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Foot Binding in Ancient China

2015-12-28 16:23:51Share:

  Foot binding in China originated from the Five Dynasties Period (907-960AD). According to one legend story, one emperor's concubine name Yao Niang who danced gracefully on the lily flowers made of gold with her feet bound. Other girls in the palace start to follow her practice. The bound feet with 3 or 4 inches, were called “Gold Lily”. This practice gradually spread through the upper class during the Song Dynasty (960-1279AD). During the Ming period (1368-1644) and the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911AD) the custom of foot binding permeate in majority of the Chinese population. It was even very difficult for girls to marry without binding feet. It was finally abolished in the 1911 Revolution of Sun Yat-Sen. The practice of foot binding lasted for approximately one millennium. During this time, around one billion women had their feet bound in China.



  Pursuing beauty is the nature of human being. Corset of women was popular in Europe in 18th century. Today tattoos and body piercing become popular among young people. Breast implants, liposuction and rhinoplasty are practiced by fashioned women. However, the foot binding of ancient Chinese women was most detrimental and terrible.


  The process of foot binding


  A bandage, ten feet long and two inches wide was wrapped tightly around the foot, forcing the four small toes under the sole of the foot. This made the feet narrower but at the same time it made the feet shorter because it also forced the big toe and the heel closer together by bowing the arch of the foot. The bandage was tightened each day and the girl's feet were put into progressively smaller and smaller sized shoes. The entire process usually took about two years at the end of which the feet were essentially dead and utterly useless. The feet had to be washed and manicured on a daily basis. If they weren't manicured properly the toe nails could cut into the flesh that would result in infections.


  The side effect of foot binding


  The bindings were too tight they could cut off blood circulation which could lead to gangrene and blood poisoning. The feet had to be massaged and given hot and cold compresses to help relieve the pain and help improve blood circulation. Sometimes, corns would develop on the toes and would have to be cut off with a knife. With the lack of blood circulation flesh would rot and fall off and sometimes the toes would fester. Pain was said to have been excruciating especially if this process was begun at a later age. The ideal foot would fit into a shoe only three to four inches long. It is difficult to imagine the suffering that these women had to endure.


  When foot binding became the aesthetic norms of the society the women changed into the men’s subservient object because the deformed feet made women lose their freedom of moving.


  The tottered women were restricted in home and the bound feet became a symbol of chastity which was once formed, could not be unlocked like a chastity belt. This strange and ugly custom went hand in hand with the Neo-Confucian teachings of the time which preached a hierarchical social order starting in the family with women being subservient to their husbands. So we can say foot binding in China was both physical and spiritual shackles for Chinese women. The spiritual pain was much beyond what the body which suffered.

The Imperial Gardens