Chinese Foot Binding - Owlcation - Education
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Chinese Foot Binding

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The foot binding practice of ancient China

This is a pair of antique Chinese bound feet lotus slippers which were fashionable when the old tradition of foot binding was in style in China. The practice lasted more than a thousand years. Young girls' feet were bound with long strips of cloth to keep them from growing and the toes were broken and bent towards the soles of the feet. The ultimate goal was to achieve the "golden lotus", a 3-inch long feet, arched and pointy resembling the lotus buds. Few women achieved this ideal. It was the standard of feminine beauty, eroticism, social status and a passport to marrying into wealth.

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The origin of Chinese foot binding

Bound feet emulate the lotus buds

There is a lot of controversy as to the true origin of the practice of footbinding. It lasted more a thousand years spanning Five Dynasties. Rumors has it that the last emperor of the South Tang Dynasty, Li Yu, ordered his favorite consort, Yao-niang to dance in front of him atop a golden lotus pedestal that was specially built. She wrapped her feet in long strips of silk cloth not unlike the ballerinas in toe shoes today. The emperor was smitten by his concubine's bound feet beyond his wildest imagination. Immediately, the practice of footbinding became a symbol of feminine beauty, royal approval, social status and spread to all levels of society.

Photo Credit:tony d c *-* for your eyes only *-*

Details and pictures of foot binding - China's curious and mysterious past

These links are a must read for those not familiar with the ancient practice of foot binding. These contain details and graphic pictures of the bound feet and are a treasure trove of information on the seemingly barbaric practice that lasted more than a millennium. The practice of footbinding has not been completed obliterated and is still being secretly practised by women in some parts of Asia. Lotus slippers can still be seen being peddled by street vendors for aging bound feet women or for tourists in parts of Asia.

  • The Bygone Practice of Foot Binding in China
    The ancient practice of foot binding in China was to gain social status and wealth. Young girls will have less chance of marrying into the aristocracy if they do not have the tiny feet and not deemed attractive. This website has great pictures and i
  • Suffering for Beauty – Graphic Photos of Chinese Footbinding
    Learn about the barbaric practice of foot binding in ancient China and view a full set of photos of a woman with bound feet in Yunnan Province.
  • Painful Memories for China's Footbinding Survivors : NPR
    Millions of Chinese women bound their feet, a status symbol that allowed them to marry into money. Footbinding was banned in 1912, but some women continued to do it in secret. Some of the last survivors are still living in a village in Southern China
  • FOOTBINDING: A Painful Tradition
    By Sherie Lynn CharInstructor: Kristy Wilson Bowers, History 151 FOOTBINDING: A Painful Tradition The Chinese tradition of footbinding may seem like a peculiar practice to people who are unfamiliar with the custom. However, according to Cecil Adams,

Why I bought the lotus slippers

A reminder of my childhood past

I have seen bound feet firsthand when I was a young child. My cousin's grandmother had tiny bound feet and as inquisitive kids, we never dared ask why her feet were kid-size. We always knew she was up and about from the sound of the lotus slippers dragging across the wood floor upstairs. When she took her afternoon naps, we would "borrow" her ornately beaded and embroidered lotus slippers and wear them while playing grownups.

My young cousin used to tell me that women have bound feet in China so that they would not run away and only the aristocrats have small feet. I never quite understood then why there was a reason for my cousin's grandmother to run away.

It was only after I acquired the pair of lotus slippers a few years ago did my interest in the practice of foot binding in ancient China become rekindled.

Anatomy of bound feet lotus slippers - Where size does matter

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These are pictures of a genuine pair of lotus slippers I was fortunate enough to purchase in a jade market in Hongkong many years ago. These were hand-embroidered on cotton usually made in the home of the young girl who would wear them or by the wearer herself. Great care was made to sew and embroider the tiny shoes as these were considered part of the female's intimate apparel. The color of the shoe, style, and lavishness of the embroidery played an important role in attracting attention and showing social status

Arched beauty - Lotus shoes were made to accommodate tiny arched feet

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Photo Credit: jennysh_who

This pair of lotus slippers barely measures 4 inches long. The ideal size of a well-bound foot foot was 3 inches and should be shaped like the bud of a lotus flower, full and round at the heel and coming to a thin point at the front. In order to achieve this length, the arch of the foot must be broken and all the toes, except the big toe, must be permanently bent toward the sole of the foot. The tiny pointed foot can now slide easily into the lotus bud-shaped slippers. The smaller the shoes, the more desirable, sexier and marriageable the young girls would be to prospective husbands.

