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Chinese Foot Binding

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Throughout history women have had to endure horrible things to be deemed beautiful. The ancient tradition of foot binding in China, however, takes the "beauty is pain" concept to a whole new level.

The Origins of Chinese Foot Binding

In the early 10th century, emperor Li Yu of the Southern Tang dynasty in China ordered one of his slave girls to bind her feet in silk ribbons and dance on a platform littered with golden lotus flowers. From that day on, foot binding was often associated with the term golden lotus. At first, foot binding was something practiced only by those within the royal court but soon women of all social classes were eager to have dainty, "beautiful" and desirable feet.

How Were Feet Bound?

So exactly what did foot binding do to the feet? Well, young girls would have their feet bound for the first time when they were about five years old. Their mothers would take long lengths of cloth and bind the feet so that the toes would bend under and the bones in the foot would break, forcing the front and back of the foot together, giving the appearance of a high arch and tiny foot. The ultimate foot was to be between three and four inches (about 10 cm) long. Over the course of about three years, a girl's foot would be broken numerous times to get it to the perfect shape.

Foot Binding Facts

  • Since foot binding made it virtually impossible for women to get around on their own, many peasant women did not bind their feet. They had to work in the rice fields, and later the tea factories, so they had to be able to use their feet.
  • Foot binding was seen as a sign of beauty and attractiveness. Once a girl was of marriageable age, prospective mother-in-laws would come around and pick a wife for her son by the appearance of the girl's feet.
  • Bound feet were thought to be so alluring because they were always hidden. Bound feet were covered in bindings, socks and shoes and then doused in perfume and scented powder. They were then hidden under layers of leggings and skirts.
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