The crippling custom of footbinding is the thematic touchstone for Judy Yung's engrossing study of Chinese American women during the first half of the twentieth century. Using this symbol of subjugation to examine social change in the lives of these women, she shows the stages of "unbinding" that occurred in the decades between the turn of the century and the end of World War II.
The setting for this captivating history is San Francisco, which had the largest Chinese population in the United States. Yung, a second-generation Chinese American born and raised in San Francisco, uses an impressive range of sources to tell her story. Oral history interviews, previously unknown autobiographies, both English- and Chinese-language newspapers, government census records, and exceptional photographs from public archives and private collections combine to make this a richly human document as well as an illuminating treatise on race, gender, and class dynamics.
While presenting larger social trends Yung highlights the many individual experiences of Chinese American women, and her skill as an oral history interviewer gives this work an immediacy that is poignant and effective. Her analysis of intraethnic class rifts—a major gap in ethnic history—sheds important light on the difficulties that Chinese American women faced in their own communities. Yung provides a more accurate view of their lives than has existed before, revealing the many ways that these women—rather than being passive victims of oppression—were active agents in the making of their own history.
Judy Yung is Assistant Professor of American Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is the author of Chinese Women of America: A Pictorial History (1986) and the coauthor of Island: Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island (1980, 1991), which won the Before Columbus Foundation Book Award.
"A stunning and sweeping piece of historical scholarship. It represents a major contribution to research in U.S. women's history."—Vicki L. Ruiz, author of Cannery Women, Cannery Lives: Mexican Women, Unionization, and the California Food Processing Industry, 1930-1950
"Judy Yung's latest and most impressive work demonstrates how an engaged, community-based scholar can reclaim an experience otherwise silenced."—John Kuo Wei Tchen, author of Genthe's Photographs of San Francisco's Old Chinatown
"Judy Yung possesses a humane and deep feeling for her subjects. A good listener, she allows these women to emerge in her pages as interesting and complex. Sweeping in chronology and comprehensive in scope, her study invites us to reach toward an intricate understanding of the making of our multicultural society."—Ronald Takaki, author of Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans
"Yung's book combines the richness of a community study, including engaging cameo biographies, with a broad survey of Chinese American women's history."—Mari Jo Buhle, author of Women and American Socialism, 1870-1920
"This is passionate and illuminating scholarship that adds a needed dimension to the discourse of women of color in general, and Chinese American women in particular."—Paula Giddings, author of When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America
"Students and teachers of U.S. women's history will be grateful for Yung's compelling overview of the history of Chinese American women and for the ways her focus on San Francisco brings women's community, family, and personal conflicts to life. A memorable and important book."—Kathryn Kish Sklar, author of Florence Kelley and Nation's Work: The Rise of Women's Political Culture, 1830-1900
Outstanding Book on the subject of human rights in North America, Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Human Rights in North America
Jeanne Farr McDonnell Award For Outatanding book within the last two years by women, and about women., Women's Heritage Museum in San Francisco
Robert G. Athearn Award. This award is presented biennially for a published book on the twentieth-century American West, Western History Association