Foot Binding in China

Suffering for Beauty – Photos of Chinese Footbinding


The barbaric practice of Chinese footbinding began in the 10th century sometime during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and ended over a thousand years later.

Foot binding was practiced on young girls usually six years of age and younger.

Feet were wrapped in tight bandages and broken so they couldn’t grow. Foot binding was generally practiced by wealthy families, as only wealthy families could afford to have the women of the house not at work. It was a sign of prestige, beauty and wealth.

Eventually, foot binding moved from wealthy city families to women in the countryside, where women realized they could marry into money by having these prized three inch feet. For centuries, women suffered terrible pain in the hopes of having a better future.

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, February 2007.

Villages in China where women with bound feet survive are increasingly rare but the millennium-old practice nevertheless took almost four decades to eradicate after it was initially banned in 1911.

To bind feet, feet were first soaked in a warm bowl of herbs and animal blood, which caused the dead flesh to fall off.

Toe nails were cut back as far as possible to prevent ingrown toenails and infection.

Silk and cotton bandages were dipped in the solution and were wrapped tightly around the feet after the toes were broken.

Four toes on each foot were broken and folded under. The big toe was left intact. Feet were bound so tightly that even short distances were unable to be walked.

The bandages became tighter after drying. While drying, the toes were forced down and inward. Sometimes cuts were made in the sole of the feet to make the binding process easier.

Most foot binding was done during the winter months, when it was thought the cold would numb the pain.

The wrapping process was repeated every couple of days with fresh bandages. Each time, the bandages were pulled even tighter, causing excruciating and long lasting pain.

In 1912, the Chinese government ordered the cessation of foot binding. Women were ordered to unwrap their feet. Failure to do so resulted in heavy fines and in some cases, death.

When the Communists came into power in 1949, they too ordered a nation wide ban on foot binding.

This was especially devastating to women with bound feet because most of them were forced to perform hard physical labor in the 1950’s.

According to the American author William Rossi, who wrote The Sex Life of the Foot and Shoe, 40 percent to 50 percent of Chinese women had bound feet in the 19th century. For the upper classes, the figure was almost 100 percent.

The ideal foot was three inches in length. Three inch feet were called golden lotuses. Feet that were between three and four inches in length were called silver lotuses.

These pictures were emailed to me. I had to do an Internet search to find the photographer. I believe the professional photographer who took these photos is Michael Yamashita, and I would love to confirm photographer credit.

This article is one of my most-read posts on MSW, having been read and shared more than 24,900 times since I wrote it.

I’ve been waiting to confirm this information since I wrote this article in 2007. If you have information on the photographer, please do let me know if I have his name correct and if I can point to his website. 

***It’s interesting to note that also used this exact same images in 2017 and did not give photographer credit.

I wrote this article after reading Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth and several of Lisa See’s novels, including Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love. The topic has fascinated me since 2004. Most of my research was done through these books and through a few external resources, including some new resources that I’ve listed below for further interest in this subject.

Additional Resources on Foot binding:

Primary Resources in 2006:

Additional Resources After My Article Was Written in 2007

Survivor of the Ancient Practice of Foot binding Shares her Story

I'm a chronically ill Canadian who has been living in Taiwan since 2006. I'm a bit of a jack of all trades! I love art, gardening, flower arranging, reading (that's an understatement if you've seen my GoodReads profile), and snuggling with my cats. Animal videos make me cry. I hate cooking. Nothing makes me happier than seeing my garden bloom! Learning about new cultures and exploring the world has been my thing since I started traveling at age 19. A self-professed autodidact, I can speak comfortably on many different subjects and hold a special place in my heart for science, technology, law, health and medicine, and history. You can find me nerding out at home most of the time due to being chronically ill and housebound. If I'm not engaged in one of the activities listed above, I'm probably building websites. Check my About page under Carrie Kellenberger to learn why I'm taking you on this journey with me through My Several Worlds. I can't wait to get to know you better!


    • Grace

      You are so right it is EXTREMELY disturbing. I hate to think about all those chinese women who had to suffer and live a life of agony!

    • Rufus

      It’s not really about suffering for beauty, but rather keeping the women immobalized. If you can only take a few steps at a time, you can’t walk, or run away.

  • Lisa Bettany

    crazy. i can’t imagine the suffering. i would be interested to know the pictured woman’s perspective… i will go check out the article.

  • Josambro

    Well done, and painful pictures. I’d like to point out here, and not without some small sense of pride, that my adopted peeps here in China, the ??? (hakka, or ‘guest people’) are alone among the Han in that, even back in the day, they had no use for terrible rituals like foot-binding. Some might say it was because they were ahead of the curve in China’s march towards ‘????’ (equality of the sexes), but I suspect that it was something more along the lines of plain old practicality, for which the Hakka people are well known. “If you have a wife with bound feet,” I think the logic might have gone “how can she do farm-work, or walk to the store to get more melon seeds and baijiu when you run out while your friends are over gambling?”

    Excellent Blog.


  • knitplaywithfire

    The one good thing that can be said about the regime of Mao is that he was able to finally outlaw the tradition of foot binding. The Communist government was more successful than previous regimes in this. Although forcing the women to work in the fields was cruel. There is a book out here about the tradition. I am thinking it is called “Golden Lotus” but I am not 100% sure. I bought it a few years ago and read it and passed it on to some one. To look at an x-ray of a bound foot is to really see the damage done to the foot.

    Every culture has it ideal of beauty and this was the Chinese ideal for several generations. Look at the Western ideal of beauty right now of super skinny women who look like boys.

  • donna big feet

    Wow, fascinating look into the mysterious ancient practice of footbinding. It’s like voyeurism to actually get a chance to see what is stuffed into that little shoe. Thank you for the posting.
    To get an understanding of the extent to which women were still able to work and move about, readers might want to check out Feng Jicai’s novel The Three-Inch Golden Lotus. The women who suffered the bound feet were actually proud of their feet, and they were envied by those whose mothers or grandmothers did not have the fortitude to “tough out” their beloved daughter’s cries and suffering for the end result of successfully bound feet.
    Although our culture does not practice this seemingly cruel custom, we too celebrate small feet, do we not? We hear ladies “complaining” that they cannot find shoes to fit their tiny size 4 feet… but never will a women with size 11 feet bemoan the shortage of shoe options in her size… that’s too embarrassing, right?

