The End Of Foot Binding In China

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The End of Footbinding in China as an Example of the Power of Networks, by June Holley, Network Weaver

june@networkweaving.com

How do we make a difference? How do we help bring about transformative change?

The story of the end of footbinding is a great
example of the way networks can be mobilized to bring about dramatic change in a very short period of time.

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The End Of Foot Binding In China

  1. 1. The  End  of  Footbinding  in  China   as  an   Example  of  the  Power  of  Networks   June  Holley,  Network  Weaver   june@networkweaving.com       How  do  we  make  a  difference?  How  do  we  help  bring  about  transformative  change?     The  story  of  the  end  of  footbinding  is  a  great  example  of  the  way  networks  can  be   mobilized  to  bring  about  dramatic  change  in  a  very  short  period  of  time.     Footbinding  –  the  practice  of  tightly  wrapping  the  feet  of  young  girls  so  that  their   feet  were  only  a  few  inches  long  –  started  about  1000  year  ago  and,  over  time,  over   90%  of  all  women  in  China  had  bound  feet.  Because  it  became  a  criteria  for  marriage   and  upward  mobility,  footbinding  was  extremely  resistant  to  change.    However,  a   major  change  effort  began  in  1895  and  within  20  years  the  practice  has  virtually   disappeared.  How  did  this  happen  so  quickly?     Until  the  mid  1800’s,  China  was  very  isolated  from  the  rest  of  the  world.  But  after   1850,  westerner  traders  and  missionaries  entered  China,  and  quickly  and  opening   expressed  their  horror  at  the  practice  of  footbinding.  Chinese  leaders  began  to  see   footbinding  as  holding  back  the  country  from  modernization.  Although  anti-­‐ footbinding  language  created  a  receptive  context  for  change,  it  initially  had  little   impact  on  behavior,  due  to  the  high  stakes  involved  in  changing  the  practice  (fear  of   not  being  able  to  marry  off  daughters).           Lesson  1:  You  need  different  and/or  outside  perspectives  to  make  breakthroughs.       But  in  1895,  things  began  to  change.  The  catalyst  for  this  change  was  a  remarkable   woman  named  Alicia  Little.  Alicia  was  a  successful  novelist  who  had  come  to  China   when,  in  her  40s,  she  married  a  merchant  with  a  thriving  business  in  that  country.           Lesson  2:  Even  one  energetic  and  persistent  person,  acting  as  a  catalyst,  can  start   transformational  change  but…    Network  leaders  are  often  not  the  highly  visible   individuals:  find  people  who  are  acting  as  a  catalysts,  because  they  have  the  potential   to  start  transformational  change       1
  2. 2. She  learned  Chinese,  built  a  network  of  very  well-­‐connected  individuals,  and  in  1895   formed  an  anti-­‐footbinding  association  with  a  small  number  of  influential  and   energetic  Chinese  and  western  women.             Lesson  3:    A  catalytic  core  needs  people  who  have  access  to  many  large  and  diverse   networks  to  have  maximum  impact  and  potential  for  spreading  the  change.     Instead  of  funding  organizations,  support  collaboratives  that  are  spanning   organizational  and  different  worlds  and  want  to  experiment.  Fund  the  collaborative   catalyst  role  and  experimentation  not  a  plan.         This  group  decided  to  act  as  a  catalyst  organization  –  encouraging  others  to  invent   solutions  to  this  problem.  For  example,  they  encouraged  influential  officials  to  come   up  with  slogans  that  were  easily  remembered.  In  one  instance,  Alicia  convinced  an   influential  official  to  paint  a  slogan  on  a  fan  that  she  used  when  she  gave  talks.       Lesson  4:    Get  high-­‐powered  individuals  to  participate  in  reframing  the  issue,  using   phrases  that  are  easy  to  remember  and  pass  on.     Provide  support  to  train  and  coach  collaboratives  to  identify  and  build  relationships   with  Influentials  and  help  collabortives  develop  core  ideas  in  simple  ways  so  they   spread  through  peer  networks.       The  “natural  foot”  group  used  money  to  help  jump-­‐start  the  change  process.  Initially,   they  raised  money  for  dowries  for  girls  whose  families  did  not  bind  their  feet,  so  that   they  would  be  much  more  likely  to  get  married.  They  produced  attractive  pins  that   were  widely  distributed  to  those  who  were  against  footbindg.  They  also  had  many   contests  to  encourage  ordinary  Chinese  people  to  write  poems  and  tracts  against   footbinding.    In  just  2  years,  over  8,000  poems,  booklets  and  articles  were  produced   arguing  against  footbinding  and  in  support  of  natural  feet.       Lesson  5:    Restructure  money  to  support  an  endless  stream  of  creativity.     Provide  funds  for  Innovation  Funds  that  encourage  a  continual  stream  of  creativity   and  engagement  by  ever  larger  networks.     2
  3. 3.   The  major  successful  strategy,  however,  was  a  new  structure  –  Natural  Feet  Leagues   –  where  families  joined  in  large  associations  where  they  would  publicly  commit  not  to   bind  their  daughters’  feet  and  not  to  let  their  sons  marry  women  with  bound  feet.     Once  300,000  people  signed  up  –  as  was  the  case  in  Shanghai  after  just  a  short   period  of  recruiting  –  families  began  to  feel  comfortable  that  their  daughters  would   find  marriage  partners.  The  formation  of  the  Shanghai  league  then  led  to  a  tipping   point  where,  within  a  few  more  years,  all  families  in  the  city  stopped  binding  their   daughters’  feet.         Lesson  6:  Keep  encouraging  innovation  and  then  notice  what  is  really  working. Emphasize  the  importance  of  deep  reflection  to  identify  “patterns  of  success”.         Alicia  and  many  others  then  took  to  the  road,  traveling  in  carts  to  cities  throughout   China.  They  gave  lively  talks  decrying  footbinding,  then  shared  explicit  directions  for   starting  an  anti-­‐footbinding  association.           Lesson  7:  Share  the  idea  with  new  networks  and  encourage  people  to  self-­‐organize   to  implement  the  idea  in  their  community.     Once  collaboratives  have  identified  “patterns  of  success”,  provide  resources  to   spread  those  patterns  by  moving  into  new  networks.  Have  resources  to  encourage   and  support  expanded  collaboration  and  self-­‐organization.       The  results:  in  one  rural  community  where  statistics  were  gathered  the  results  were   as  follows:     1889        99%  bound   1899        94%  bound   1919            0%  bound       The  accompanying  powerpoint  can  be  found  at   http://www.slideshare.net/group/network-­‐weaving-­‐be-­‐rhizomatic           3

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