Bound feet in China

Yesterday your correspondent received an email with the below photographs attached: a series of very compelling images capturing remnants of the old Chinese practice of foot binding. After a cursory attempt to find an original source for these photos I only found this blog post. If anyone has anymore information about these photos, please share.

Photos below:






There are currently 39 Comments for Bound feet in China.

Comments on Bound feet in China


"Bound feet" is also known as "3 Inches Golden Lotus Feet", refers to the popular or standard size: 3"

Hong Kong's TVB recently aired a story about "Last Village of Bound Feet Ladies in Yunnan" in its program "On the Road" season 3 (in Cantonese language). It is the second story/video, hosted by Angie Chiu.

The founder of the blog seems to find these pictures cool in someway. I don´t find it cool at all, Just a tragic episode in chinese history.

She doesn't look old enough to have bound feet, a practice that became unpopular during 1920's and 30's. Even most 80 year olds don't have bound feet.

There's actually not a lot of good sources on footbinding, just a lot of sensationalist crap in both English and Chinese.

The one book I would highly recommend however is Dorothy Ko's latest Every Step a Lotus.

Footbinding may have died out in the cities in the 30s, but in the countryside it took a bit longer. I would imagine that even in the early 50s some people out in the boonies were binding feet.

Whatever. I first saw these photos in 2007 when they were posted on the BBS Taitaibang; the post was entitled 三寸金莲. Where they actually originated was not explained. Most women with bound feet are extremely shy about them--they are a nexus of shame and sexuality. Somehow I do not think the women who allowed her feet to be photographed next to a pack of Hongtashan did not expect to used in such a crass manner.


The 5th photo only shows an empty shoe next to the pack of Hongtashan, and it's not one of the red shoes worn by the old woman in the previous 3 photos.
Footbinding lasted for over 1000 years in China. Indeed one could call the founder of this exotic erotic tradition, Song dynasty prince Li Yu, the original "Chinabounder"

Looks NSFW or particularly disgusting.

Okay, but shouldn't the pictures be after the jump, instead of before, with an adequate warning? It really is disgusting how the woman's feet are cleft into two parts; it's reminescent of an unhealed machete wound.


@Richard, you have such good taste.

Why not show some pictures of what eunuchs look like?

It seems only the bizarre, the cruel, and the negative aspects of Chinese culture get aired here.

Sounds like a biased approach to China.


FTA: Zhou Guizhen who is 86 years old, shows one of her bound feet where the bones in the four small toes were broken and forced underneath the foot over a period of time, at her home in Liuyi village in China’s southern Yunnan Province, 23 February 2007.

@ fred

Why so sensitive? I didn't see this post as "porn" or "exploitation." While I'm sure this woman did not know that her photos would be posted here, but this is a reality. Sometimes reality isn't always pretty and foot binding is a very real part of Chinese history.

These things shouldn't be avoided, much less seen as being "biased" to China. I suppose you'd rather there be photos of happy, rosy-faced children hopping around saying "Go Olympics! Go China!". 虚伪...

I'm pretty sure these photos are from Agence France Presse. We use their Image Forum website at work, and I've seen these photos on that site previously.

foot binding back in the day was a form of erotism. where the female was a dainty flower to be easily moved by men. her feet represented a cruel form of sado-masochism in which she was essentially a slave and beautifl doll for the male to play with when married. girls as young as 3-4 yrs were arranged to be wed by the age of around 12-15 yrs. they typically had the mother and grandmother hold her down as they used a large board and hammer to break the foot and shape it into a small crevice of a shoe. the bound foot eventually grew into this shape over the years. typically they had to be rebroken over and over again to keep its shape. this was essentially a gift to the husband who also held onto several concubines as his playthings. his wife and concubines were his dolls for him to play with anytime he wanted.

Does anyone get turned on by those feet?

