Saturday, June 23, 2012

Breastbinding and gender in Taiping China

IRL, 太平公主 "Taiping princess" is apparently Mandarin for "a flat-chested woman" (Taiping apparently doubles as "very flat.") In Andalusada today, I'm going to take a pun and use it to do horrible things to the universe. Here's how.

The IRL Taiping Rebellion was a southern phenomenon. The whole thing started off in Guangxi, and almost all the key kings were Hakka (others being Zhuang); had it succeeded, Taiping China would have been the first native Chinese dynasty in history that wasn't Han. (Yuan and Qing don't count as "native" for the purposes; they were always recognized as invaders.) Andalusada's Taiping Revolt plays out wildly differently (for starters, it succeeds), but it's no less southern for all that; and while I still have centuries to rewrite before I can say much with certainty about the details of that triumph (who is the alluded-to Lei, for instance?), I know that regardless of the details the Hakka are still going to be incredibly important in the new order.

(How do I know this? Rule of Cool. Hakka architecture is awesome, and there's nothing else like it in China. It's fortified enough to fit with Taiping militarism, and at once egalitarian and panoptic - it reads as both utopian and dystopian. It's the perfect thing for the planned settlements of the new order.)

A nice side effect of Hakka significance is that they never embraced footbinding. IRL, Taiping women did generally reject footbinding, and made a point of unbinding feet as they conquered. But, Taiping China being what it is, there's still gonna be patriarchy and authoritarianism, and it's going to get channeled somehow. Part of that "somehow," in Andalusada, is breast binding.

Breastbinding in early Taiping China

Women in the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom started breastbinding before there was a Heavenly Kingdom. As per IRL, the Taiping Rebellion fielded enough women for it to matter; and the sports bra hadn't been invented in the late 1840s, even if the average Chinese woman wasn't as endowed as a Western counterpart. (A lot of those soldiering women were adolescent converts, who bound straight through puberty and ended the crusades badly deformed as a result. Sima Li herself was one, if The Military Chronicle of the Beautiful Marshal is accurate.)

This is a work in progress. It will be expanded upon.

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