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Chinese Foot Binding

The practice of foot binding, which was prevalent in China for over a thousand years, is a complex and multifaceted…

By Staff , in Historical Events in China , at July 6, 2024 Tags:

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The practice of foot binding, which was prevalent in China for over a thousand years, is a complex and multifaceted tradition with deep cultural and social implications.

Origins and Early History
10th Century Beginnings: The exact origins of foot binding are not definitively known, but it is widely believed to have begun during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period (907–960 AD). According to popular legend, the practice started with a dancer named Yao Niang, who bound her feet into the shape of a crescent moon to perform a dance for the emperor.
Song Dynasty Popularization: Foot binding became more widespread during the Song Dynasty (960–1279 AD). It was initially practiced among the elite but gradually spread to other social classes. The practice was seen as a symbol of beauty and status.

Cultural and Social Significance
Symbol of Beauty and Status: Bound feet, often referred to as “lotus feet,” were considered highly attractive and a mark of social status. Small feet were associated with femininity and delicacy, qualities highly prized in women.
Marriage and Social Mobility: Foot binding was often linked to marriage prospects. Women with bound feet were more likely to marry into wealthier families, as the practice was seen as a sign of discipline and high social standing.
Patriarchal Control: Foot binding was also a means of controlling women, limiting their mobility and confining them to the domestic sphere. It reinforced the patriarchal structure of society by making women more dependent on men.

The Practice
Process: Foot binding typically began when girls were between 4 and 9 years old. The process involved breaking the arch of the foot and bending the toes under, tightly binding them with cloth. This painful procedure would continue for years, gradually reducing the size of the feet.
Health Effects: The practice caused severe pain and long-term disabilities. Women with bound feet often suffered from infections, paralysis, and limited mobility.

Decline and Abolition
19th and Early 20th Century Criticism: By the late 19th century, foot binding began to face criticism both within China and from Western observers. Reformers and Christian missionaries highlighted the cruelty and health consequences of the practice.
Anti-Foot Binding Campaigns: Chinese reformers, including intellectuals and members of the Qing Dynasty, began to oppose foot binding. Anti-foot binding societies were established, advocating for the end of the practice.
Official Prohibition: Foot binding was officially banned in 1912 after the fall of the Qing Dynasty. However, the practice continued in some rural areas until the mid-20th century. The Communist government, which came to power in 1949, implemented strict measures to eradicate the practice.

Legacy
Cultural Memory: Today, foot binding is remembered as a symbol of both historical oppression and cultural identity. It serves as a reminder of the lengths to which societies can go in the name of beauty and tradition.
Academic Study: Foot binding is a subject of extensive academic study, with scholars examining its cultural, social, and psychological implications in a number of books.

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Aching for Beauty: Footbinding in China
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Cinderella's Sisters: A Revisionist History of Footbinding
  • Ko, Dorothy (Author)
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  • 360 Pages - 12/17/2007 (Publication Date) - University of California Press (Publisher)
Bestseller No. 3
Chinese Footbinding: The History of a Curious Erotic Custom
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  • Howard S. Levy (Author)
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Bound Feet, Young Hands: Tracking the Demise of Footbinding in Village China
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Bestseller No. 6
Footbinding as Fashion: Ethnicity, Labor, and Status in Traditional China
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  • Shepherd, John Robert (Author)
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