Prologue–Chapter 2

In this historical novel, an upper-class Chinese girl refuses to have her feet bound and must face the social consequences of her decision.
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definitions & notes only words
  1. proprietor
    someone who owns a business
    I was only nineteen, but I chose to wear the cheongsam and the high heels because I was the wife of the proprietor, and I had my dignity to maintain.
  2. dignity
    the quality of being worthy of esteem or respect
    I was only nineteen, but I chose to wear the cheongsam and the high heels because I was the wife of the proprietor, and I had my dignity to maintain.
  3. lavish
    characterized by extravagance and profusion
    If the waiter was surprised by the lavish order for just one guest, he refrained from commenting.
  4. refrain
    resist doing something
    If the waiter was surprised by the lavish order for just one guest, he refrained from commenting.
  5. missionary
    someone sent to a foreign country to spread a religion
    Hanwei drank his tea silently. “But you could have found work with another American missionary family,” he said finally. “Lots of them would be glad to have a fluent English speaker to care for their children.”
  6. fluent
    expressing yourself readily, clearly, effectively
    Hanwei drank his tea silently. “But you could have found work with another American missionary family,” he said finally. “Lots of them would be glad to have a fluent English speaker to care for their children.”
  7. croon
    sing softly
    When I was a baby, my wet nurse had been a sturdy woman from the country who had lost her own baby and had milk to spare. I had a dim memory of sucking at her breast and listening to her croon lullabies.
  8. lilting
    characterized by a buoyant rhythm
    She was sent away when I was four, and there were times when I desperately missed her kindly face, her warm embrace, and her lilting country accent.
  9. governess
    a woman who cares for and instructs a child in a household
    My parents hired an amah, or governess, to replace her.
  10. stifle
    smother or suppress
    I found a fragrant sweet-olive bush to crouch behind, and stifled my giggles as I heard my amah calling, "San Xiaojie! Little Miss Three!”
  11. mincing
    affectedly dainty or refined
    Always happy to visit Grandmother, I immediately ran on ahead. Every now and then, I stopped and waited impatiently for my amah and Second Sister. They followed more slowly, swaying gently and taking small, mincing steps because of their bound feet.
  12. crusty
    blunt and ill-tempered
    I wasn’t fooled by Grandmother’s crusty manner. I knew she would let me get away with almost anything.
  13. scandalous
    giving offense to moral sensibilities
    Grandmother always said that women’s wearing skirts was a scandalous custom adopted from the foreigners.
  14. indulgent
    tolerant or lenient
    Grandmother seemed embarrassed. "I’ve been too indulgent, I know. Every time I bring the matter up, my son finds some excuse or another to put it off.”
  15. prim
    affectedly dainty or refined
    She picked up her cup in a prim manner and took a dainty swallow. The tea was too hot for her, and she sputtered. I had to smother a giggle.
  16. dainty
    affectedly refined
    She picked up her cup in a prim manner and took a dainty swallow. The tea was too hot for her, and she sputtered. I had to smother a giggle.
  17. wistfully
    in a pensively sad manner
    “It must be really exciting to go out every day and study together with boys from other families,” I said wistfully.
  18. indifferent
    marked by a lack of interest
    “It’s all right,” said Hanwei indifferently, but I could tell he was pleased by the impression he was making.
  19. enthralling
    able to capture and hold one's interest or attention
    My amah had told me that an eclipse was caused by the Heavenly Dog trying to eat up the sun, and that we had to beat gongs loudly to scare it away. Hanwei’s explanation was utterly enthralling.
  20. jeer
    laugh at with contempt and derision
    I couldn’t imagine one of my male cousins having the patience to talk to me like this. About the only thing they did was jeer at me for being a useless girl.
  21. infuriate
    make extremely angry
    I’m good at repeating sounds, and I infuriate some of my cousins by imitating the way they talk.
  22. totter
    move without being stable, as if threatening to fall
    I looked at Little Brother, who was tottering up to a pot of chrysanthemums.
  23. modest
    not large but sufficient in size or amount
    She lowered her voice. “They’re also willing to have a very modest exchange of gifts. With our heavy losses from the farm’s...”
  24. grimace
    a contorted facial expression
    Second Sister quickly smoothed her face, but I had already seen her grimace. "It was bad, wasn’t it?” I asked, hoping desperately that Second Sister would deny it.
  25. ordeal
    a severe or trying experience
    Then she pulled me close and stroked my cheek. “We women all have had to go through this ordeal: Mother, Grandmother, Eldest Sister, Mrs. Liu, your amah. Life is hard on women. In a few years you’ll also find out that you’ll be bleeding once a month.”
  26. hobble
    walk impeded by some physical limitation or injury
    Then I remembered something. “Not all the women have bound feet! My wet nurse had feet like a man’s, and she didn’t have to hobble around.” I looked up at Second Sister. “Is that why Mother sent her away? Because she had big feet?”
  27. bluster
    vain and empty boasting
    Big Uncle, with his loud bluster, didn’t fit our teacher’s description of the classical ideal.
  28. importation
    the commercial activity of buying goods from another country
    He told us that the British wanted to sell opium to China, but our government refused to allow its importation, whereupon Britain went to war against us.
  29. incompetence
    lack of physical or intellectual ability or qualifications
    "We lost the Opium War because of Governor Lin Zexu’s incompetence!” growled Big Uncle.
  30. tirade
    a speech of violent denunciation
    Big Uncle’s voice resumed its normal volume as he started a tirade on public schools and useless lessons in astronomy and trigonometry, subjects no gentleman should have to study.
  31. trigonometry
    the mathematics of three-sided figures and their functions
    Big Uncle’s voice resumed its normal volume as he started a tirade on public schools and useless lessons in astronomy and trigonometry, subjects no gentleman should have to study.
  32. jabber
    rapid and indistinct speech
    "Little girls shouldn’t interrupt their elders!” shouted Big Uncle. "Who wants to hear your stupid jabber about skirts and fashions?”
  33. prospect
    belief about the future
    I was bored by all this talk of machine- and hand-woven cloth. My thoughts went back to the prospect of visiting Second Sister’s room and watching her wash her feet. My stomach began to churn.
  34. churn
    be agitated
    I was bored by all this talk of machine- and hand-woven cloth. My thoughts went back to the prospect of visiting Second Sister’s room and watching her wash her feet. My stomach began to churn.
  35. fastidious
    giving careful attention to detail
    “Don’t you wash your feet every day?” I just couldn’t imagine my fastidious sister with smelly feet.
Created on March 29, 2020 (updated April 8, 2020)

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