The Old Taboo Practice of Foot Binding in China

We hope you never experience the pain and suffering Chinese women had to go through in the past.

The practice of foot binding was alive and well just until 70 years ago, and that’s a scary thing to think about. Women had to bind their feet to be able to marry well, but what else did that bring them? Nothing but severe disability and feet deformity.

Only a few survivors remain today to tell the stories of girls as little as four years old breaking their feet for the sake of beauty and a potentially good life.

You’ll Bring Honor to Us All

Chinese traditional foot binding has a long history. There are numerous stories about the origins of foot binding, and they all involve women with feet so delicate that everyone wants to imitate them.

One of the most popular legends about this practice dates back to the 10th century, just before the Song dynasty. It is a story of a powerful emperor and his favorite concubine. The story says that he made a huge golden lotus, decorated with all sorts of gemstones and pearls. He then asked his concubine to bind her feet into the shape of a crescent moon and dance on the lotus. She did exactly that, and her dance was so graceful that other women wanted to imitate her. The name “golden lotus” for bound feet originates from here as well.

This practice first spread among upper-class women, and peasant women caught up later on. Everyone wanted to be as graceful and beautiful as the emperor’s concubine. Bound feet became a symbol of status and wealth.

Legend says that no woman with normal feet could get married; neither would men want a woman that doesn’t have lotus feet. All women are familiar with the concept of suffering for beauty in some way. However, nobody knows its true meaning as well as these Chinese women with bound feet did.

Thankfully, this practice is long gone, but survivors remain to tell their stories of the time a whole nation seemingly had a weird foot fetish.

The Process of Foot Binding

If this is your first time hearing about the taboo foot binding practice, you should know that it’s much worse than it sounds. The process is gruesome and painful. It just makes you think about the lengths women in China had to go to secure their future.

What did the process of foot binding entail? Find out here.

The process of binding began when girls were as little as four to nine years old. Their feet are not fully developed, which means they’re easier to manipulate.

Foot binding begins by soaking the feet to soften them. After that, toenails are cut as much as possible before the toes are tightly pressed against the sole of the foot. Yes, that causes the bones to break, and bandages help keep them in place.

Not only do the toes have to break, but so do the arches. They’re pulled together and bandaged tightly. Women would repeat this process every single day if they were wealthy or twice every week.

The Effects of Foot Binding

The effects of foot binding are terrifying, starting with numerous broken bones, the pain of which women had to endure daily until their feet went completely numb. Women would beat their feet, so the bones could break even more. This made it easier for the woman to manipulate the binding.

Having lotus feet was considered pretty, but Chinese girls weren’t able to walk because of them. They had to rely on other people for just about anything. This meant that they couldn’t work either. All they could do is sit at home and repeat their binding routine over and over again.

If you were poor, this could mean death for you and your family because you cannot work. Girls had to go through the same pain all over again. Imagine the suffering they had to endure.

One of the good effects of this horrible practice is marrying into a good family. Living a comfortable life is something everybody strives for. Families would order matchmakers to find women with tiny feet, and that’s how a young girl with lotus feet would get lucky.

The sad reality is that no matter how wealthy these girls ended up — this is still a tragic life to live.

How China Curbed This Age-Old Practice

At some point — during the 19th century, to be exact — Chinese people decided that it was time to put foot binding behind them. However, their primary reasons weren’t feminist in nature. Still, any reason to abolish a practice like this would be good enough.

Some of the reasons for ending this practice were better health and more efficient work (The disturbing reason for the ancient Chinese practice of foot-binding). Since women weren’t able to do anything, this was something they needed to change. People also thought that women with feet deformities gave birth to “weak sons.” All in all, this practice was a remnant of the past, and it was time for it to end.

At the beginning of the 20th century, everything began to shift. The government finally banned this practice. Everyone who continued binding their feet had to pay a fine. Plus, they had feet inspectors going to different regions to check if binding was still done.

Finally, this gave incredible results. Women no longer bound their feet, except for some who lived in rural areas. By the mid-20th century, this old practice reached its end. In 1999, the last lotus shoe factory shut down. We think that’s a wonderful start of the new century.

Final Words

Unfortunately, it seems that this practice died only in the middle of the 20th century. Until then, women had to suffer in order to have a better future.

This horrible practice is wrong for so many reasons, but who are we to judge the past? Foot binding was once seen as something desirable and worthy. It was a price of beauty many women had to pay. We could name a few things that people do nowadays that are quite similar but definitely less extreme.

We hope that nothing as terrible as this practice emerges ever again.