  • claire the cat

    very disturbing pictures. it makes me wonder (although this can be very trivial) about my feet. i have chinese lineage, speak a bit of hokkien, and have really big feet (size 9) compared to filipinas around me who are mostly size fives. and yet, at this day and age, i still wish i have smaller feet because i couldn’t find shoes that fit me.

    interestingly, the design of those shoes for footbinding are now being appropriated by fashion designers in even welcomed by the fashion industry. i now see shoes patterned after those lotus shoes and i’m amazed at how such symbol of cruelty against women can be appropriated now for commercial reasons. just wondering…

  • Thoth Harris

    Hey Carrie,
    Yeah, disturbing indeed. The photos are beautiful, but the feet themselves are, well, most definitely not. I nearly gagged. I could not look at it for more than a little less than a quarter of a second. And that’s pretty impressive, considering I am fascinated, etc. by the weird, twisted, perverse, etc.
    Imperial China was ridiculous. (Not that I’m denying many similar things about present day PRC China). Have you seen Yimou’s Curse of the Golden Flower?

    • Fresssiari

      Okay, imperial china was sorta ridiculous, but PRC China is perfectly fine. Well without facebook. but still, it’s not like North Korea O.O

  • globetrotteri


    It’s good to hear from you! I’ve missed your posts about Taiwan. I hope things are going well for you back home. I can’t claim credit for these photos. I can only say that I’m glad that the ancient practice of footbinding has been banned. I can’t imagine the pain these women went through. Imperial China is fascinating. I am continuously amazed and fascinated by the stories I’ve read.

  • Betty Booplicious

    Man! that’s so…sad! deform your body like that… I can’t imagine how much that transformation must hurt!

  • C Herrington

    I found your blog because I was looking for pictures of foot binding.

    I will admit that on one level, I see the absurdity of the ancient practice of foot binding, and my initial reaction, from as long as I can remember knowing that the practice existed, has always been to grimace and turn away. But when I saw these pictures, in consideration of the full context, I found them surprisingly beautiful. The pain and suffering of the now banned practice aside, I see some amount of pride in the face of this woman. Can we step inside her experience of this practice and understand the value of it for her and her family?

    Might I suggest that we look at this practice from an objective perspective, in the way that a Cultural Anthropologist would? The role of an anthropologist is to take a piece of culture, like the practice of foot binding, and step outside the confines of one’s own cultural understanding and interpretation, and try to understand the cultural practice and its relationship to the entire context of living in a particular community at a particular time in history. We should ask: how does this practice relate to this community’s religion, science, economy, politics, art, health, technology and history? In this instance, foot binding must be understood only through the lens of a very local and temporal situation, and to fully understand and respect the practice, we must be careful to not use our own specific and limited cultural understandings of beauty, pain, marriage relationships, family, social status, individuality and independence to interpret the value of this cultural practice.

    Foot binding is not the only example of a difficult, unfamiliar cultural practice that asks us to stretch our understanding and comfort level about what is “right” and what is “wrong” or what is “good” and what is “bad.” The question of whether a practice should be allowed to continue on, or whether an outside group should intercede to stop a practice is one that is morally and ethically challenging, or at least it should be a challenging question, in my view. Whose values should be used to decide if a practice is right and good?

    Thank you for your blog. I think the pictures are really well done – kudos to the photographer. And, thank you for the opportunity to share an alternative perspective about this cultural practice.

  • Warmwooligan

    After just finishing Lisa See’s new book Peony in Love, I wanted to learn more about foot binding and other aspects of mid sixteenth century Chinese culture. These photos and description were absolutely amazing. What pain these young girls must have endured and what incredible risk for infection during the protracted destruction of the bones, skin, nails and overall stunting of the growth of the foot. How could the pain be inflicted upon a child, or even explained to a child, by a mother? I understand that it was expected by the society of the times, but how does a parent do something that will be so excruciating to their own child no matter the reason? That is something I don’t know how to come to terms with.

  • Jenny

    Am I the only one who sees the similarity between these feet that have been bound and the high heels that are in vogue, right now…the shape is the same. Heels are considered “sexy” and women can not walk well in them either! Just when we have come so far, ore fashion comes from what a man feels is beautiful. It makes me sad to think of what these young girls went through (in ancient China), but now we are letting our young girls think that wearing high heels, and showing (fake) breast etc is also the answer of how to get a man.

    • Ihavea Braintoo

      It is hugely, blatantly obvious that the underlying fetish has not changed, and the idea of–and willingness to accept–suffering for beauty is alive an cherished by and for women who have been so steeped in it from birth that they think nothing of wearing shoes so high, so damaging that they are painful and dangerous to walk in for even a few hours. It’s impossible to run or move up and down stairs or uneven ground quickly and safely. (Sound familiar?) Is that considered a problem? No, indeed; the higher, the sexier. If your footprint would be 3-4 inches long, you would be wearing the pinnacle of sexy shoes. (Check the 2016 fashion shows where the woman is wearing knee high boots that force her whole body to lean forward, and arch her back as though in a chair tipped far forward…but without the chair. The “vulnerability” of the pose was given as the reason they were sexy shoes. They were hideous.) “Kitten heels” are for those too young or weak-willed to wear what is really sexy and adult. If you are literally standing on the front half to one third of the balls of your feet, with toes crushed into a toe shaped like a dagger point, girl you are HOT. Puke.

  • Just a guy...

    I first encountered one of these pics through and then, in disbelief, did a search on google and found this blog. This is astounding to me, yes, and… I am hoping that the reported national ban has been effective.

    I did not, admittedly, read all of the comment posts but warmwooligan’s post caught my attention with the mention of mothers. I was recently confronted with yet another detailed description of female genital mutilation. This practice is still widely practiced today. Not in a hospital and sometimes with generations old blades and even broken glass as the ritual device used to remove all or part of a girl or woman’s clitoris and sometimes even including the labia minora and part of the labia majora. It is happening today.

    I am absolutely lost as to how to process this as a male in 2007. These travesties are more than I can even understand.

    • noturmom

      I actually thought the same thing about female genital mutilation. Crazy! With 2 daughters, I just can't imagine telling them that this is good for them. Wow.

  • man from mars

    Foot binding is out of vogue, but do you know what’s new and improved?

    Yes, breast implants, aligning teeth, piercings, tattoos, fake nails, liposuction, circumcision, hair transplant, nose job, face lift . . .

    • desertshrink

      I find it refreshing that someone else thinks that “female genital mutilation” is alive and well in the U. S. I guess because anesthesia is used, it is no longer barbaric…

  • AK

    Women have indeed suffered much at the hands of men who wished to exert their dominance in the household, and suppress women’s rights to education and sexual freedom. We should learn from these horrific past examples (the foot binding, the genital mutilation, and others) and make certain we don’t repeat them in the future.

    Unfortunately, I think Western culture still resembles these old oppressive cultures too closely. Sure, we don’t bind women’s feet here, but do we not impose other equally impossible and painful standards? Like the Chinese women who are proud of their bound feet, we have women who are proud of their deathly thin bodies. Women suffer from eating disorders to meet the expectations of beauty held by our society. There is still this obsession with the superficial–women have freedoms, but instead of going to school to become doctors or businesswomen, many women spend their time agonizing over their weight and makeup in the hopes of catching a doctor or businessman for a husband.

