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Chinese Culture >> Chinese Society Traditions

Foot Binding in China

The custom of foot binding has been around in China since the B.C. period. It was first practiced during the Shang Dynasty and continued up to the last dynasty in China which was the Manchu dynasty in the first part of the twentieth century. Unfortunately, millions of young Chinese girls suffered through this inhumane treatment. It has been estimated that as many as two billion Chinese women had their feet broken and bound in order to attain the agonizing ideal of supposedly physical perfection. The sad part about this matter is that as recent as the period during the Communist revolution of the forties and fifties, foot binding was still being practiced.

Foot binding first started out as a practice among wealthy Chinese ladies seeking to attain a suitor. It was felt that in order to ensure a secure marriage and future, young girls needed to break the bones in their feet and then have them bound. The main reason here is that while the girls are still young, the bones are soft and break more easily. Bound feet were seem as a status symbol and the only way for a woman to marry into money and fame. Young girls were matched up with wealthy families and the number one requirement was that the young girl would be required to have small feet. Basically, what happened is that once a young girl's toes were broken, the toes were then bounded underneath the sole of the foot with bandages. By having the arch of her foot broken, this would force the toes and heel ever closer together. How painful this must have been!

As recent as seven years ago, there were still approximately 300 women with bound feet in some remote villages. One of the survivors, named Shou Guizhen is now a fragile 86 year old that was born into a rich family and married into fabulous wealth. Today, she regrets ever committing herself to this self-humiliating ritual of foot binding. Unable to move around freely and walking in an awaked position, she knew that in order to seek out a husband, she would have to submit to this painful experience. These small feet were often called "golden lotuses", especially among those who had foot fetish cravings. These hobbled feet served as another erogenous zone for many of the Chinese men.

It was difficult for the women to wash their feet because the bandages that were used to wrap them were approximately 10 feet long. In addition, the feet were washed once every two weeks, so one can imagine the stench that emanated from the feet. There is the story of one young Chinese girl who described the procedure. She was betrothed to a wealthy family and in order to ensure her acceptance, her small feet were broken. She relates how for more than two years her mother would clean and wrapped her small feet several times daily as it oozed puss daily. She described how difficult it was to sleep at nights and she would cry out in pain.

At the end of two years, her small feet or "three inch lotuses" began to heal but as she related in her writings, they looked like large dead caterpillars. And as a result, she was scarred for life. This foot binding ritual deepened female subjugation and made them more dependent on their men, restricting their movement, enforcing chastity, and finally made them incapable of wandering very far from their homes. The ironic part about this foot binding is that this type of torture was accepted among poor peasant girls in the countryside who hoped to improve their dismal futures

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