Chinese Tradition of Foot Binding (Shoes, History, Origin, Why)


Although we are all familiar with the concept of foot binding as a cultural practise that was common in ancient China, very few of us are probably aware of how extreme and excruciatingly painful this practise was. In those days, women with little feet were believed to have the highest level of sexual attraction, and whether or not a woman was eligible for a decent marriage was exclusively dependent on this criterion. Between the ages of three and seven, Chinese households would traditionally bind the feet of their female children. This practise varied in frequency based on the family’s level of wealth. Those who were not as financially secure put this off for as long as they possibly could so that their daughter might continue to be helpful around the home and in the fields for as long as possible. Until her feet were tied, she would be unable to move in any direction once they were secured. It is believed that this was also one of the reasons why foot binding became so popular; it ensured that the woman would continue to be mostly confined to the house and rely only on her husband; in addition, it ensured that she would stay chaste in this manner.

What did foot binding actually involve?

To provide an exceedingly vivid description, the feet had to be cleansed and massaged first, and then, with the exception of the first toe, the other toes were broken off and secured firmly below the foot. After that, the arches of the feet were flattened, and a lengthy cotton bandage was used to bind the feet in such a way that they were very concave. The bandage had to be taken off every day, the feet had to be cleansed and massaged, the toenails had to be trimmed so that they wouldn’t cut into the instep and create infections, and then the bandage had to be wrapped back on firmly. The feet were given alternating hot and cold baths, as well as constant care, in an effort to both alleviate the agony and prevent the development of serious infections such as gangrene, which would have resulted from an absence of any blood flow at all. Because of the lack of circulation and blood flow, excess flesh would decay and fall off over time, and the feet would gradually get narrower and shorter. The feet were gradually reduced in size by having their shoes made smaller and tighter bandages being applied daily until they reached the ideal size of three to four inches, at which point they were able to wear Lotus shoes.

Not only did the procedure cause the little girl tremendous agony when her feet were really broken and tied, but it also made it incredibly difficult for her family to take care of her over the following two or three years. In addition to this, the girl would be completely helpless throughout this time period since the slightest attempt to put weight on her feet would result in severe agony for her. At the conclusion of this era, the girl would have a terribly distorted set of feet, which were considered the ideal of femininity and the sole condition for gaining a decent spouse. This practise continued until the girl reached adulthood. This criteria was given greater weight the higher the social position of the household that was being considered.

The tradition of tying a person’s feet began in the eleventh century and continued for almost to a millennium, until the Manchu Dynasty was overthrown in 1911 and the New Republic outlawed the practise. It is estimated that about one billion women had their feet tied during this time period.

The question that immediately comes to mind is, “How did this practise first come about?” There appears to be no clear proof to it however there are different tales related with foot binding. Some people believe that there was a Chinese princes named Yao Niang who walked so gracefully that it appeared as if she “skipped over the top of golden lilies.” And because small feet are associated with daintiness, the Chinese became so excessively obsessed with the concept that they started this self-inflicted torture.

In yet another version of the story, Yao Niang was told to tie her feet so that they would resemble new moons. In still another version, ladies clubbed their feet out of sympathy for an empress who had the condition, and Yao Niang was told to bind her feet as a result.

Women who had their feet bound were forced to put all of their weight on their heels when they walked, which caused their feet to become severely deformed. Foot binding has been linked to causing a number of other disabilities as well, including osteoporosis and other bone defects. The research was conducted at the University of California, San Francisco, and the participants were Chinese women living in the United States.

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