Living Memories of Bound Feet, War and Chaos in China





AT ages 84 and 83, Wang Zaiban and Wu Xiuzhen are old women, and their feet are historical artifacts. They are among the dwindling number of women in China from the era when bound feet were considered a prerequisite for landing a husband.

No available man, custom held, could resist the picture of vulnerability presented by a young girl tottering atop tiny, pointed feet. But Mrs. Wang and Mrs. Wu have tottered past vulnerability. They have outlived their husbands and also outlived civil war, mass starvation and the disastrous ideological experiments by Mao that almost killed China itself.

In recent years, drought drove them out of the mountains of Shaanxi Province to this farming village beside the Yellow River in Inner Mongolia. They now collect cigarette cartons or other scraps for recycling, or they help in the fields. They are widows, grandmothers, mothers and, more or less, migrant workers.

At this particular moment, they are resting.


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