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May 29, 1994|CHARLES SOLOMON

THE THREE-INCH GOLDEN LOTUS by Feng Jicai translated from the Chinese by Eugene M. Kayden (University of Hawaii Press: $12.95; 239 pp., paperback original). Foot-bound girls had their toes bent under their arches and the balls of their feet pressed against the fronts of their heels to produce a small, deformed grub of flesh that became the object of a national fetish in China. Feng Jicai's curious novel exposes the cruelty of the practice and the weird sexual-aesthetic response it evoked. As a child, Golden Lotus screams in pain when her feet are bound, breaking many of the bones. But her tiny feet enable her to marry the son of a wealthy merchant, and Golden Lotus uses her position as an object of desire to gain power over her decadent in-laws. Feng's sardonic prose contrasts her calculating intelligence with the shallowness of the men, who extol the details of her shoes like connoisseurs praising an antique vase.

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