfigured because of the binding -- the bounding -- how does she end up walking? And you actually talk about how it impacts the body and how she ends up sort of thrusting herself in a certain kind of way -- suggestive kind of way.

JACKSON: Very suggestive. Because the weight is all on the heel; because the men are envisioning a sexual connotation to all this, the walk itself is considered almost as much of a sexual turn-on as the little shoes are, or the concept of foot binding. The weight goes on the back of the heel. To keep your balance, you have to bend the knee slightly and you have to move the shoulders forward a bit.

I can always spot a woman with bound feet when I'm in China blocks away, and friends say: "How can you do it?" I say because they look like they're ready to shallow dive off the side of a pool.


JACKSON: But you sort of maintain your balance that way, and as you walk, you sway. And the walk is called "the lotus gait." And this lotus gait, you have to keep your hips so tight, or they're tightened so by the way you're walking, that it tightens all the muscles in the hip area of the body. And Chinese men have claimed that making love to their wife if she's even had 14 children is always like making love to a virgin because of those tight muscles from the lotus gait.

MOSS-COANE: And the ideal was then to have a foot that was -- what? -- just almost no more than three inches?

JACKSON: Perfect.

MOSS-COANE: That would have been perfect?

JACKSON: Three to three-and-a-half was the perfect foot. It was called a "golden lotus." That's what they all tried to achieve. The most beautiful women, the best-kept concubines, the most important prostitutes in places like Shanghai, where tremendous numbers of prostitutes, and they were -- it's a great hierarchy -- had three to three-and-a-half inch feet.

MOSS-COANE: Let me ask you about an important part of this foot binding process, and it's the part that creates a kind of cleft between the front of the foot and the heel; and the importance of having a certain size in that cleft. Describe what that's all about.

JACKSON: In breaking the arch, if you sort of play it with your hand, putting your thumb out and pulling the fingers under, and imagining a heel to be there, and pulling it forward with the arch breaking, you can see where that cleft would be inevitable if the arch is broken properly. The ideal cleft is 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 inches deep. And the basic use for that is -- I said the average wife does not let her husband see her foot unbound, but concubines, prostitutes do.

And men are very inclined when they're with those women to use it as a second vagina.

MOSS-COANE: So they actually have intercourse with that cleft.

JACKSON: They have intercourse with that cleft.

MOSS-COANE: What about the whole question of infections and foot disorders and even things like arthritis that have to have been associated with mutilating feet such as this?

JACKSON: It's very serious. It always was. You know that it's very important to the Chinese to be -- have the body buried whole. Amputation is one of the worst things that can happen to them, and many times at the end of the last century when there were very good western missionary doctors in the cities, girls would be brought to them with gangrene, and the feet would need amputating. And the doctors didn't dare do it. The parents would rather the girl died whole than to have those feet amputated.

But there are cases where, especially in the north it's very cold; the feet have frozen off. I have one case there, you might remember, that's documented and followed through in the book, with the foot that is in the Munter (ph) Museum. But there were tremendous problems -- also internal problems, in having to walk in this very strange way; that every part of the lower body, particularly the abdomen, even the chest, were affected by this walk.

MOSS-COANE: My guest is Beverley Jackson -- Asian art collector and the author of "Splendid Slippers," a new book about the Chinese tradition of foot binding. We'll talk more after a short break.

This is FRESH AIR.


MOSS-COANE: My guest is Beverley Jackson and we're talking about her new book. It's called "Splendid Slippers: A Thousand Years of An Erotic Tradition."

Part of this tradition was also to create, embroider very elaborate slippers. And you have -- I'm looking at the cover right now. They're extraordinarily beautiful. And you say that embroidery was a very valued art form in China.

JACKSON: Even the poorest woman knew how to embroider. And in the Manchu court -- you know, the Manchu were not allowed to bind their feet -- but every woman in the Manchu court, including the empress, knew how to embroider. It was a means of expression for the women, and particularly the very poor women who had very little that was beautiful in their lives. And they could turn their imagination loose in embroidering their clothing and particularly the little shoes.

They knew the feet weren't pretty, too, and they made the shoes as beautiful as they could to cover them.

MOSS-COANE: Well, they're certainly gorgeous colors and really very detailed symbols and decorations on these shoes.

