Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

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Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

A Novel

by Lisa See

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2005, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2006, 288 pages

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The practice of foot binding began around 970 BC. Bound feet were described as 'lily feet' because they were considered so beautiful and were symbolic of gentility and high-class.

The process began for a girl between 3 and 11 years. The four small toes were broken and turned under and bound, then the arches were broken so the foot could be pulled straight with the leg. Overtime the feet would shrink so they could fit in 'lotus shoes' 3 inches long. In the 1600s the Manchu Dynasty attempted to end foot binding but it was not officially banned until 1911, when the New Republic was formed. The history of foot binding

Nu shu literally means 'woman's writing'. It was developed by women of the Hunan province in secret over hundreds of years (women were forbidden any formal education). The characters are rendered in a more cursive style than written Chinese. The last woman proficient in Nu shu (believed to be the world's only female-specific language) died in 2004 in her 90s, ending a 400-year-old tradition. More about Nu Shu.

This article was originally published in July 2005, and has been updated for the February 2006 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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