How small is small?

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Photo Credit:jennysh_who

The ideal size was a 3-inch bound foot ('Golden Lotus'), and no longer than 4 in. (10 cm), called 'Silver Lotus'. The bound feet would bend, becoming so concave they were sometimes described as "lotus hooks." When the women tottered on their lotus slippers or shoes, they would sashay their hips in a seemingly provocative manner which was known as the "Lotus gait." This walk was considered particularly alluring.

The perfect lotus feet - Doing a balancing act

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Photo Credit: otisarchives3

These amazingly tiny bound feet wearing fashionable lotus slippers could easily fit into a tea cup. This photo gives a good perspective of what years of foot binding can do to one's feet for the sake of men folks, fashion, and the demands of society.

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There is more to foot binding than meets the eye

Sexual revolution in China

Photo Credit: SyGuildmistress

Tiny bound feet were a sign of refinement and beauty which enhanced the prospect of marrying into wealth. Foot binding restricted a woman's movements, hence making her hips larger and the body seemingly more voluptuous. It was also a way of deterring the women from straying and running away from beatings and encouraged fidelity and chastity. Bound feet was the ultimate symbol of female submission and male dominance in China.

The bound feet was deemed the most intimate and erotic part of the female anatomy. It is not surprising that wives, consorts, prostitutes, paramours were selected solely on the size and shape of their bound feet tucked into these tiny embroidered shoes. The unbound feet were rarely seen without the lotus slippers which all the more created a sensual mystique around them. Poets wrote about the delights of the "lotus feet" and ancient sex manuals outlined and illustrated the many ways these can be enjoyed and caressed.

A woman with bound feet was also forced to walk on her heels to spare pain inflicted on the bent toes. Walking this way strengthened the muscles of the female organ and the nerves in her feet became more concentrated and sensitive making her bound feet a major errogenous zone. It is no wonder that the tiny bound feet appealed to a man's libido and was an erotic obsession.

Poor women did not have their feet bound

Needed to toil in the fields

The Han Chinese girls, from the wealthiest to the poorest had their feet bound. But it was less prevalent among the poor women who had to toil in the fields. The Mongols of the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) and the Manchus did not practice foot binding. The Manchu rulers of the Qing Dynasty tried to abolish the practice of foot binding but without success because the practice was already too firmly rooted in the custom to break. The practice of foot binding continued into the 20th century until anti-foot binding reforms were called by Chinese and western missionaries. Finally in 1911, with the revolution of Sun Yat-Sen, foot binding was officially outlawed, but the practice continued on in many areas. It was effectively abolished after the Communist Party banned it in 1949.

Which shoes would I rather wear? - A study in contrast

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This photo shows the difference between a 4 inch pair of lotus slippers and my size 7 1/2 hybrid tennis high heel shoe. Which one would I rather wear? Inasmuch as my normal shoes were called "weird or unattractive" by someone, I would choose them over the lotus slippers.

Interesting facts about foot binding in China woven into a tapestry of drama and intrigue - Educational and fun to read

Lotus feet immortalized in art - Exquisite handiwork

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Photo Credit: cisley

This regal and elegant doll with its bound feet and tiny lotus shoes seemingly reminded me of a Chinese Barbie Doll. Tiny bound feet with lotus slippers were the fashion and rage in Ancient China for over a thousand years. It was a passport to marrying well.

Read about China's curious practice of foot binding - A comprehensive book on the subject

The spectacular photos will keep you mesmerized for hours.

Your opinion counts so do take this quick poll.

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Small feet is to the East as a small waist is to the West

Cultural relativism

The use of corset as an undergarment to slim the figure have been around since the 16th century. It was used by men and women for aesthetic and also for medical reasons. Later more of the wearers were women and the style of the corset changed through the Victorian, Edwardian eras until after the World Wars. The corset have enjoyed a revival in the 20th century as top garments aside from undergarments and as fetish fashion and bondage corset.

These were corsets used in the 1890's to change the contour of a woman's body instantly so she can achieve an hourglass figure, with the tiniest possible waistline. The corset was worn as an undergarment for 18 hours a day, 365 days a year for training as it took practice to sit up straight without leaning back in a relaxed manner. Bending forward was almost impossible to do as the boning in the corset structure stiffens the woman's torso. Why do you think the gentlemen were there to pick up those dropped hankerchieves?

