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What Is Foot Binding?

An elderly woman with bound feet.
A pair of shoes for a woman with bound feet.
A group of girls with bound feet.
A map of China.
Article Details
  • Written By: Felicia Dye
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Images By: Anja Disseldorp, Ilumus Photography, Ralph Repo, Pavalena
  • Last Modified Date: 25 March 2014
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Foot binding is an ancient Chinese custom that involved forming the bones and flesh of a girl's foot into a shape often called the Golden Lotus. This shape makes the top of the feet appear narrow and pointed, similar to a crescent moon. This process was generally held in high regard for many centuries, but the practice faded in the 20th century. It is believed that the practice began to form the feet for dancing.

In Western countries, a bound foot is viewed as a deformity. Foot binding is connected to health effects that have been noted to last throughout life in some cases. It is widely reported that one of the main motives for the practice was to make a woman suitable for marriage. Without the specially shaped feet, women in China were generally considered unrefined and unattractive.

The procedure for foot binding generally involved tightly wrapping a strip of cloth that is similar to a bandage around the smallest toes and the rest of the foot. The big toes were likely to be the only parts of the foot that were free. The cloth was tightened daily to make the foot more slender and shorter. This process eventually broke the toes, and the tight binding raised the arches of the girls' feet.

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Foot binding required a high degree of care and attention to hygiene. It was common for the feet to swell, fill with pus, and smell bad. When unwrapped, the feet and any wounds that resulted from the tight wrapping were groomed. Women also had to have their toenails carefully cut. Ingrown toenails posed serious risks of infection.

Foot binding typically began between the ages of three and ten. The desired result was generally feet that were less than four inches long. Women with little, bound feet typically exhibited them in tiny, embroidered shoes with a wooden platform. Even once they had achieved their desired shape, they generally continued to bind their feet to maintain the form.

There are various theories about the exact origin of this practice. One legend places the beginning of the tradition in the 10th century. It is commonly held that foot binding resulted because of a Chinese ruler named Li Yu. One of his consorts, named Yao-niang, is said to have danced on a golden lotus pedestal with her feet wrapped in silk. Claims that Li Yu was overwhelmed with the beauty of Yao-niang’s dancing allegedly incited other ladies to imitate her. Eventually, foot binding was adopted as a fashion trend and became a part of the general Chinese culture.

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Discuss this Article

anon142616
Post 3

The process outlined above is a mild version of binding. If the girl was a little older when her feet were first bound, a more extreme form of binding would be used. For example, the girl's toes and arches would be broken, and then the foot was folded and the front of the foot was forced towards the heel. The girl would suffer extreme pain from this.

Once the foot was folded like that, the feet would be bound tightly, once again causing extreme foot pain. However much pain she was feeling, the girl was required to walk on her newly broken and bound feet, in order to grind and crush the foot bones even further. And that was just the beginning.

anon91715
Post 2

foot binding didn't fade. it was forbidden by China in 1911.

anon48907
Post 1

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