    Our society, in many ways, is no better than imperial China. I say this only as a warning that we continue to move forward away from female oppression, because in my opinion we could easily fall backwards and lose any progress we’ve made.

  • Christel Mayer

    Reading Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, I first read detailed descriptions by the author of footbinding and it’s social significance.
    How grotesque to think that men would go to the extent to cover up the sadism and torture of footbinding with the pretense of beauty and erotic pleasures. Disgusting!
    As long as we women do not feel completely comfortable with our beautiful, natural bodies, without the applications of make ups, surgeries and weight adjustments, we are still a vulnerable lot.
    Be courageous and love the way you look women just as men are with their many flaws.
    All you need is a healthy self esteem.

  • Lady Helen of Alderaan

    eating disorders I don’t think should be put in the same category as foot binding- they’re a mental illness.

  • jessica

    YIKES! I mean I read wonderfully delightful books about girls who have sisters with bound feet and the description is gruesome. I am still proud to say I’m chinese. I never knew it was that tiny! Elderly woman who have bound feet now cannot unwound the ties, because they’ve gotten so used to the pain it would be even more painful to take the bandages off. I am a 13 year old chinese american and proud of it. (:

  • mlee

    We should all expand our minds about foot binding. Yes, it was painful, but so were my braces! I remember my teeth were always extremely sore after each time new wires were put on them, sometimes to the point where I couldn’t sleep. Think about the high heels that women wear today, which can disfigure their feet. Bound feet was something women were proud of, something they worked hard for. The Qing government, at various times, tried to outlaw the practice, but it persisted. The Nationalist tried and failed as well. It only fell out of fashion during the second quarter of the 20th cen. due to Western pressures (mainly missionaries and popular sentiment which wanted to “civilize” the world) and the adoption of their ideals by the ruling elite. And it was men that led organizations against foot binding. There are many accounts of women going into hiding when officials went into villages to enforce foot binding laws. It was an invasion into the women’s very private “inner” lives (there was a very distinct ideal for the “inner” and “outer” lives of women in premodern Chinese society). It was mostly the women that were holding on to the time-honored tradition! Before we criticize something as “disturbing,” barbaric, or cruel, we should lean about the other culture, it’s history; and be more insightful about the disturbing, barbaric, and cruel practices within out own cultures.

    Also from my own research, I don’t believe the toes were actually “broken.” X-rays which exist of bound feet don’t support this theory. The way the foot was tightly bound over years determined its final shape, which obviously rearranged the natural bone structure.

    • Ihavea Braintoo

      Just because we realize that people work with what they have and within the constraints they suffer to find dignity and social standing, doesn’t mean that this was truly voluntary. I means that, like any situation in which one is trapped by another who becomes the main or only source of comfort, etc., you develop a culture-wide “Stockholm Syndrome”. You internalize the oppressors’ standards, identify with them, and make their beliefs and values your own.You survive and find a way back to self-esteem however you can. In doing so, these women who were permanently trapped and oppressed, took what little freedom they had–in their own MINDS–and personalized it by adding details they felt were artistic (quality and style of the bound foot and process of binding, rituals and music associated with them), relationship-oriented (making a chance for a better life for your daughter, transforming oneself from plain to exceptional, etc., loving your daughter enough to resist her piteous cries and give her good little lotuses, etc.) and so on. An entire women’s culture surrounding the practice. But was it oppression? YES! Should we dignify the practice and the suffering it entailed, while we are appreciating their will to survive, express themselves, and count for something more than “son-making” vessels? NO.

    • Ihavea Braintoo

      BTW, the bones were sometimes broken, and they were ALWAYS severely dislocated. The process was every bit as agonizing as it looks to be, and resulted in extreme arthritis in old age. Gangrene often resulted, and about 10% or more of the girls died in the process.

      The resulting foot suffered from fungus and other infections due to constant pressure, moisture and rubbing for the woman’s entire life. The feet stank by bedtime each night. Occasionally adult women had late complications that were life-threatening.

      Women could no longer stand without their bindings because the weight on the foot would press the foot outward and be severely painful; the toes would roll and drag under the foot, and be injured, and the woman’s ability to balance was gone.

      When footbinding was outlawed and young women were forced to unbind recently bound feet or those still in process, walking without the bindings was as painful as finishing the process and it was too late to avoid being crippled.

      The women with the tiniest feet literally could not walk at all. One such famous beauty is pictured on the ‘Net in her chaise lounge. She was literally carried everywhere.
      I read 3 books on the subject after stumbling across photos like these.

      But of course it’s not just Chinese women who suffer for beauty, and have their ideas of health and beauty grossly distorted.

      You mind find it interesting that whole generations of European women–and I, as a nurse, can attest to having seen it–who wore heels all their waking lives can no longer walk flat-footed by late middle age. Their Achilles tendons are permanently shortened, so their toes and feet must be angled downward to walk at all.

      So you have little women bent over walkers, wearing high heeled 1940’s style bedroom slippers, falling and breaking their hips. Hooray for beauty.

  • rose

    oh. my. god. that is just totally disturbing. HOWEVER, heard about any of the horrors in England? y’know, we have our own sort of torture. its called plastic sugerey. and have you seen that thing where they do something to to your stomach so you can’t eat?! its as bad as that. if you want to lose weight, get the lettuce out.
    i also cannot believe that the women thought this was beautiful. sure, small feet are fine, but they just make me want to throw up – DISGUSTING.
    THREE-INCH FEET? it’s just freakish. god/evolution created us so we were effective machines, NOT so we could try and change ourselves.
    what’s beauty, anyway? those mums in china thought you weren’t beautiful if you didn’t have minuscule feet. a lot of people nowadays think you’re not beautiful if you’re not below a size ten. C-R-A-Z-Y, people. y’know, someday people will probably look at us and say, “flipping heck. look what that woman did to herself to acheive perfect beauty. she can’t eat without throwing up, her face is so tight she can scarcely smile.” guys, have we learnt NOTHING from Michael jackson?!?

  • Nik

    Hello Carrie! Would like to get in touch with you to see if there would be any options to get printable copies of some of your photos. Trying to help my girlfriend, graduating from Vienna university of applied arts, with her diploma covering a bit wider subject, which she named “The ugly truth about beauty”. Basically that is about some scary sacrifices women in the past and today are doing in the name of beauty. Among those are Karen-Padung long neck hilltribe people in Thailand, Mursi tribe lips strechers in Ethiopia, some other from the past and their today’s equivalent, the plastic sergery. Hope you wouldn’t mind giving a hand here.