JACKSON: There's wonderful things on them. They -- it was the one place that they could express beauty and fantasy. Very few of them were ever educated. They -- very few women wrote poetry. Very few women wrote books; not too many painted, really. But with their embroidery, they could show all their wonderful feelings of beauty; all their inner feelings.

MOSS-COANE: I notice in the photographs in the book that many of the women whose feet are bound display them rather prominently; that they seem to be something that are an important detail of their physical attractiveness.

JACKSON: They're very proud of them. Once they've gotten through those first couple of tortured years, the pain eases. It's never totally gone; anyone I've had interviewed has told me. But the pain eases. They accept the way of life, the way of walking and all. And once they've gone through it, they're very proud of them.

And because they make them sexually desirable, this is their one weapon against men in a very Confucian world. And it's a very strong power weapon for them.

MOSS-COANE: You write that bound feet were a popular image in Chinese erotica. What was the connection between sexuality; between erotica and bound foot?

JACKSON: Men envisioned these feet to be something rather beautiful, especially if they hadn't seen them. Those who had seen them have the sexual turn-on of the cleft that they've used. Everything about the foot, to the man, concerns sexuality. The walk was sexual. The entire concept was sexuality.

And it reached a point where the shoes themselves became emblems of that sexual content. And they themselves could be as strong a sexual turn-on as the foot.

MOSS-COANE: You even say that the theft of these lotus shoes was as very common experience.

JACKSON: It really was. In small villages, you know -- in cities, women, unless they were servants or the very old or the very young, you didn't see women on the streets or at theater or anything. But in country villages -- you know, when women have to get out and plow the field, you can't keep them behind a compound wall.

So in villages throughout China, there would be traveling troubadours and traveling small opera groups, or folk theater and things. And many of the -- especially the prettiest girls or those with the smallest feet, would have to sew their shoes onto the bindings when they'd go because young men would try and steal those shoes.

MOSS-COANE: Does this remind you at all of female genital mutilation, which -- I certainly went away with that feeling, having read your book.

JACKSON: It's the only thing comparable to it. There are all sorts of atrocities performed on women and little girls. But the one important way it's related to clitorectomy (ph) or whatever you might want to call it is that it's inflicted on a little girl who has no choice. If you decide you want to wear these really horrible heels that are out now -- what are they? Five-inch heels or something? -- if you choose to wear those, you're a grown woman making your decision.

If your mother chose to wear a very tight corset, she was a woman making her own decision. It wasn't inflicted on her. If somebody goes out to get them body tattooed, they're a grown woman doing it. This is inflicted on little girls six years old, and the same thing is true of clitorectomy. They have no say in the matter.

MOSS-COANE: You say that some feminists have been angry at you for writing this book, and for not I guess pointing the finger at men who, as you say, were clearly turned on by women with small feet. But you seem to say -- lay the responsibility on both men and women and culture.

JACKSON: I really do because it was perpetuated by the women. It was done to please the men, but the way I sum it up, because I don't like to get too involved in it. I do come out fairly sympathetic to men in this. I try not to show it, but the more research I do, the more I read missionary stories about how cruel a mother could be to her daughter. She usually didn't do the binding. They usually had an older member of the family or hired a professional foot binder to do it because they thought the mother might loosen the bandages and go easy. But I've read some horror stories from missionaries of the things mothers did to their daughters' feet.

So I -- and the women used it as a power base. So I cannot blame the men completely.

MOSS-COANE: This was a practice that was stopped in this century; in fact, was outlawed in 1949 and over the years, really fell out of favor. How -- how did it lose its...

JACKSON: Well, with the missionaries coming in from the west, in the big cities like Shanghai or Canton or Peking -- the old days -- Beijing now -- tried to influence it. And they did a bit.

Through the years, occasionally some very sympathetic scholar of great prominence, and sometimes a member of the nobility with great prominence, would lead an anti-foot binding campaign, but it didn't always work. At one point after the Boxer Rebellion, the empress dowager issued an edict that foot binding must be totally eliminated.

Now, of course, she was a Manchu and Manchus didn't bind, and Chinese did, and they weren't going to be too quick to follow it anyway. But even that was rescinded quite soon. It took the communists in 1949, who had people in every house to spy; in every block you -- they knew everything that went on. So no woman could start binding her daughter's feet without them knowing it. It took that kind of power to abolish it -- the movement.

You know there's still probably at least a million women in China whose feet were bound at one time.

MOSS-COANE: And they're still alive.

JACKSON: They're still alive. They're still walking and working and carrying on.

