The brutal treatment of Chinese women by foot binding completely shocked Yvette Borup Andrews. She was accompanying her husband, Roy Chapman Andrews to China in 1916 on a collecting expedition for the American Museum of Natural History.
Confucianism ruled the country on the principal: “Man is the representative of heaven and is supreme over all things. Woman yields obedience to the instructions of man and helps carry out his principles.” This concept placed women in a lowly secondary position, which led to what Yvette described as the “abominable custom” of foot binding said to have originated one thousand years before the Christian era.
The feet of young girls were bandaged. “The toes are bent under the sole of the foot and after 2 or 3 years the heel and the instep are so forced together that a dollar can be placed in the cleft. Gradually also the lower limps shrink away until only the bones remain” The brutality of this practice shocked and angered Yvette, as well as everyone else on the expedition. Although foot binding ended in 1911 by government decree, there were many examples evident only five years later when the Yvette visited China.
Yvette Borup was raised in a sophisticated, privileged environment. As a teenager, she lived in Germany. She attended private schools and was a friend of Princess Victoria Louise of Prussia, the daughter of Kaiser Wilhelm II. It was Kaiser Wilhelm II who was credited by many with provoking the First World War.
Yvette’s return to the United States was prompted by the outbreak of that war in Europe in 1914. Back in America, Yvette met and married Roy Chapman Andrews, an exciting young explorer and scientist, said to be the model for the fictitious character, Indiana Jones.
When Roy Chapman Andrews raised the money for an expedition to China to study animal life and collect specimens for the American Museum of Natural History Yvette accompanied him – not only as his wife but also, also as the official photographer of the adventure. She had studied color plate photography in England and was expert enough to process her own photographs in the field in a portable darkroom.
Traveling by mule train into areas rarely seen by outsiders, Yvette found the Chinese fascinating but in certain ways disappointing. She was upset at the abominable treatment of Chinese women. She felt living conditions were unsanitary and the continued existence of opium dens shocked her.
The United States entered the war while Yvette and Roy were in China. When the trip ended they shipped their collections back to Museum of Natural History through the Pacific Ocean and by rail to New York, avoiding the Atlantic German gun boats.
Yvette and Roy Chapman Andrews wrote a book of their expedition, which I have released as an audiobook titled “Camps and Trails in Old China”. Yvette contributed six chapters which describe China from a her point of view.
“It is difficult to imagine a life of greater dreariness and vacuity than that of the average Chinese woman. Owing to her bound feet and resultant helplessness, if she is not obliged to work, she rarely stirs from the narrow confine of her courtyard, and perhaps in her entire life she may not go a mile from the house to which she was brought as a bride. Except for periodical visits to her father’s home.”
In “Camps and Trails in Old China, written in 1916 Yvette unveiled a view of China experienced by the ancestors of Lisa See and described by Pearl Buck.