Missionaries and Chinese women: The representation and exploitation of vulnerability in British missionary writing
This chapter examines missionary literature to argue that there was a deliberate construction of Chinese women's victimhood by missionaries to justify their interventions into Chinese society. To do this, it explores how missionaries wrote about and represented the lives of Chinese women, as well as their reactions to certain cultural practices. The chapter focuses on the practices of infanticide and footbinding as well as the issue of opium addiction. Protestant missionaries first came to China in the early nineteenth century, but it was not until after the First Opium War and the signing of the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842 that they were able to maintain a substantial presence. Footbinding was practised by many female members of Chinese society, with the exception of the poorest classes, and involved breaking and bending the smaller toes under the foot, while pushing the sole towards the heel.