  • Carrie

    Hi Nik,

    First off, thanks very very much for asking first. Most people don’t bother. Most of the photography you see here is mine, but I can’t claim credit for these photos. They belong to a photographer by the name of Michael Yamashita. His web address is located in the post and it’s linked in red.

  • Carrie


    I just finished reading Peony In Love by Lisa See and it had a fairly detailed description of the process of footbinding. I’m dying to get my hands on a copy of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. See is such an amazing author.

    • jennifer ballard

      I just started reading “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” and looked up foot binding. Amy See describes it very well but I had to look it up to see how close it was to reality. Unbelievable!!!! I highly recommend the book but this blog is the best that I’ve found. Carrie,thank you very much for your research. Sincerely,Jennifer

  • Alyshia

    I think this was a great post! Loved the pics! For those who disagree with this cultures idea of beauty back then, just remember, some day in the future someone is going to look back and ask why someone would dye their hair bleach blonde and cut them selves open for bigger breasts all in the name of beauty! To each their own! Lisa See has 2 books where she talks about foot binding… Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in love… Both excelent reads in my opinion. Thanks again for the info and the pics!

  • Andrea

    Great blog! While footbinding may seem weird, I don’t think it is any stranger than breast implants, nose jobs, liposuction, crash diets, the love for stick thin bodies, chemical face peels etc….The only differnce is that now we have pain killers filled with chemicals to help stop some of the pain. While I can’t imagine binding one of my daughters feet, it was a way for mother’s to help secure their daughter’s futer. Pain for beauty techniques will change in the future, but it will never go away. Before we condemn footbinding as a something so horrible and criminal, we should look at the present society we live in.

  • Andrea

    *sorry, difference, future, mothers with no ‘. lol. On another added note, I too finished Peony in Love and Snow Flower and the secret Fan, great books!

  • Cynthia

    Hello Carrie,
    I stumbled upon your blog because I too just read Peonly in Love and wanted to see some photos of the foot binding process. Did you enjoy that book? I loved, loved, loved it!!! The parts that covered foot binding made me squirm but still very enlightening about the culture. I had always assumed it was the men that perpetuated the practice and I was somewhat shocked to learn that it was the women themselves. They took great pride in their “lotus feet”. I am looking Lisa See’s other titles as well. Thanks for posting these photos.

  • Carrie

    Hi Alyshia,

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I’m glad you found my post informative and I completely agree with you and most of the other readers here who have commented that we are also suffering for beauty in this day and age as well.

  • Carrie


    Thanks for your comments. It looks like this post is also sparking some thought about Lisa See’s novel, Peony In Love. I thought the book was fantastic and I’d love to read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, but I haven’t been able to track it down in Taiwan yet. I might have to get it shipped from home.

  • Carrie


    Your comment about the footbinding process making you squirm hit paydirt. I could barely read those passages in the book, but continued in dreaded fascination. Peony in Love is an incredible novel. I think most people are under the misconception that men instigated the whole process of footbinding, but from all the accounts I’ve read, men were kept out of the process completely. It amazes me that mothers found the strength to do that to their young children in order to secure a better future. It’s horrifying. I can’t imagine who felt worse.

  • Marie

    My response is to Rose regarding her comments on dieting etc. “Get the lettuce out” was her comment regarding weight loss surgery. How ignorant is that! I was overweight all my life (morbidly obese was the term used) and finally when I was 35 I had gastric bypass surgery. This saved my life and was the best thing I ever did. I tried every diet and weight loss plan there was and could never keep the weight off. People who so flippantly say “quit eating” or “get out the lettuce” are as I said ignorant. It is far more complicated then that.

  • Alice

    I’m reading Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, and I get the idea that, though it was the women who did the footbinding, it was not their fault, they *had* to do it, so that their daughter could marry into any kind of life at all. The repression must have been staggering for the women–so many rules of obedience and rank and decorum. Remember the Third Sister in “Snow Flower” who was dying of infections from the foot binding, and they bound her back up anyway, because if they gave up on the foot binding, she’d be worthless and might as well be dead. Once it became the standard of beauty and a sign of a good suffering woman, the women had no choice. And of course they were proud of their feet–I would be too, if I went through all that, and it got me a good life, and my feet turned out “pretty”, and everyone envied me. But it is still a symptom of horrible repression.
    So of course men had to be the ones to end it. The women were powerless to do anything about it, since the men had created this standard to determine a woman’s worth, and men ran the show. The reason the women kept doing it was surely because it was still an advantage to the daughter, before the culture caught up with the new laws–the tiny feet would have still been preferred by desirable husbands until people got used to big feet not necessarily meaning you were from an extremely poor family.
    Our high heels and breast implants and makeup are a dim version of this, but foot binding is extreme because the repression was extreme, and the value of six year old girls as humans had to have been nearly nonexistent in that culture at that time for this to ever have begun at all.
    Btw, my feet are size 11. Maybe I had a botched foot-binding in a past life (like Lily’s mother), and said, never again! Gimme something to stand on! My mother (in this life, caucasian) joked she should bind my feet to keep them from growing any more (when they were about a size 9 or 10), and I got a sort-of freaked out feeling of the horror of it. LOL

  • Cassandra

    In Year 9 History (I am 15)we are studying footbinding, and as one of the tasks, we had to construct a collage of pictures of foot-binding. While searching for pictures, i came upon this site. Thanks for a great blog, by the way! It was very informative, and i read it with horrified fascination. I watched a documentary on footbinding, and was shocked by the pain and suffering women go through, all in the name of beauty.

    Yet today’s society does similar things for ‘beauty’. Plastic surgery, breast implants, braces to align teeth, high heels, body piercings… the list goes on. Remember corsets? There were women who had a corset on permanently, grossly disfiguring their bodies for a tiny waist. Organs were crushed and deformed, stopping them from doing their job. Is that not similar to foot binding?

    We all need to embrace who we are, and not worry about what other pople think of us. Inside beauty is what really matters.

  • Beth

    Alice, I had the same experience. My feet are 11 1/2 inches long! I have a firm foundation and a big understanding!

    The difference between foot binding & modern plastic surgery is that modern plastic surgery is a choice people make as adults. Foot binding was done to small children. Some died from gangrene and others were permanently crippled.

    I too just finished Lisa See’s book, Snowflower and the Secret Fan. Very enlightening tale of the culture of 19th century China.
    It makes me want to read more of her books!

  • Jillian

    Excuse me, C Herrington, pain is *not* cultural. Beth’s point, that modern plastic surgery is a choice adults cam make as opposed to the footbinding imposed on small girls, is well taken.

    What a coincidence – I just finished Lisa See’s book Snow Flower and the Secret Fan too! I’ll be interested to hear what my book club has to say about it. I’m starting her Peony in Love now.

    Thanks for this very informative, if disturbing, blog. I couldn’t really *see* (in my mind’s eye) how the golden lilies looked till I saw these photos. I must admit that I had a hard time looking at them.