MOSS-COANE: Now, you have a collection of these slippers. How many do you have?

JACKSON: Well, there were 174 at the last count -- pairs.

MOSS-COANE: So is your house, then, filled with displays of these slippers?

JACKSON: I do have them on display. Museums bring groups through and everything. And I like living with the things that are beautiful and intrigue me, and they've become part of my life. My daughter says I've gotten an awful lot of mileage out of those Chinese women's feet.

MOSS-COANE: You don't feel bad about that, do you?

JACKSON: No, because I think I've brought them -- that's a very good question, because it's gone through my mind many times. Am I having too much pleasure from these shoes when they've suffered so? But they were proud of these shoes. I'm not involved with the feet when I have the shoes. They were very proud of what they had accomplished. If they had small, beautiful -- well, feet that were the right size. They certainly weren't beautiful.

And they made the beautiful shoes to show them off. And I don't feel guilty because I've brought their story out. You know, it went on for 1,000 years, and most Chinese in China and certainly Americans of Chinese descent, know nothing about it. My most enthusiastic lecture audiences are Americans of Chinese descent. I've been kept up to two hours after my lecture answering questions. And again and again, they say: "My mother bound. My grandmother bound. My aunt bound. Never seen the foot. They wouldn't tell me why. We know nothing about it."

So at least I've brought their story, their suffering, to an awful lot of people. And so for that, I don't feel guilty.

MOSS-COANE: Well, we are out of time, and I thank you Beverley Jackson for joining us today on FRESH AIR.

JACKSON: Thank you so much.

MOSS-COANE: Beverley Jackson is the author of "Splendid Slippers: A Thousand Years of An Erotic Tradition."

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Marty moss-Coane, Washington, DC
Guest: Beverly Jackson
High: We talk about the Chinese tradition of foot binding with photojournalist Beverley Jackson. Her new book is called "Splendid Slippers: A Thousand Years of An Erotic Tradition" (Ten Speed Press). Jackson is a collector of antique Chinese slippers and will talk about the history, culture and implications of bound feet.
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Chinese Slippers and Foot Binding
Date: AUGUST 11, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 081103NP.217
Head: Vaya Rumba
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:52

MARTY MOSS-COANE, HOST: It's hot out there, and just the time of year for a dose of warm weather world music. Spanish rumba or Gypsy music was introduced to most people through the Gypsy kings and the macarena. According to music critic Milo Miles, a new collection called "Vaya Rumba" samples some of the best of Spanish rumba.


MILO MILES, MUSIC CRITIC: Oh swell, another kind of music called rumba -- Spanish rumba. That's at least three or four different types now. There's Cuban rumba, which is different from African rumba. And what's called the Cuban rumba is very different from real Cuban rumba. But let's not get into that.


Spanish rumba comes from the district of Catalonia, where it's called Gypsy rumba. A peppy new anthology called "Vaya Rumba" should introduce the hardcore stars of the style to a wider audience. Gypsy rumba is plainly a crazed and uncouth cousin of flamenco. The two acoustic guitars and hand-claps are everywhere in the music. And it's also a voracious style consumer, a big player in the sort of worldwide disco I called "international cheese."

Gypsy rumba's insatiable desire to incorporate any catchy tune or hot rhythm that comes along suggests American disco in the '70s. And like those ancient boogie monsters, Gypsy rumba stars only want to make the party hearty. They'll swipe from rock, salsa, even Afro-disco fusion hits.


Gypsy rumba is plenty crass and absolutely shameless, but always itself. It's artful but never arty, and in body-bumping music, there's something to be said about single-minded purpose. Gypsy rumba is a dance style that does not stand up to any intellectual scrutiny. It just makes people want to stand up and dance. And it's radical, but only in the sense it will use any means necessary to get the crowd up and moving.

The Vaya Rumba anthology is fast food for your feet, and if you eat enough of it, you might just get skinny from dancing.

MOSS-COANE: Milo Miles is features editor for Vaya Rumba is on the Music Club label.

For Terry Gross, I'm Marty Moss-Coane.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Marty Moss-Coane, Washington, DC
Guest: Milo Miles
High: World music critic Milo Miles reviews "Vaya Rumba! Fiery Rhythms from the Heart of Catalonia" (Music Club). It's a compilation of Spanish rumba tunes.
Spec: Music Industry; Entertainment; Art
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Vaya Rumba
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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