The corset reduced the waist considerably and exaggerated the bust and the hips. This was often referred to as the hourglass figure. In spite of the constricting effect of the undergarment which made it hard to breathe, these women seemed to be happy with the resulting effects of sporting tiny cinched waists. The men folk were twice as contented.

Photo Credit:Helen Stern

Lovely hourglass figure - Bound and determined

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Photo Credit: Helen Stern

Dresses were tailor-made to the compressed shape of the woman's torso with the corsets worn as an undergarment and not based on the woman's actual body measurements. Wearing the tight-lace corset everyday not only changed the posture but the way a woman carried herself when she walked. After a year or so of being encased in this tight contraption, suffering for beauty becomes worthwhile.

A nicely done video about the price women pay for beauty - How far would you go for beauty?

This is your chance to make your opinion count. - Let's duke it out.

Body modifications have been pervasive in many cultures. In China, the practice of foot binding lasted over a thousand years for beauty and eroticism. In Europe and America, the practice of wearing tight-laced corsets to achieve a tiny wasp-like waist was for the same reasons.

Do you believe foot binding was barbaric and the other forms of body modications are not? Like, breast implants, tattoos, lipo-suction, body piercing..

Fascinating lotus shoes collectibles - Own a piece of history

These tiny bound feet shoes were the rage in ancient China and ensured a woman's eligibility for marriage. The bound feet was deemed erotic and attractive and was widely practised which lasted for over a thousand years.

Step right up and take this quick poll.

Tippy tiptoe to my guestbook, please. - Your thoughts on the subject?

Demaw on August 27, 2013:

Very sad what young children sometimes have to go through.

LoriBeninger on July 18, 2013:

Great and informative lens. I just published a book review on Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, which includes many passages on the practice. I've included your lens as a link. Thank you.

Elyn MacInnis from Shanghai, China on May 22, 2013:

Sigh. Foot binding makes me feel deeply for the poor women who were forced to have their feet bound. They didn't just "bind" them. They basically broke them. My elderly friends who just escaped this awful torture feel so relieved and happy that they missed it.

Jackie Jackson from Fort Lauderdale on January 18, 2013:

This subject has fascinated me since I was a child. Thanks for the info.

entertainmentev on May 25, 2012:

Fantastic lens! I learned so much about this tradition.

jakealoo on May 21, 2012:

Very nice lens and I like the title to the guest book, LOL.

iWrite4 on May 20, 2012:

Very interesting! Never heard of these before. Thanks for sharing

JoshK47 on May 18, 2012:

A very interesting read, indeed. I remember I first heard about this on Ripley's Believe It or Not. Thanks for sharing - blessed by a SquidAngel!

jballs6 on May 05, 2012:

A fascinating subject. I was only telling my son about Chinese foot binding two weeks ago and have just shown him your page. Excellent lens

PearlHowie on March 29, 2012:

Wow - what a great informative lens. I've always loved reading about China, Chinese culture and the way it's changed so found this really interesting! And thanks for liking my lens x P

Katie Harp on March 08, 2012:

blessed by a squid angel :) <3

Beverly Rodriguez from Albany New York on March 07, 2012:

What an interesting and informative lens and great photos.

Jeanette from Australia on February 23, 2012:

Thanks for this eye opening lens.

mary lighthouse15 on February 21, 2012:

Very informative. I've been wondering about this foot binding long time ago. Thanks for sharing!

LouisaDembul on February 09, 2012:

Very interesting comparison between chinese foot binding and corsets, etc!

cmadden on February 02, 2012:

Very interesting and disturbing lens.

Jules Corriere from Jonesborough TN on January 08, 2012:

Happy New Year! Congratulations on being chosen as a top 100 Community favorite for 2011! This is an absolutely stunning lens. I read it all the way through, stopping to catch my breath sometimes, and I absolutely appreciate your pointing out of the corsettes and other ways bodies are modified. Wonderful, wonderful lens.

JZinoBodyArt on January 03, 2012:

Excellent Lens!

yayas on January 01, 2012:

Congratulations on your won'erful approach to a very hidden topic. It is difficult to find information that tells very much about foot-binding. You have taken a great deal of the mystery from this subject an' portrayed it for what it really is... torture.