    • A different Alice

      I agree with Beth and Jillian. Whilst there is a lot of pressure on women to look a certain way in the West, no-one is forcing any woman to do so. And quite a few commenters miss the point that this was largely done to children, who really lacked any choice at all.

      To those who say that in the West we are no better than Imperial China. You’re joking right? No woman in the West is forced to have a boob job, wear high heels or engage in any other unhealthy practice. Furthermore, any parent who breaks their own daughter’s feet would be arrested on criminal charges.

      And to C Herrington: you need to get a heart. Just reading about this makes me want to vomit. They are human beings suffering in terrible pain for what? For “cultural values”? There comes a point when we just need to feel another human being’s pain and to hell with their culture (which is just an excuse for suppression of women). In any case once they were required to pay a fine for having bound feet those who were able to soon stopped.

      I long for the day when all “cultural oppression” of women comes to an end, including female genital mutilation, neck stretching, lip and ear elongation of women, forced feeding of women to fatten them up for marriage, sati, etc, etc etc etc, comes to an end. Again to hell with their culture.

    • globetrotteri

      Hi Erica,

      Yeah, I think so, too. But I also equate it with all the plastic surgery victims out there today. I was just reading about a guy whose nose actually rotted off from having too many nose jobs.

    • Rachel lane smith

      i was in my third period reading class when i was first taught about this horrific, extrodinary, grotesque thing saught as beautiful, how could suffering and pain just to deform a perfectly regular foot be attractive in any way, sense, look or feel. i am only fifteen years old and understand no concept of this purpose, it really makes me appreciate the value of proper civilization and the demand of beautey, how painful for them. im glad it is a new age and that is outlawed now, if you are reading this be blessed for your normal feet and grieve for others who this have been done to.

  • Jacqueline

    I just finished a novel by Lisa See – “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” that portrayed factual information on the Chinese culture regarding footbinding, women’s secret written language called nu shu and old same sworn sisterhoods called laotong. The author, See, is a Chinese American who wrote this passionate story of two young girls, their sworn laotong relationship, and the physical and emotional pain they experienced throughout their lives. See’s writing is a well-researched account of the Chinese culture that lasted one thousand years.

  • Alice

    That is simply grotesque. I can’t believe that men can dream up such things as this to accept their woman as attractive. The ways that women have been treated in different cultures for their own selfish pleasures is just appalling. This and the genital mutilations going on in Africa denying woman of the right to enjoy sex while these men still are able to enjoy their pleasures is nothing short of the worst criminal and animalistic behavior. Actually even animals behave better than this.

  • Diana

    I am watching a movie called The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. …and it shows some of the struggle of the banning of foot binding. So I came online this morning to find more information on the subject. Thank you so much for this post.

  • beth

    i agree that this is wrong and think that you should like your body the way god made it but you must understand that footbinding is apart of their culture, when you begin to footbind is when you become a woman its a right of passage for them, like having your period or first kiss or something is becomeing a woman for american girls which makes most of you just as wrong to judge
    jaquline, im also reading “Snow flower and the Secret fan” and iv gotta say its very good
    so to anyone else who wants to learn a little more about footbinding try it if you want or not ..its a good book

    • emoions

      your comparison is flawed in that having a period or a kiss is not the same as purposely handicapping a human being. you must remember these women couldnt walk. not to mention the disgusting sores, bleeding, and smell as a result of this process and for what? women are always singled out for some mans sick idea. im a relative happily married women so i know ever man isnt this sick, however, we must place responsibility where it belongs. if this is such a wonderful right of passage, why then would it be inappropriate to show the “feet”. from what i understand there was nothing but shame attached to the look, and smell. and husbands, or anyone else, would never look at the feet. youd think the family would sit around with adorations and stare at these feet, if it means so much to have them. first periods and kisses are celebrated.

  • Charlene

    I recall seeing a doc on CBC on foot binding and it made me realize just how fortunate I am to live in the time that I do and in my country…city…home.

    I now live in Toronto, Canada. But I grew up with my brother and mother, who was a single parent, in her community; Wikwemikong on Manitoulin Island. I am blessed to be a part of a culture where the women held as much (if not more) power with the men. The earlier posts about how women have been subjects is such a sorrowful part of our world’s history. But, it is our history none the less. I believe that it is our individual responsibility to treat all humans as equal. I think that if we can do that then those looking back on us will be proud and happy. Mostly because there won’t be a need anymore to work that issue…

  • Johnna

    In response to Sierra’s comment on why they wouldn’t just make their own money? You have to understand the time period and culture. There was no way for women to make money. In this time period, they were married off by the age of 14-16 (arranged). A young girl living in the countryside had few options: forever work as a slave to her own father, or be married off to work as a slave to her husband. OR, footbinding provided at least the chance to improve their living conditions. These women were traded as objects.

    Many others have commented on author Lisa See. She also has two other wonderful books called “Peony in Love,” and her newest book “Shanghai Girls.” She has done much research, and because this was such an integral part of a girl’s life, the footbinding process is mentioned in all of her books. If you are curious about understanding women in the Chinese culturem another great author is Amy Tan (most known for “Joy Luck Club).

  • sharin

    I have suffered from the genital mutilations going on in middle east denying me of the right to enjoy sex while the men still are able to enjoy with as many women.
    I had a horrible husband father, stupid mother. Can’t stop enving anything live in USA.
    My sister and I were driving to sanfransisco once and wished we could have born as
    the cow, we were observing rather than what we are now. If I could write a Novel
    there would be no depressed women in USA. trust me.

    • Seanna

      Sharin, thank you for your testament. As one of three sisters and now mother to three daughters my heart breaks for you and all women oppressed in ways we cannot imagine. Know that your voice is powerful and a strong reminder that we can be grateful for the rights we were born into here and that we must be aware of this gift and demand protection for all women everywhere. Your message will stay with me. May God protect you and cover your life with peace and comfort. bless you and your family.

  • Edwige

    I am reading the Binding Chair (Kathryn Harrison) and wanted to learn a little more about footbinding tradition in China. It is appaling to see what women put themselves through in order to please men! Yes I agree with previous comments left, that current use of plastic surgery is, for most women, not about their feeling, but to improve their looks for someone else, usually a man….Sad

  • kelsey

    I think this a horrible thing to do and I dont think this is pretty at all. It is horrible what women do to themselves for men. It would be sooo panful to get this and I feel sorry for the people that got their feet binded

  • Cassandra

    That is so horrible and disgusting. The foot is deformed and they believe its beauty? I can believe poor girls were forced to do that. I’m glad it got outlawed!

