Footbinding the Marginalized

From Secularizing the Pain of Footbinding in China: Missionary and Medical Stagings of the Universal Body, by Angela Zito, who is a professor at NYU:

If you are interested in Chinese history, gender issues, international development, or even just stiletto heels, this is a great read. Take the time to look at it over the weekend, maybe.

For me it served as a helpful history lesson and an important reminder that even as we write and discuss issues affecting other nations, we are tempted to insert our own cultural biases and make a lot of improper assumptions about an entire people – especially if our culture and faith are connected, as they usually are.

I imagine this happens all the time when East and West meet. I know it was difficult for me to avoid judgment and arrogance during my short stay in Japan, because I didn’t understand the culture around me. This was a helpful and convicting read, especially as I write about issues affecting the poor in Asia and other places foreign to me.

Here are a few quotes:

What pattern emerges here? According to Macgowan, footbinding represents some of the worst of Chinese culture, running right along with female infanticide and idolatry. However, Macgowan’s idea of Chinese “culture” is so vague and ahistorical as to, in fact, be no concept at all—it is more a black hole wherein things disappear.

They overlooked the fact that the Chinese bodies they confronted were not virgin territory, fenced in by Chinese culture, waiting to be liberated. They never granted to the Chinese the same implicit continuity between the body and social life that they claimed for European bodily disciplines of religion and medicines as both naturally and culturally superior.

Universal human rights discourse – and its “body” of rights – something usually imagined as emerging out of a secular turn, in fact, may never have left the religious fully behind. This lingering connection might even be a source of its moral force. However, we must ask ourselves just how this complicates appeals to something that is not at all necessarily “universal,” depending as it does on historically quite limited notions of the “human.”

Thank you, Xaris, for the recommendation!

One Response to “Footbinding the Marginalized”
  1. Katinka says:

    I used to have Nike shoes that were called Terra Humara. Just a random association. 😉

    And, I am currently training for a 10 mi race in Philly (The Broad St. Run, the biggest 10 miler in the country), and yesterday did a track workout where I got to feel that sweet sensation of breathing, stretching out, landing lightly and quickly turning over! At least, for about 100 meters. 🙂 Barefoot running sounds better if you’re running on dirt or sand.

    As to your second–everyone writes with a bias, through the framework of their worldview! So, let’s not be too quick to agree with any writer, especially when they write about human rights and cultural practices. We should be careful to see what they see most clearly and care about most deeply, but hold it up to the light of God’s Word about people made in His image, not a cultural framework.

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