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A Comparison between Anhwei and Kiangsu
Anhwei was Wang Lung's native village, where he lived with his family. During the course of the novel, he is forced by the famine to flee South to the city of Kiangsu.
Wang finds that the people in the new city look like him with black hair and black eyes; they even speak a dialect similar to his, which could be understood with some difficulty. But the similarities end there. In Anhwei, the speech was slow and deep from the throat; in Kiangsu, the people spoke in syllables "which splintered from their lips and from the ends of their tongues".
In Anhwei, the fields are cut in a slow and leisurely harvest, twice a year only; in Kiangsu, the men add fertilizers to the crops to hurry the bearing of vegetables and to produce a harvest several times a year. In the country, the people sustain themselves with a good wheat bread roll and a sprig of garlic and are content; in the cities, the people eat pork balls, bamboo sprouts, chestnuts stewed with chicken, goose giblets, and other exotic food. They disdain anyone whose breath smells of garlic and cry out, "Now here is a reeking, pig-tailed Northerner!" In fact, the pig-tail, which a Northerner sports and is immensely proud of, is laughed at by the Southerners who sport no such pig-tail.
The children in the cities go to schools with names such as "The Great School of Western Learning", while the country children work the fields with the family. The women in Kiangsu can travel by rickshaw to the market to shop for silk, while at Anhwei, the women toil away at domestic duties. The men of Kiangsu visit teahouses and other places of pleasure and play various games with pieces of ivory and bamboo; in Anhwei there is no time for leisure. It is no wonder than Wang Lung feels like an alien in the city of Kiangsu.
The Custom of Foot-binding
Foot-binding was an age-old custom in China, which continued for a number of centuries. It was considered that women possessing small and delicate feet were more sensual and beautiful than women with large feet. In order to keep the feet small, a girl child's feet were tightly bound with cloth. The heel was pushed down and forward, under the foot, and then yards of nonstretch cloth was tied so tightly that the blood circulation was cut off. Due to the immense pressure put on the foot, the toes bent and did not grow to their normal length. The toes stayed curled under, and the feet became narrow and tapered at the toes. The whole foot would not grow beyond four to five inches in length. Because of the bent posture of the foot, the woman could walk only on her toes and heels, which gave a swaying action to the body, making her look desirable and tantalizing.
Unfortunately, foot-binding was an extremely painful procedure due to the tightness of the bindings and the awkward positioning of the foot. Often, if too much pressure was applied during tying, the skin and the flesh would break and sores would appear; frequent infection and gangrene occurred. Yet, with all these known facts, foot-binding remained a part of Chinese culture as a mark of gentility and beauty.
In The Good Earth, a number of references are made to bound feet. At the beginning, Wang Lung is shown in a moment of disappointment when he sees O-Lan's large, unbound feet. Yet it is because her feet were normal and unbroken that she could support her weight and work with him in the fields. When Wang meets Lotus Blossom, it is her tiny feet that mesmerize him; but her dainty feet are almost useless.
When Lotus enters Wang's house for the first time, she can only totter and sway upon her bound feet and needs to lean upon Cuckoo for support. A mention of the pain behind the custom of foot-binding is made when Wang Lung's daughter tells of her pain. O-Lan wants her feet bound so that her daughter's husband will love her more than Wang has loved O- Lan. Wang wants her feet bound so she can be married into an affluent family, who would demand bound feet.
One of the main ironies of the book is that if O-Lan's feet had been bound, she could not have been the resourceful helpmate that she was, and Wang probably would not have become the prosperous landowner.