  • Louise

    I am busy reading Snow flower and the secret fan and was compelled to look for a picture of bound feet. Even more revolting – is that Japanese men were acutually turned on by these feet!!
    The poor women ended up stooped over double and limping or walking with sticks in their old age.
    I have to say that when I read stories like these – I appreciate that I am a liberated woman and that if anything is done to my body – it is with my permission!

  • Jess

    I cannot believe what hideous things women will endure for a ‘loving’ relationship. Doesn’t this show that men only care about good looks? I find the pictures somewhat revolting and I feel ever so sorry for the women that had to go through will it.

  • doris

    I too, am reading Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and was also compelled to look. The depth of my horror has left me silent. I care for al elderly chinese woman and thank god she escaped this torture.

  • Jaclynn

    I find the comments comparing plastic surgery to foot binding very interesting, and I have to agree. It’s true, most women do it not for themselves, because what woman in their right mind would want to have huge, numb, immovebale plastic breasts? It’s to fullfill some disgusting image of femininity portrayed in a male dominated society. I’ve had plastic surgery, none of it permanent, but it was painful and expensive and I felt really pressured into doing it. Sad.

    • Carrie

      Hi Jaclynn,
      Thanks for sharing. I’m sad to say that while I haven’t had any cosmetic surgery to date, the older I get the more pressure I feel to have something done.

    • A different Alice

      To Jaclynn, I’m sorry for your suffering and that you felt pressured to undergo surgery, but how can you compare this to what happened to young girls with absolutely no choice at all, other than a life of servitude.

  • hriti

    we were studying about china, when we came to this topic. how could anyone do this to girls. do only girls have to suffer this wiered stuff?
    they have to fight against this.

    • Carrie

      Luckily, the practice of footbinding was banned over 60 years ago. The modern woman has to worry about other things now instead, like cosmetic surgey, female genital mutilation, and the hazards of wearing high heels. 😉

  • Merrill

    Are we so arrogant as to think that we, as modern women, don’t do very similar things for the same reasons!? Four inch heels, push-up bras, boob jobs, nose jobs, liposuction, cheek implants, lip implants, to name a few. Yes, the foot-binding is grotesque and the pain was far worse than anything we’re likely to ever experience, but that doesn’t make modern women liberated and free from our own dependence on men. Many thousands of women painfully transform themselves to make themselves more marketable to men. They, too, are commodities.

    • emotions

      in a way youre on point. however, foot binding was not a choice. we choose to have cosmetic surgery. and the times are different. yes we can decide to “do it” (whatever it is} for a man. but, (and this is important)…WE DONT HAVE TO!!! we can tell a guy to take a hike. however, today the process of cosmetic surgery is greatly improve. its not as painful, recovery is quicker and technology is probably 100% better. with that said…there is “no” comparison to feet binding. i dont think anyone would say it is worth it, that its pretty, they they are glad they did it and that they would do it again in a heart beat. we hear these affirmations daily when speaking of the various cosmetic surgeries performed today. we have to admit, some surgeries are miracles in many ways. but foot binding???? ive never seen anything so disgusting. how could a woman tolerate looking at her own feet? its horrific. its was an evil thing!!
      chinese men are disgusting, short and ugly. so its no wonder they would come up with something like this to “elevate” there status in more ways than one.

  • Arline

    Thank you for sharing these photos. I, too, am reading Lisa See’s incredible book, “Snow Flowerand the Secret Fan” and wanted to see what she had so vividly described. I don’t remember the cut in the sole of the foot, but I will re-read that section to see if I missed it. Everyone should realize that cultural mores are ideosyncratic to the times and region and therefore should not be judged by today’s standards. Perhaps in a thousand years, people will look aghast at today’s customs of piercing and tatooing.

  • S

    your are forgetting that yes women in America have plastic surgery….but in foot binding the women doesn’t have a choice it’s done to small children, painful and torturous Can you imagine the screaming? Plastic surgery is a choice a Women makes, stupid or not

  • Non of your business!!

    Suffering for beauty? What the fuck. This isn’t beauty, this is.. I don’t know. It’s ugly, it’s gross and it’s far behind beauty. This is sick and gross! 🙂

  • Paulina

    It must have been excrutiating for those women to have experienced such an ordeal. As a 17 teen year old im already feeling the pressure to look a certain way though im quite certain i would never undergo surgery to alter my appearence.

  • Claire

    “It’s ugly, it’s gross, it’s far behind beauty.”

    I think this comment is highly eurocentric. The practice of footbinding was actually inflicted on daughters by their mothers, and fathers had little to no involvement in the process itself. Of course, the tiny foot WAS used to attract men and it was considered incredibly beautiful by men and women alike. The process was clearly painful, and the result disfiguring,but no more disfiguring than our boob implants, chin augmentations, and tummy tucks of today. To say the bound foot was ugly is certainly not true- it was practiced for nearly a millenium!

  • Ann

    The practice of foot binding was a travesty on so many levels… It was a sad fact that mothers were active participants in the “torture” of their own young daughters. It shows what desperate measures desperate people are willing to take for the promise of security, food and shelter.

    Foot binding of young female children was also illustrative of Chinese society’s misplaced values. In China, even today, women are less valued than men. While the Chinese culture is more blatant about its views, other cultures feel similarly, yet express that feeling less overtly.

    In the U.S. culture, girls are not raised with the necessary self esteem that will aid in dissuading them from the life long pursuit of making themselves pleasing to men. While the U.S. day-to-day lifestyle is considerably kinder than what our Chinese sisters experienced, clearly there is still a long way to go.

    There are comments on this site that allege that the practice of foot binding was no different than plastic surgery today. Keep in mind that individuals undergoing plastic surgery are adults with a choice. These young children had no choice or voice. As adult women, we choose to participate in activities which are not great examples for our daughters and young women i.e.: plastic surgery and hobbling 6″ heels.

    There are ways to be attractive, without degrading or mutilating ourselves. If we invest in healthier values for ourselves, future generations of women will receive the benefits.

    The comment from Alex about her teacher making her look up this information is important. Alex, you have a good teacher who wants you to know what the world has been like for women. In many places on the planet today, women’s situations are as bad or worse. Let’s not forget the middle east, where women wear burkhas and must cover their faces.

    Regardless of why a culture claims to treat women differently, as long as women are not given the same rights as the men in their culture, they are given LESS rights, not more rights, not more respect, and not more value, just LESS.

    As women, we need to stop accepting less. That starts with each one of us. Whatever we decide, it must be because we chose it. It would also help for us to think about what message we are giving to our daughters, by some of our choices.

  • Lisa

    I am also reading a book by Lisa See called ‘Peony in Love’ and had to look up foot binding. I have a small daughter myself and cannot imagine the tortuous pain that mothers inflicted on their small children for the sake of beauty and in the name of love. I believe that all people need to feel beautiful but have looked to make the outside beautiful instead of the beauty of character. Phyisical beauty is fleeting, but the beauty that can be cultivated on the inside lasts a lifetime. Just a thought….