Thank you so much for your support on my What Is A Balloon Christmas page. I so appreciated it. I also wanna' wish you a Happy New Year!

Auntiekatkat on December 31, 2011:

Congrats on being nominated for Community Favorite Lenses of 2011. A wonderful lens. Fortunately we both share one thing it was easier to vote than for most as mine was my "why-I-am a- vegetarian was nominated as well. A proud moment for all of us. Good luck in the voting.

JoyfulReviewer on December 31, 2011:

Thanks for the wonderful pictures and extensive information on extreme body modifications just to please others. Congratulations on being one of the final 100 favorite Squidoo lenses of 2011!

Tjoedhilde on December 30, 2011:

This is a very powerful lens, I like how you are not only spotlighting foot-binding, but all forms of extreme body modification in the name of beauty.

Nancy Tate Hellams from Pendleton, SC on December 30, 2011:

Ouch. Reading this was interesting but now my feet hurt. lol Congrats on being in the top 100 Community Favorites.

Dee Gallemore on December 01, 2011:

An outstanding presentation on foot binding history and practices. Just blown away by the depth of information and the images, too. A really good read ... Blessed!

Tamara14 on October 22, 2011:

I remember watching some history series on TV and that was my first encounter with this old Chinese custom. This is an excellent lens. Squid angel blessed~

Serenity30 on October 20, 2011:

Chinese were not the only culture of Foot binders, there was Japanese,Taiwanese foot binding practices.

It is barbaric when this effects the natural bone structure of the person,inhibiting normal movement. I watched a documentary years ago on National Geographic about this practice in Japan.

Congratulations on the purple star.

Light-in-me on August 14, 2011:

You make a good point, by showing the other ways that women and men deform themselves for supposed beauty. I am really horrified by most of these things.

Execellent lens,

Robin

lemonsqueezy lm on August 10, 2011:

This always makes me feel uncomfortable. I feel so sad for the girls who had to have their feet bound. Very interesting.

bangcool on August 02, 2011:

whoho, i think they will hurt their own feet when they use those shoes

sukkran trichy from Trichy/Tamil Nadu on August 01, 2011:

very interesting subject and well presented lens. ~blessed~

Quennie from London on July 13, 2011:

@gogolf162: i totally agree lol! if i were a guy as long as my girl has feet then i'm good!

phoenix arizona f on July 06, 2011:

What interesting history.

gogolf162 on July 06, 2011:

I do not care too much for feet other than for walking or running.

avgsuperheroine on June 16, 2011:

This was very interesting. I read a wonderful short story as a teen that was historical fiction that centered on foot binding and I remember being really fascinated with it. It's an interesting subject, thank you for sharing it.

Peggy Hazelwood from Desert Southwest, U.S.A. on June 04, 2011:

Good information to educate about foot binding. Great lens!

mattseefood lm on May 05, 2011:

I've heard a lot of stories about this one since I am pure chinese. Thanks for sharing your knowledge :)

NYThroughTheLens on April 26, 2011:

Really informative and nicely designed lens about an intriguing topic.

Everyday-Miracles on April 13, 2011:

Congratulations on the purple star! Very much deserved!

anonymous on April 13, 2011:

Another very well done lens, packed with great information. Congratulations on your Purple Star, very well deserved :)

I am just happy we don't have to wear corsets these days, and the foot binding, well, that to me just was not right, painful too.

miaponzo on April 06, 2011:

Great topic.. thanks for that.. loads of great info here and very interesting pics. thanks! :)

fluffyclouds on April 06, 2011:

I find the practice interesting and repulsive at the same time...but as a lifelong, professional ballet dancer...I can also see parallels with pointe shoes.

Nancy Carol Brown Hardin from Las Vegas, NV on April 05, 2011:

I own the book on footbinding, Splendid Slippers, and have always had a fascination with the custom. Maybe I was Chinese in an ancient life...haha! Thanks for sharing such an interesting subject.

Everyday-Miracles on April 04, 2011:

This lens is just incredible. Very well put together. I couldn't stop reading it!

I knew about the practice of foot binding in China and have always been curious, but I haven't really explored it in depth. Now I'm more informed. Great job!

MelissaInTheSky on March 24, 2011:

A well made lens with lots of information. Makes me very sad, though. :(

sheriangell on March 23, 2011:

Your lenses are always so fascinating and this one is no exception. Well done and blessed by a Squid Angel today!