C is for Chinese Foot Binding

November 13, 2012

Chinese foot binding is an ancient practice in China in which the feet of young girls were tightly bound to stop them growing as a smaller foot was considered more attractive.

Chinese Foot Binding

Chinese foot binding, also known as lotus feet, was a practice that involved tightly binding the feet of young girls and women in China for centuries. It was primarily practiced among the upper classes and was considered a symbol of beauty and status. Foot binding had significant social and cultural implications but caused severe physical deformity and lifelong disability for those subjected to it.

Purpose: Foot binding was primarily done to achieve the ideal of “lotus feet,” which were small, delicate, and considered highly desirable in traditional Chinese beauty standards. It was believed that small feet represented femininity, elegance, and social status. Foot binding was seen as a way for women to improve their marriage prospects and gain social acceptance.

Process: Foot binding typically began during childhood, usually between the ages of 4 and 9. The process involved tightly binding the feet with cloth or bandages, gradually pulling the toes inward and bending the arch of the foot. This caused the foot bones to break and deform, resulting in a characteristic “lotus” or “golden lotus” shape. The bindings were regularly tightened, causing immense pain and restricting foot growth.

Consequences: Foot binding caused severe and irreversible physical deformities and disabilities. The feet became permanently misshapen, with the toes curled under and the arch of the foot raised. Walking was extremely difficult and painful, and women with bound feet often had to hobble or use walking aids. The deformity also affected balance and posture, leading to additional health issues such as back pain and joint problems.

Social Significance: Foot binding had profound social implications. Women with bound feet were considered more desirable for marriage, as it signified their adherence to societal norms and demonstrated their commitment to beauty standards. Unbound feet were often seen as undesirable and a reflection of lower social status. The practice was deeply ingrained in Chinese culture and influenced various aspects of life, including literature, art, and social interactions.

Decline and Abolition: Foot binding began to decline in the late 19th and early 20th centuries due to changing social attitudes and increased exposure to Western ideas. Efforts by reformers, activists, and government initiatives contributed to the gradual abolition of foot binding. The practice was officially banned in China in the early 20th century, although it continued in some rural areas for some time.

Foot binding is now recognized as a harmful and oppressive practice, reflecting the subjugation and control of women in traditional Chinese society. Its long-term physical and psychological effects on those who underwent the procedure were significant. Today, foot binding is viewed as a historical relic, studied as part of understanding the cultural and social dynamics of the past.


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