  • Ed

    I too find it very difficult to think that this was done for status and believed to enhance beauty. But, I also found it difficult to understand why my mother would complain about her bad feet and still wear heals…and that has not changed much at all today. Men do equally stupid things. Tatoos are beautiful to some people, disgusting to others. I don’t accept that men are the blame for the many cultural imperatives that we seem to live by. Women have been equally guilty and have been the leaders in other foolish behaviors. Human behavior remains a mystery.

  • Theresa

    I to have read the novel by Lisa See, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, and currently reading Peony In Love, Shanghai Girls will be next. I have her 4 remaining books on order. I began reading her books because I will be going to China very soon, and was looking for a book to give me not only a story, but also information about the customs. Ms See goes into such detail that you find yourself being there, as witness to these young girls as they go throught this foot binding and how they are treated as useless females, It’s very sad, all so that a man may, or may not love them! These books are well written, the information given seems to be very accurate. I encourage you to pick one up, from the first page to the last, you won’t be able to put it down.

    • Carrie


      I’ve read all three books – actually, I’ve read all of Lisa See’s books – and I wholeheartedly agree. She’s a wonderful writer and researcher. I highly recommend all of her books.

      • laura

        Great blog – as all of the above indicate. Just finished ‘Snow Flower and the Secret Fan’ which led me to this…good to see what she was referring to. Now i shall endeavor to trace Lisa’s other two books. great read… could not put it down and was saddened to have it end.

    • Sheryl

      I read “Peony in Love” by Lisa See, as was so enthralled by the detail of Chinese culture. I was so grateful to be able to read and understand the meanings behind Chinese traditions and to explore what Chinese women underwent in the earlier centuries. I was horrified and amazed at the same time. But I was grateful to understand a bit better.

  • Patty

    I keEp seeing comments questioning “how could women do this to themselves to please a man?”
    This practice was women – as figurative representatives for men – ABUSING CHILDREN. Did we see the “6 years old” piece here? Just like female genital mutilation, a.k.a. FMG (do NOT use the term “female circumcision” because it makes it so acceptable), this atrocity was CHILD TORTURE. It is an extreme example, as is FMG, of how societies devalue children. Another one is that in America, the consequences of raping, and even murdering a child are often waaaaaay less than stupid white collar crimes.

  • sandy liston

    i could weep for these child victims of foot binding and female genital mutilation…..and arranged marriages to strangers?…..what is wrong with mothers of these children????……..lack of education!!!!

  • Greg


    I wrote you to your email address earlier with a question about purchasing the rights to use one of your photographs of the woman above with bound feet, but I did not receive a response. Please write me at the email above, so that we can negotiate this. I have to ask you to hurry because the deadline for completion of my textbook is coming quickly.

  • Deborah Valentine

    For a novelist’s perspective of the hideous practice of foot binding and the very real danger of gangrene and death, read “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” by Lisa See (Random House, 2005)

  • jordan

    its very amazing what girls do for the beauty and for the men out there. i would just rather be single and unmarried all my life than suffer the things that they have in their religion and the beauty and love. its amazing to me but i would never where the shoe that small and let my foot and toes curl up like that.

  • desertshrink

    Just like Chinese foot binding, the pressure to change will have to come from men. When men start refusing to date/marry women with breast implants, butt lifts, bodies “sculpted through liposuction” and those who teeter around on 5 inch heels, then women will stop inflicting this form of torture on their bodies. I don’t judge the women who do this to themselves, as I feel the pressure myself and understand the intensity. But I expect men to rise above their natural instincts and applaud the natural woman, who maintains herself through healthy diet, exercise and cleanliness.

  • Vivi

    The Chinese held the tradition of footbinding for over a thousand years. Obviously they found it to be something of value. We should not judge them using our standards and our culture.
    As for the people who compare footbinding with high heels, they are wrong. High heels, properly fitted and worn often are very comfortable. Women have the right to choose how they wish to look. Whether they look “all natural” or “perfumed and heeled”, it still is their choice.
    It is as bad to belittle a woman for wearing high heels as it is to belittle her for NOT wearing high heels.
    Every person is an individual.

  • alejandra

    Great post! I just finishes reading several books by Lisa See and she goes into great detail on how little girls had to go through this painful tradition and it explains on some level why women continued to practice this horrible torture on their daughters. The books are: Snowflower and the Secret Fan and Shanghai Girls.
    Thanks for your post!

  • Bev

    I too was reading a book by Lisa See and became curious about bound feet. These pictures make the story even more fascinating. What torture those poor children must have suffering while going through the stage of having the feet first bound and hearing those bones break when they walked. Thanks for exposing the pictures to those of us who are curious about cultural traditions

  • sanish maharjan

    is this culture still exist in china ????
    its unbelievable culture they are suffering in the name of culture…..

  • Lauren

    i just read an article how they compared it to corsets worn in europe. you cant really say thats entirely gross when you look at what we do to our selves for beautiy, all the surgeries and such. im pretty sure they might have been grossed out by us shaving bone and adding prostetics to our faces. it was a womans choice to do this to her child.
    even during the qing dynasty it was outlawed to foot bind but women loved the beauty and the feeling of being sexy that women continued to do this to their daughters and it was seen as a bonding ritual between them.

  • Mary

    A picture (photo) is worth a thousand words. Lisa See’s description of feet-binding in “Snow Flower and Secret Fan” was quite good. She verbally painted for the reader to see what the final result of foot-binding would /should look like, but your photos showed the mutilation before the “golden lotuses” were covered with those “cute” shoes.Thanx again.

  • Madhu Nair

    Hi Carrie,
    Got here while googling to see what folks had up for their 7-Links project.

    I had heard about this practice earlier. But never imagined that toes were broken. I thought they used to use tight bandages to keep the feet from growing. That was barbaric enough for me.

    Thanks for the post. It was quite an eye opener !

    Take care and safe travels !
    Now off to read the Slums Around the World Post.


  • Chris

    Thanks for this. Very insightful. I don’t think it looks attractive. I never understood why they found having foot like this is attractive.

  • My Happy Little Feet

    I think it’s fascinating what women have done to themselves in the name of beauty over the centuries. It’s sad when said beauty is forced on them before they are old enough to decide for themselves whether or not they want to have it done…still, women have done equally sadistic things to themselves by choice as well. It pains me to see a foot treated this way; I’ve always believed that the secret to a happy life is a much-loved and well-tended foot.

  • Mindy

    wow..this is breath taking..i can’t imagine the mental, emotional, verbal, and physical abuse and pain these women and children had to go through.. i held my breath reading these articles and things on foot binding..May God bless these people.

