Foot binding –
“the custom of binding the feet of young girls painfully tight to prevent further growth. The practice likely originated in the Southern Tang Dynasty in Nanking but spread to upper class families and eventually became common among all classes. The tiny narrow feet were considered beautiful and to make a woman’s movements more feminine and dainty. Although reformers challenged the practice, it was not until the early 20th century that footbinding began dying out, partly from changing social conditions and partly as a result of anti-foot binding campaigns.
Foot-binding resulted in lifelong disabilities for most of its subjects and some elderly Chinese women still survive today with disabilities related to their bound feet” – from Wikipedia.
Foot binding first appeared in the upper classes and nobility and it seems fairly clear that it was intended to show that the daughters of the wealthy would be free from manual labor; that their sole purpose was to serve their men, direct the household servants while doing no labor themselves. The practice spread to all classes over the centuries until some 50% of all Chinese women had their feet bound with virtually 100% in the upper classes. Women with bound feet were intended to be wives and concubines of men who could afford to have idle women around to serve them. Women with bound feet were unable to study at school or travel without servants and had to be carried for more than a very short journey. They became totally dependent
Bound feet were considered a mark of beauty and became a prerequisite to marriage; in vast areas of China no man would marry a women whose feet were normal. Poor families bound the feet of daughters hoping to arrange a future marriage for her into a wealthy household. Women and their families took great pride in their tiny feet – the ideal was the “Golden Lotus” – an overall length of three inches. That’s 3 inches!
Elegantly embroidered silk slippers and wrappings to cover the feet became de rigeur; walking on bound feet required walking on one’s heels with knees slightly bend, buttocks out, taking tiny steps to maintain balance. The walking gait was considered “dainty” and “enticing” to men. While Manchu women were forbidden to bind their feet by the Manchu emperor, they too wanted to emulate the gait of Han women. They began wearing shoes with a central block of wood underneath a thick wooden platform which gave them the “attractive” sway of bound feet.
Now, suffering for beauty is a concept familiar to most women, who have plucked, shaved, squeezed into 5″ heels or spine crushing corsets or surgically enhanced breasts and booties. Foot binding however is in a completely different category.
Foot binding began between the ages of 4 and 7. A strip of bandage ten feet long and two inches wide was wrapped tightly around the foot. The four small toes were broken and bent under the sole. The arch of the foot was bowed to make the foot shorter. Over perhaps a period of two years the bandages around the broken toes and heel were made tighter and tighter, shortening the distance between heel and toe, bending the arch until, in many instances, it broke.
The aftercare entailed a lot of work to keep the feet free from infection. Manicure and washing had to be done on a daily basis or the nails, if left to become too long, would cut into the sole of the foot leading to infection and possible gangrene. The binding had to be monitored also as if it was too tight circulation would be cut off again leading to gangrene. Many girls and women died due the lack of after care and infections The feet would be massaged and hot and cold compresses given in order to relieve the pain and help with circulation and corns would be cut off with a knife.
Chinese women always kept their feet covered in the dainty silk shoes and many would care for their feet only when completely alone. The never seen tiny feet became objects of eroticism, bordering on fetish for many Chinese men, which only encouraged the practice.
It was not until the 20th century that the voices of educated Chinese women and Western missionaries called for an end to the practice. Chinese families opposed to foot binding formed societies and clubs and made contractual agreements with each other, promising, in this time of arranged marriages, an infant son in marriage to an infant daughter who did not have bound feet.
The Chinese Republic under Sun Yat Sen banned foot binding with little effect outside of the major cities. The Japanese conquerors banned it in Taiwan in 1915.
When the Communists took power in 1949, they were able to enforce a strict prohibition on foot-binding, including the isolated areas deep in the countryside where the Nationalist prohibition had been ignored. The ban remains in effect today.
Within a couple of generations a cultural norm which had been practiced for a thousand years has been eradicated. It took great cultural change and a commitment from those desiring to see it end. But it ended. Today a few elderly women in China are still living with bound feet. The only factory that still made the tiny shoes announced two years ago that it was closing and sending the shoe trees to a museum.
Which brings us to the abhorrent cultural practice of female genital mutilation. It is routinely practiced in Egypt, Yemen, the horn of Africa and large parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Those who believe that FGM cannot be ended in the countries where it is routinely practiced as a cultural norm need to embolden their efforts and find new approaches to convince the population that mutilation of female genitals needs to go the way of foot binding.
Here at home many populations routinely travel back to the home country as “tourists” or to “visit family” in order to carry out the procedure on their daughters which is banned in the West. We need to do more to prevent the violation of laws of child abuse. It won’t be easy. But as the demise of foot binding illustrates: It is possible.
as a follow up to:
the truth : caxigalinas.blogspot.com