Posted: April 18th, 2022
This module of learning focuses on women in China in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the past I have required students to read all of a lengthy book called Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China; for this fall session, I am just having you read the first chapter, which you should see downloaded in this module.
Jung Chang, the author of Wild Swans, writes the biographies of her mother (Bao Qin) and grandmother (Yu-fang), as well as her own story as a member of China’s Red Guard. However, I want you to focus on the grandmother’s story (born in the early 20th century) as a concubine of a powerful Chinese warlord during a very tumultuous time in China’s history.
I have also downloaded a brief timeline of Chinese history, covering some of the events that the author discusses in the chapter. If you go back to the course’s home page on Canvas, you will see a picture of Empress Cixi (old spelling is Tzu H’si), who is referenced as the recently deceased empress of China shortly before Yu-fang’s birth. Make sure to also look at the pictures that have been downloaded for this section — the author’s grandmother, Yu-fang, was among the last generation of women for which the bound foot (the “lily foot”) was an expectation. One picture shows an x-ray of bound feet. A second picture is a drawing that compares the normal foot with the bound foot. The third picture is the actual foot of an elderly woman — notice that all of her toes other than the big toe are curled under her foot. The final picture shows a shoe worn over a lily foot, compared to a cigarette pack roughly 3-4 inches in length.
Discuss Yu-fang’s struggles as a daughter, wife, and mother. For example, what limitations and/or cultural expectations made it more difficult for her to fulfill these traditional roles? When looking at her early years as a daughter and mother, do you believe she was respected by her father and/or mother? By her “husband”, General Xue?
Important reminders: A common mistake people make is mixing up Yu-fang with her mother, who was not given a name at birth but was only know as “Number Two Girl”. Consider, as you answer the prompt, whether or not a woman who was not even given a name by her family because she was “just” another girl would have had any power at all as a wife and mother (yes, I am leading your response a little, aren’t I?)
Remember to check for spelling, punctuation, and proper writing mechanics. NO CONTRACTIONS, PLEASE. Also, make sure to write the grandmother’s name as Yu-fang — not “Yu” or “fang” for short).
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