Posted by: chartroose | May 27, 2009

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan


Lisa See, 2005, 253 p.

Word up, dawgs!  I’m in the reading spirit again (thank goodness).  For awhile there, I just couldn’t get motivated enough to read more than 15 or 20 minutes a day, but now I’m chugging right along.  I’ve finished four novels in a fairly short period of time, and the first one is Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.

Lisa (Books on the Brain) recommended it to me, and I’m very grateful to her because I never would have chosen it on my own.  It seemed too “girly” for my taste.  Reading a frou-frou novel such as this could easily spoil my good-ol’-gal reputation (like I have one, har)!  Snow Flower surprised me because it isn’t frou-frou at all.  It’s about women, that’s true, but the women in this novel represent all of us, and the story is a universal one of betrayal and redemption.

Snow Flower is set in 19th century China before, during and after the Taiping Rebellion.  The central characters are two girls who are bound by society’s repressive restrictions in many different ways, the most obvious restriction having to do with the binding of their feet.

This disgusting practice occurred off and on throughout early Chinese history.  I’ve always been quite puzzled by the appeal of these tiny little feet.  If a person can barely walk, then what good is she?  The two things that  bother me the most about foot binding are these:

1.  Mothers agreed to do this to their own daughters.  What if they had refused?  Would they have been beaten?  Humiliated?  That would’ve been a small price to pay for the preservation of their daughter’s physical well-being.  Instead of a Taiping Rebellion, there should’ve been a Mothering Rebellion!

2.  These deformities were considered to be erotic.  I’m pretty sure men would’ve been totally turned-off if they were allowed to see the unbound feet of their wives and concubines. 
There’s so much more to this novel than just icky foot binding.  Snow Flower is essentially about very dysfunctional relationships in a very dysfunctional misogynistic society.  Every relationship in the novel is abusive to one degree or another.  Mothers deny daughters the affection they so desperately need; fathers ignore and/or mistreat daughters because they are lowly females; husbands and mothers-in-law abuse wives; sisters and girlfriends lie and manipulate and hurt each other in order to to advance their positions in society.  Where did the love go?  How did this place and time in Chinese history become so dystopic?  This is just another example of man’s inhumanity, and it further validates my personal philosophy about the human animal:  “Life’s a bitch, and so are you.”
Now for a parting thought or two:

Foot binding isn’t the only stupid and ugly thing that women (and some men) have done in the name of “beauty.”  Here are a few more examples:


  1. That book sounds so good. The picture of the bound foot is just so repulsive – I can’t imagine the pain it caused for the women. Wasn’t it done to keep the women from running away?

  2. […] Snow Flower and the Secret Fan « Bloody Hell, It's a Book Barrage! […]

  3. You read it!!! This book affected me on so many levels, but it’s always the footbinding that people talk about after they’ve read it. I knew about it but had no idea how brutal the practice was until I read Snow Flower, or how it was the mothers inflicting the pain onto the daughters.

    Kathy, it wasn’t really about running away, although it was rather crippling and did make them dependent. It was about social status and marrying well. The big footed girls were lowly field workers and poor farm girls. You couldn’t marry off your daughters into a good family unless they had bound feet.

    Great review, Char! And thanks for the disgusting pictures! LOL

  4. Dude, you read Lisa See! If I tell you there is brief mention of foot binding in Shanghai Girls, will you read that one, too? 😀

  5. Yay, I’m so happy you liked this book! I read it so long ago, but images of snow Flower still stick with me. Those pictures definitely gave me the creeps, though – both the bound foot and the anorexic model. Isn’t it great when you step out of your comfort zone reading-wise and really enjoy the book? 🙂

  6. There’s a little footbinding action in Peony in Love as well!

  7. Bring on the footbinding! I’m TOTALLY down with that.

    More Lisa See for me!

  8. The practice of foot binding stopped in my great-grandmother’s generation. In the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan, there is a village in which almost all of the old ladies have bound feet. The bound feet were not only a status of an elite family, it was a prerequisite to a good, prosperous marriage. The mother would prepare a girl to have her feet bound as early as the age of 6, well before puberty. These bound feet was crowned a beautiful name called the “3-Inch Golden Lotous.”

  9. Matthew — I read about the golden lotus myth after reading this novel. It still blows my mind to think that anyone could ever feel that tiny little goat feet were appealing.

    The entire thing was sadistic and just plain dumb, and it became illegal after the Taiping Rebellion.

    Were any of your relative’s feet bound? I sure hope not!

  10. Great points and great review! The foot binding is disturbing but so are all the other photos!

  11. […] Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (Bloody Hell, It’s a Book Barrage!) […]

  12. Footbinding is disturbing on so many levels but it doesn’t surprise me to see mothers complicit in it. We do love to hand over our freedoms willingly.

    That anorexic model is horrifying! That poor girl! It’s like dressing up a starving orphan for – fun? Sex appeal? Ye gods.

  13. I started reading this a few years ago and never finished it. I will have to go back and start again-I liked it, I think I just got distracted with other types of reading at the time.

    The foot-binding thing…where to start? I think the thing that is hardest for me to understand is how did this get started in the first place? Who was the first person to go, “Hey! I have an idea! Now, this might sound a little strange, but hear me out…”? And who were the sadistic freaks who agreed to try it out?

  14. The things humans will do in the name of beauty or prestige. My goodness. It is appalling, but that was their culture.

  15. I have actually avoided this book – I still remember reading Lisa’s review, too and have picked it up at the book store often only to put it back down. In fact, I avoided THIS review but am back because I always enjoy your thoughtful and bring-it-on opinions about life and humanity. Maybe I’ve avoided this book because I had my feet bound in another life. Seriously, I do not want to read this.

  16. nice post. thank you so much for the information

  17. […] Novel Menagerie » Blog Archive » Book Review: Snow Flower & The Secret Fan Snow Flower and the Secret Fan « Bloody Hell, It’s a Book Barrage! Tiny Little Reading Room: Review: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan Book Nut: Snow Flower and the […]

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