Foot binding is also known as “lotus feet”. This practice was to prevent the feet from growing. This custom originated from upper-court dancers during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms in Imperial China. As a result, this practice became popular in the Song Dynasty and had spread to all other social classes. Foot binding was a mean to show that you were wealthy. This custom was thought to be beautiful. The origin of foot binding began when Emperor Li Yu created a six-foot tall golden lotus that was decorated with both pearls and stones.
He asked his concubine Yao Niang to bind her feet in white silk into a crescent moon shape and performed a dance ballet-like on the points of her feet on the lotus. Her dance was very graceful so others decided to imitate her. The practice then replicated by upper-class women and spread throughout China. Thus becoming popular in during the Song Dynasty. Children ages four or five years old were made to bind their feet and deal with the intense pain. By the end of the Song dynasty, men would make a “toast to the golden lotus” by drinking a special made shoe containing a small cup in the heel.
Some would even drink from the shoe itself during the Yuan dynasty and lasted until the late Qing dynasty. By the 19th century, approximately 40-50% of women had bound feet and 100% of women from the upper-class. Bound feet was known as a mark of beauty due to its size of 3 to 4 Chinese inches long (approximately 4 inches long in western measurement) and was also a prerequisite to finding a suitable suitor. In the poorer class, the family would bind their eldest daughter’s feet and have her siblings work instead. Husbands, women, and families took pride in having small feet.
The walking on bound feet has necessity of bending the knees and swaying to keep balance and movement. This walk was very dainty but was considered erotic to some of the men. Western countries colonized China. The Western women opposed the idea of foot binding and built shelters in support of the afflicted Chinese women. After the Qing dynasty fell, the custom became unfashionable. The change in fashion suddenly had a turn. The girls who had their feet bound were abandoned by their husbands. In the bigger cities, people would catch women with bound feet and cut off their bindings.
This was considered a taboo and humiliation for these Chinese women because they never show and taken off their bindings in front of their husbands or to anyone. They had to endure all the pain and tears because of the process. The process was taken into effect at age 4 to 9 years old when the arch of the feet is not fully developed all the way. The binding took place during the winter months since the feet were likely to get numb, therefore the pain would not be too extreme. To start the process, each foot would need to be soaked in warm mixture of herbs and animal blood making the foot to soften and the binding.
The toenails would then be cut as far back as possible to prevent any in-growth bacteria and infections since the toes were to be folded underneath the sole of the foot. Cotton bandages were prepared and soaked into a mixture of herbs and animal blood. For the foot to be as small as possible, the toes on each foot would be pressed with great pressure downwards and squeezed in the sole of the foot until the toes broke. Thus the broken toes were held tightly against the sole of the foot while the foot was drawn straight down with the leg and the arch of the foot was forcefully broken.
The bandages were wound in a figure eight movement, starting at the instep, then carried over the toes, under the foot, and around the heel so that the freshly broken toes would be pressed tightly against the sole of the foot. At each pass around the foot, the cloth would pull the ball of the foot and heel together making the broken foot to fold at the arch. The cloth was wound very tightly that the girl could not move her toes and the endings were sewn together so that the girl cannot take it off or loosen it.
The girl would have to take care of her feet with extreme care and attention. Each time when the feet were to be unbound, they would be washed, would carefully check the toes for any type of injury and infection, and they would have to make sure the nails are cut. When unbound, their feet would need to be kneaded to soften them and the soles of the girl’s feet were often beaten to make the joints and broken bones more flexible. After going through this process, the girl’s feet must undergo an even tighter binding than before.
This binding and unbinding would have to take place at least once daily for the rich and for the poor two or three times a week with fresh bindings. Once a foot had been crushed and bound, to reverse it back is painful. The most common disease for foot binding was infection despite the attentive care. If the infection and toes entered the bones causing them to soften, which would cause the toes to drop off. Other health issues included paralysis and muscular atrophy. Foot binding has many health issues. The binding comes tighter when binding and unbinding.
The girls going through various sorts of pain and agony in breaking their toes in order to have small feet is not worth it. This all started due to the emperor’s words. This process led many young girls to ruin their lives to trotting in small shoes that they have to always balance themselves. They developed a weird way of walking that affected them sexually. Men in this era have very strange taste in how they want their girl. Although they thought foot binding was a beauty, I do not think so. It just the shoes that they wear that are small, pretty and cute.