Re Yan Xishan's response to Bill: I was in a village in the west of Shanxi seven or eight years ago when a doctor, who had temporarily adopted me in a motherly sort of way because I was the only foreigner in a large group of visitors, suddenly nudged me and whispered: "look at her feet!" So I looked at the old woman's feet and they were tiny. I was amazed that someone could still be suffering the results of a tradition I thought had died out beore this woman was old enough to have her feet bound. And I was also amazed that this should have continued so long in the countryside where surely women had to be mobile enough to do all the extra hard work that women are usually expected to do. But there they were - her tiny feet.

One of the things that strikes me (again) about this set of pictures is how closely this woman's naked foot mirrors the shape of shoes that women East and West still willingly torture themselves with.

It's Liuyi Village, in Tonghai, Yunnan. I passed by it on the road, not far from the city central.

that is disgusting!!!

Bill --

I just saw a few women with bound feet about three years ago. One was in Jinghong, Yunnan, and the others were at the big temple (I forget the name) in Kunming. That was my second trip to Yunnan, and the first time I went there, in 2001, I saw a few women with bound feet as well. I saw one woman in 2001 who I'd estimate was only in her sixties. Just like another person said, although the government tried to eliminate footbinding, they couldn't get the message or enforce the law in remote areas -- the same way the government can't enforce laws about keeping girls in school in really remote places either. Another thing to remember is that once a girl's feet are bound for a certain amount of time (I don't know how long), they're just unfixable. The damage is done and can't be reversed. Even if foot binding was eliminated in her village, it might have been too late for her.

I stiil cant imagine how the guys found that attractive!!!!!! Did they ever have time to see how they realy looked!!!

This is a really informative documentary site, from the perspective of the actual women:

not erotic at all, just simply disgusting!

I think that this bounding should not be even been happening. That is uncalled for.

I have a serious problem with all of the folks here who's main concern is how "disgusting" it is. That is clearly superficial and uncalled for judgement simply based on imposing your own cultural aesthetics on someone else and making their's taboo.

To them this is beautiful and other cultures a long neck has this effect and to some today gigantic fake breasts are erotic. Nothing's WRONG with them finding these things beautiful or erotic and be certain that somewhere in the world there is a culture that finds disgusting what you find attractive.

What is wrong is the fact that these women were more or less tortured and that the effects will never be recovered from. It is sad that many of them felt that they didn't have another option as society would not allow them to marry freely or that they would be ostracised and scorned.

This is no different from women today who feel the need to starve themselves skinny, doing great damage to their bodies for the sake of a western image of beauty and the hope to get the "best" life and husband and to avoid the mental scarring that comes along today with accusations of being "fat".

well, maybe this could help. I found the author of the images: link

I strongly recommand "Snow Flower and the secret Fan" by Lisa See. Here it speaks of a compelling tale between two laotongs- sworn sisters, bound feet and nushu - woman's secret writing which comes in the form of 1500 characters.

I am an ignorant Chinese teenager girl, but I do know that life in China before the 21th cen was hard. A plague can wipe away entire villages at the speed of lightning and girls are deemed as 'water thrown out' or in other words worthless.
Prejudice behaviour against females are still commonly practised, for example the elite society in hong kong. Sons are treated much better than daughters.
Sons carry the family line on, therefore are highly valued.

These cannot compare with the only instance of bound feet I saw in Taipei around 1970: the lady was very old and hobbled with a cane on bound stumps that were just three inches long.

The tradition 4 sons and all that is seriously stupid-- in this day and age!!! I even remember this saying when I was a kid-- the saying 男子汉大仗夫。。。 and all that.

I'm glad now that there is a female/male imbalance issue which has abated (some what)this traditional preference 4 sons. Also do not forget about progression and modernization of urban places, which are things that also have lead to the lessening of this preference. (Should we also give a little bit credit to the evil socialist/communists?)

Hurray 4 humanity and progressiveness!

(dude, shouldn't I represent since I'm a male?)

you say how did men like it? well maybe in a thousand years time people will be like omg how did en like big breasts and stuff like that, im sure there was the odd an back then that didnt like bounded feet. i loks so painfull.i read smewhere this lady whose feet where bound ever now an again her feet would still hrt even now and she couldnt put her feet on the floor bless her

From what I understand not all women had their feets bound? Only people who are well-off, as this was a sign of higher status--some of it no doubt due to the implication of not working in the "field."

