Chinese Foot Binding

Updated on May 21, 2018

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.

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 *-*

Suffering for beauty

The sight of the deformed bound feet may be too unpleasant to those unfamiliar with this thousand-year-old practice. The graphic pictures are shown in the link list below.

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.

Old Chinese Saying:

"There are a thousand buckets of tears to one who binds her feet."

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

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

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?

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

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.

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.

The social pressure created by foot binding

Women with large, normal feet were considered uncouth, unrefined and only belonged to the lower class or "unwashed masses." This was why some members of the lower echelons of society practised foot binding in secret.

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


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

The Three-Inch Golden Lotus: A Novel on Foot Binding (Fiction from Modern China)
The Three-Inch Golden Lotus: A Novel on Foot Binding (Fiction from Modern China)
The author skillfully intertwined the art of footbinding with a storyline and stresses the importance of this traditional practice during China's cultural turmoils. We follow Fragrant Lotus, a poor young girl in China in the 19th century, who obediently succumbed to her grandmother's desire to bind her feet. She rose up quickly into the ranks of the wealthy and aristocracy out of reach for the lower-class. However, the Communist Revolution came and footbinding was going to be abolished. We follow the many twists and turns and ironies that Fragrant Lotus have to deal with.

Lotus feet immortalized in art - Exquisite handiwork

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.

Splendid Slippers: A Thousand Years of an Erotic Tradition
Splendid Slippers: A Thousand Years of an Erotic Tradition
This a marvelous book with exquisite color photos of the tiny lotus shoes sewn by the women who wore them. It is also a homage to the women that survived the painful and brutal practice of foot binding and where for a millenium, women accepted and were enslaved by these erotic slippers. Sub-titled Spendid Slippers: A thousand Years of an Erotic Tradition, this book will fascinate, enlighten, intrigue and educate readers who are not familiar with this ancient practice of foot binding. It will not only pique one's curiousity but bring one closer to understand this important part of China's cultural history. I own this book and I guarantee that once you start reading it, you will have difficulty putting it down.

Your opinion counts so do take this quick poll.

What do you think was the motivation for the practice of foot binding in China?

See results

The price of being beautiful

In every culture, women are willing to suffer for the price of being beautiful. In the western world, this includes wearing stilleto heels which could throw off the back, tight corsets to whittle down the waistlines, liposuction to remove fat overnight, tattoos to make a statement, plastic surgery to improve or change one's appearance.

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

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.

Guinness World Records

See the smallest waist on a living person

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.

Have you ever heard of the ancient practice of Chinese foot binding and lotus slippers?

See results

Questions & Answers

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

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      • Demaw profile image


        6 years ago

        Very sad what young children sometimes have to go through.

      • LoriBeninger profile image


        6 years ago

        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 profile image

        Elyn MacInnis 

        7 years ago from Shanghai, China

        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.

      • BritFlorida profile image

        Jackie Jackson 

        7 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

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

      • profile image


        8 years ago

        Fantastic lens! I learned so much about this tradition.

      • profile image


        8 years ago

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

      • iWrite4 profile image


        8 years ago

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

      • profile image


        8 years ago

        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 profile image


        8 years ago

        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 profile image


        8 years ago

        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

      • snazzify lm profile image

        Katie Harp 

        8 years ago

        blessed by a squid angel :) <3

      • artbyrodriguez profile image

        Beverly Rodriguez 

        8 years ago from Albany New York

        What an interesting and informative lens and great photos.

      • GonnaFly profile image


        8 years ago from Australia

        Thanks for this eye opening lens.

      • mary lighthouse15 profile image

        mary lighthouse15 

        8 years ago

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

      • LouisaDembul profile image


        8 years ago

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

      • profile image


        8 years ago

        Very interesting and disturbing lens.

      • julescorriere profile image

        Jules Corriere 

        8 years ago from Jonesborough TN

        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.

      • profile image


        8 years ago

        Excellent Lens!

      • yayas profile image


        8 years ago

        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 profile image


        8 years ago

        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 profile image


        8 years ago

        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!

      • Mistl profile image


        8 years ago

        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.

      • OhMe profile image

        Nancy Tate Hellams 

        8 years ago from Pendleton, SC

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

      • Dee Gallemore profile image

        Dee Gallemore 

        8 years ago

        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!

      • profile image


        8 years ago

        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 profile image


        8 years ago

        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.

      • profile image


        8 years ago

        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,


      • lemonsqueezy lm profile image

        lemonsqueezy lm 

        8 years ago

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

      • bangcool profile image


        8 years ago

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

      • sukkran trichy profile image

        sukkran trichy 

        8 years ago from Trichy/Tamil Nadu

        very interesting subject and well presented lens. ~blessed~

      • kweni16 profile image


        8 years ago from London

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

      • phoenix arizona f profile image

        phoenix arizona f 

        8 years ago

        What interesting history.

      • profile image


        8 years ago

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

      • avgsuperheroine profile image


        8 years ago

        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.

      • Scarlettohairy profile image

        Peggy Hazelwood 

        8 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

        Good information to educate about foot binding. Great lens!

      • mattseefood lm profile image

        mattseefood lm 

        9 years ago

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

      • profile image


        9 years ago

        Really informative and nicely designed lens about an intriguing topic.

      • Everyday-Miracles profile image


        9 years ago

        Congratulations on the purple star! Very much deserved!

      • profile image


        9 years ago

        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.

      • profile image


        9 years ago

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

      • fluffyclouds profile image


        9 years ago

        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 Hardin profile image

        Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 

        9 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

        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 profile image


        9 years ago

        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 profile image


        9 years ago

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

      • sheriangell profile image


        9 years ago

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


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