Cinderella’s Sisters

A Revisionist History of Footbinding

The history of footbinding is full of contradictions and unexpected turns. The practice originated in the dance culture of China’s medieval court and spread to gentry families, brothels, maid’s quarters, and peasant households. Conventional views of footbinding as patriarchal oppression often neglect its complex history and the incentives of the women involved. This revisionist history, elegantly written and meticulously researched, presents a fascinating new picture of the practice from its beginnings in the tenth century to its demise in the twentieth century. Neither condemning nor defending foot-binding, Dorothy Ko debunks many myths and misconceptions about its origins, development, and eventual end, exploring in the process the entanglements of male power and female desires during the practice’s thousand-year history. Throughout her narrative, Ko deftly wields methods of social history, literary criticism, material culture studies, and the history of the body and fashion to illustrate how a practice that began as embodied lyricism—as a way to live as the poets imagined—ended up being an exercise in excess and folly. —University of California Press


Dorothy Y. Ko
University of California Press
December 2005

Dorothy Y. Ko has been Professor of History at Barnard since 2001. She is a cultural historian who specializes in gender and body in early modern China. Her current research focuses on women’s artistry and skills in textiles, which constitute an alternative knowledge system to male-centered textual scholarship. Her teaching interests also include the history of women and gender in East Asia, feminist theories, and visual and material cultures. Prior to Barnard, she taught at the University of California at San Diego and at Rutgers University. Her other publications include Translating Feminisms in China, edited with Z. Wang (Blackwell, 2007) and Every Step a Lotus: Shoes for Bound Feet (University of California Press, 2001).