China as a society believes — and I have been told many times — that this is something of the past, it was not good and should be forgotten about. These women have endured a lot of hardship during their lives and their voices deserve to be heard.
I think the most important thing that I have learned from this project is that we will go to extreme lengths to find a suitable partner. The majority of these women had their feet bound by their actual mothers. Their mothers had endured foot-binding as well and knew what pain and torment they were putting their own child through. But they knew, to make their daughter acceptable to society, to give their daughters the best possible life, this is something they had to do, however heartbreaking it was. We all want to be accepted, we all want to be loved, we want our children to have the best possible opportunities.
The majority of books about bound feet illustrate the beautiful embroidered shoes or describe analytically the background to foot-binding. I want to produce a book that focuses not just on their feet, goes beyond their feet to show the women and their lives.
Yesterday someone wrote that there is nothing to be proud of with foot-binding. Why would we want to document this? I replied, “Think of the stigma that no one is proud of you, even after everything you have been through. Why not turn the tables and be remembered for being strong and wonderful?”Many of these women I return to visit every year. They are some of the most genuine, gracious, generous people I have ever met. These are women who were peasant farmers — who live very modestly in rural villages. When I visit, they insist on making tea and sharing fruit like I am a long lost relative. They greet me with open arms and often won’t let go of my hand and don’t want me to leave. It is a very humbling experience.