I just want to point out that the majority of Han Chinese woman and male prostitutes had their feet bound. The ruling class and ethnic minorities did not bind their feet.
Also, the toes and arches were not broken. They were strapped into that shape while the bones were young and still forming.

I know someone else has recommended this book, but to truly understand the tradition in simple language, read Lisa See's "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan". TERRIFIC story - fascinating. I'm currently reading Lisa See's "Peony in Love" and while it touches on footbinding, Snow Flower goes into more detail.

In absolutist terms, it IS disgusting; in relativist terms, it is among the disgusting things a culture can do to its individuals---usually the less fortunate 50%.

I remember it's Lu Xun who first observed that in a male-dominant society, women would be obliged to "always do something to their feet, either wrap them tightly into dumplings, or use a pair of small pillars to prop them away from Mother Earth". With the latter he's referring to high heels.

In old China, marriage was arranged the parents, who were not concerned about a bride's sexual attractiveness. Foot binding is often explained in terms of Confucianism, but there are many examples of Confucian scholars who argued that foot binding disrespected parents by mutilating the body they gave you. If you compare to Western culture, shoes and high heels are a big focus of female fashion attention, but not many men use the phrase, "Wow! How about those shoes!" when explaining an attraction. Men want to see long hair and short skirts. Feet? Not really an issue.

Foot binding created a daughter in law who would be a docile servant for her mother in law, someone who would stay at home all day spinning yarn or whatever. Expensive or otherwise extreme fashion is generally for well-off women, but all classes in old China practiced foot binding. Peasant families would not have adopted the practice unless there was an economic advantage.

While this was going on in China, western women were binding their torsos, and internal injuries were not uncommon, though recognition and treatment of them were.

Elderly western ladies who have always worn high heels can't stand flat-footed on the ground, their tendons are shortened. Their feet are not very pretty, either.

Today the norm in America are shoes that used to be seen only in fetish magazines. What will the feet look like, of the women who wear 6 inch stilettos all the time?

To the person who was displeased because he thinks that mentioning history makes China look bad, it is not about China, it is about collective choices societies make, about the relationship between gender and culture.

What was that old blogger's name, who used to say "every man believes that his country has the most beautiful women, and his culture the most superior methods of oppressing them"?

We used to have women with "lotus feet" in Melaka, Malaysia. However, if i am not mistaken the size of the feet of one of the last survivor is around 5 feet.

What happen now is that the only bound feet shoemaker in Melaka is turning those cute shoes as souvinir. You could click this link to read about bound feet practice in Melaka, Malaysia.
Bound Feet Practice in Melaka

Binding of feet is a tradition practiced since the Tang and Song dynasty. They bind their feet not only for beauty but because then, women were given arranged marriages. The parents of the woman pairs her up with a guy who is of great financial background. So, since birth, daughters have their feet bound so that when they are married, they are incapable of running away from the man they were married to. Also, women then could not have any dowry. It sucks then.. :|

Tang and Song dynasty- the two golden ages of China. Around the year 618.

I've only just really discovered this which is quite odd cuz foot binding became an actual identity for a woman and literaly created their female gender, but in most hollywood films etc that focus on eras of ancient china they always miss these things out. what has surprised me the most is how long it went for, 1000 years. after all that time it was bound to become part of the norm and i wouldn't even be surprised if back then men actaully thought that women's feet were born like that. and plus, its not thier fault for they didnt have a choice, especially when you're only 4 years old. anyways, i stumped my little toe the other day and felt sick from the pain...i cannot imagine how that must of felt. i see it as a form of female imprisonment, which exists in EVERY culture (doesn't even have to relate to religion). speaking of which, i'm sick of plucking my eyebrows and epilating my legs and wearing high heels

ROCK ON PEOPLE, fight the system

It was introduced during the taiping rebellion against empress Cixi
it sybolizes aristocracy b/c tahtway, you could not work

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