By Yingying Huang
Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 32, no.1 (Spring 2020), pp. 37-72
John Fryer’s 1895 Chinese fiction contest on the topic of China’s evil practices has been studied for its value as historical data and possible impact on the development of modern Chinese fiction. This article treats the contest as an example of how late Qing writers’ introspective gaze was affected by the foreign observer, and uses one of the “evils,” footbinding, to investigate modern Chinese identity formation in an international context. In portraying footbinding as an evil with an awareness of the other looking from the outside in, the competitors set the bound foot in motion: they imagine its reshaping mobilized through the travel of women—as visual objects and as agents to stimulate reform—from the inside out. In doing so these writers hold dialogues not only with the reform discourse that emphasized exposure, vision, and shame, but also with modern literature’s conception of a new Chinese identity through the transformation of women.