The Three-Inch Golden Lotus by Chi-Tsai Feng
(Fiction from Modern China)

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Synopsis

This beguiling story is woven around the life of Fragrant Lotus, who has her feet bound in the supreme Golden Lotus style when she is six years old. Her beautiful feet allow her to marry into a wealthy family, and with steady determination she jockeys her way to head of the household, strategizing through the intricate politics of foot-binding competitions and the turbulent times of the anti-foot-binding movement at the turn of the century. Events in Fragrant Lotus' life twist and unfold in a series of witty and often wicked ironies, obliterating easy distinctions between kindness and cruelty, the transcendent and the mundane, history and fable, forgery and authentic work. The novel's waggish narrator exists in the tension between judgment and description, wryly deflating his reader's certainties along the way. Feng's engaging storytelling technique effectively undercuts the broad simplifications with which we inevitably approach his novel. The act of foot binding is horrific, but it is also an act of love; the bound foot is a symbol of entrapment and oppression, but it is also an emblem of exquisite beauty and refinement. Written in 1985, The Three-Inch Golden Lotus is a deeply affecting, thoroughly enjoyable literary revelation.
 

About Chi-Tsai Feng

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Ji-cai Feng was born in Tianjin, China, in 1942. His father was an entrepreneur and his mother came from a line of scholar-bureaucrats. As a youth he led a sheltered life and has been described by a friend as having been "a naive, sentimental dreamer who lived in a fantasy world of poetry, painting, and music." He was also a mischievous child, talented and creative, but mediocre scholastically. Feng first wanted to be a painter, and he showed promise, winning a citywide painting competition while he was still in high school. But his height attracted the attention of the coach of the Tianjin Men's Basketball Team, and he ended up playing professional basketball until he resigned because of numerous injuries. He then entered the Tianjin Calligraphy and Painting Society, where he worked making copies of famous paintings for export, but he hated the work, which lacked any intellectual or artistic challenge. The Cultural Revolution in China changed everything for him. One day on the street, he was attacked by Red Guards who cut off his hair, and then his family's home was ransacked and his works of art destroyed. From then on life was difficult, and he and his young wife had to struggle to earn enough money to live on. During this bleak period, he first began to write secretly, moved by the intensity of emotion he felt toward the terror of the events that he was witnessing. Tragically, his manuscripts from this period were lost during the collapse of his house in the great Tangshan earthquake in 1976. Feng began to publish his fiction in 1977, first sticking to safe historical novels and then in 1979 branching out into contemporary themes. His "Chrysanthemums" won a prize in a 1979 short story competition. He now writes full-time and is vice-chairman of the Tianjin branch of the Chinese Writer's Association. DAVID WAKEFIELD read Modern Languages at Pembroke College, Cambridge. He later studied History of Art at the Courtauld Institute and took a D.Phil in French Literature at Oxford. Since 1974 he has worked as a writer and lecturer, with a special interest in the relations between French art and literature. His publications include Stendhal and the Arts, Fragonard, Stendhal -The Promise of Happiness, A History of French Eighteenth-Century Painting and Boucher. He has contributed several articles on Proust, Chateaubriand and Stendhal to The Burlington Magazine, The Times, The Spectator and other journals.
 
Published January 1, 1994 by University of Hawaii Press. 239 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction. Fiction

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In the tradition of Swift, contemporary Chinese writer Feng Jicai (Chrysanthemums, 1985) critiques Chinese society by focusing on the grotesque as he tells the story of one family's obsession with bound feet--the perfect ``three-inch golden lotuses'' of tradition.

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