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The Chinese Tradition of Foot Binding


Exposing bare, bound feet was unheard of in Chinese society; women were only to be seen wearing traditional "lotus shoes," seen to the right. This explains the unhappy look on this young woman's face. Hunter, Jane. (1)


"...However, since I couldn't talk, I had the leisure to watch the eighty or so women, all with their Manchu head-dresses or their knobby Chinese ones, their gay-colored garments, and some with tiny bound feet. My mind was fairly bubbling over with things to say, but instead I could only nod and smile like the funny little porcelain mandarins that bob on our mantels. But they seemed to understand."
--Alice Browne Frame, November 24, 1905 (3)


The unfortunate Chinese tradition of foot binding was one that, however severe and painful, was present for much of the country's history. The start of the practice can be traced back to 700 AD, and was not legally banned until 1911. (12)

Foot binding is said to have started as an indicator of Chinese class, but as time progressed, the tradition became more commonplace. Bound feet were a symbol of beauty in China, and finding a husband was deemed incredibly difficult for Chinese women whose feet were left unbound. (12)

Girls as young as toddlers were subject to the tradition of foot binding. The process involved wrapping tight bandages around the feet, preventing normal growth by literally breaking bones. Aside from severe and unnecessary pain, foot binding also presented a high risk of infection, paralysis and even muscular atrophy. (12)

It is therefore clear to see why this practice was appalling to missionaries who served in China in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many efforts were made to bring about a drastic social change that would wipe out foot binding entirely.


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This page was created by Rebekah Dutkiewicz '09 in History 283, Spring Semester 2006 -