  • Heather Massie

    I’m currently reading Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa Lee. The descriptions in the book almost made me sick, but I had to go a bit deeper and see these photos to really believe it could be true. Horrifying what these women went through for beauty.

  • Sham-wowzer

    I really dislike the fact that you call the practice “barbaric” early on in the article. That Westernized, modern attitude is what makes you like that it’s savage. In all actuality, it wasn’t barbaric to them– it was attractive, so what right do we have to disparage it and call it so?
    People all around the world wear bands around their necks to disfigure their shoulders and make their necks look longer for the sake of beauty. Hell, families spend thousands of dollars to put wires on their children’s teeth, so they’ll shift around (quite painfully, I might add >_<) and straighten up– because that's what's considered attractive.
    That one line just bothered me, I suppose.

    • Carrie


      I completely disagree with you.

      Little girls in China were not given a choice in the matter. Any practice that does not give the individual the right to decide for themselves is barbaric. Any practice that causes children to suffer in pain and misery is barbaric, especially when you stop to consider that Chinese girls by the age of eight were robbed of the ability to walk or live a normal lifestyle without extreme pain. Putting braces on your child for two or three years does not compare to the pain and suffering that these women endured for the rest of their lives. The same is true for female genital mutilation and for the 12-year-old girls of Thai mountain tribes who wear brass rings around their necks or for any other child that has to suffer these indignities at such an early age. No child deserves that.

  • Linda

    Im shaking my head and thankful that I wasnt born into that culture during that era. Not only would I have hated to have gone through it, I cannot imagine inducing such pain on my daughter, or her on her daughters. I do wonder who in the world was the first lady to suffer this. Who decided on the final size? and why? Very informative blog. Thank you, it explains the process and had some very graphic pictures.

  • A different Alice

    To all the above commenters comparing the forced footbinding of young girls with the pressure on grown women to conform to certain beauty ideals in the western world:

    Yes these ideals do exist, but no one is forcing adult women to have a boob job or wear high heels. A woman can both support herself financially and get married without either of them. It may be that certain professions and certain men will pressure a woman to look a particular way, but no one is forced to go into them. Furthermore, anyone who broke a child’s feet would be arrested on criminal charges.

    And to those who say look what women will do for beauty, from what I understand, the footbinding was not done for beauty per se, but was instituted as a way to control women. It became a benchmark of beauty in that society, but women were forced to undergo it as it was the only way for them to get married, so basically they had no other choice.

    My heart goes out to the millions, if not billions of women who have suffered so terribly from this barbaric custom.

  • catherine

    There is a difference between foot binding and plastic surgery and this is plastic surgery is used to conform to an ideal standard of beauty often found in nature. Many children don’t have to wear braces and many women already have the big breasts or right nose But all Chinese little girls were born with the wrong feet. I wonder how and why that practice started and who was the first person to do that to their kid.

  • Maddy

    Thank you so much for posting these pictures as they’re very useful for my research. I was actually looking for information about what [if anything] can be done to help these elderly women.

  • G.A.B.

    Adult women choosing to suffer for beauty with plastic surgery and high heels has absolutely nothing to do with foot binding. This is something that happened to six year old girls. It isn’t like they had any say in whether it would happen to them or not or even had the ability for informed consent the way an adult does. Female genital mutilation aka “female circumcision” is a better is a much better comparison. Both are forms of child abuse that a particular culture deemed acceptable.

  • scratch

    I have come across the term “feet binding” “bound feet” and other variations over the years. I had no knowledge on the subject, and I finally decided to inform myself rather than remaining ignorant about it. I have found a great deal of text on the subject but this is the first I’ve seen of photos. The appearance of the feet is startling to me, as I think anyone seeing them for the first time might be. People always comment that they are peculiar to look at, and wonder how is it possible to walk. When I look at the shoes that are in fashion right now, the shoes that are about 4-6 inches high, they hold the same shape as a bound foot. I don’t know how they endured the pain!

  • Andrea

    There is an interesting passage in Pearl Buck’s book, THE GOOD EARTH, that touches on the topic of foot binding. The books main character, Wang Lung, has always lamented that the woman he was given ( as a first wife ) had big feet. After many years of marriage, he prospers enough to have a second wife ( with bound feet ). His first wife has the status of having given him three sons. But no longer has his love.

    As Wang Lung is sitting at his table he sees his younger daughter. He notices she is crying and asks her why… She says her mother binds her feet tighter and tighter every night to make them small and she is not to let him hear her cries because he is too tender hearted and will stop the binding. And then her husband will not love her, just as he does not love her mother.

    I think the tie to culture is difficult to break or disregard even when you are inspired to it. But whether it involves deforming little girl’s feet, or castrating little boys to turn them into super star singers, at some point a line must be drawn. And an understanding AND resolve to change a practice that no longer can be sanctioned as humane needs to go forward.

  • Mireyna

    What strikes me from reading the comments, is that so many of you are referring to female genital mutilation, but I haven’t seen any comments (and I may have missed it) about male genital mutilation. Every year thousands of newborn baby boys are circumcised for easthetical reasons, and they don’t have a choice. Their skin is cut off without anesthesia, and many of them die (averagely 118/year in the USA alone) or suffer lifetime complications. I think that’s a topic that should be addressed more, since it’s still socially accepted (expected?) TODAY!

    • Leiura

      I just felt the need to point out that while it’s socially accepted in western societies to be circumcised as a male, it’s also socially accepted for females to have their genitals circumcised (mutilated) in third world countries.

      You mention the 118/year in the USA alone, and that’s (i’m guessing) under sterile conditions in a hospital. The women who undergo genital mutilation in 3rd world countries don’t have these sterile conditions and are often done with unsanitary ritual knives and glass shards without any anesthesia. To make matters worse, it’s done on girls who are old enough to remember and it’s done against their will (as they’re pinned down, screaming). Because it’s done in these 3rd world countries there aren’t any hard numbers to tell you the mortality rate that follows due to infections, shock and bleeding, which i’m sure are higher than those seen here in the USA. These horrible acts are done by mothers, grandmothers and other female relatives usually. (I haven’t heard of male relatives participating in the mutilating but it’s quite possible…).

      Girls that undergo this procedure grow up to not only have lost any sexual pleasure they might gain from sex but many suffer from pain in their genitals throughout the rest of the lives. Female genital mutilation has also causes higher mortality rates amongst infants and causes birth complications.

      Female genital mutilation is much more severe than a man’s circumcision in that it not only affects the woman but also any children she might have. And at least with a man’s circumcision his penis can still feel sensation whereas for a woman sex becomes painful after she has her genitals mutilated.

      I am not trying to say that because a males circumcision has less problems associated with it that it should become a secondary issue to FGM or, at worse, written off. In my eyes it’s not ok for either male or female and both practices should be stopped altogether. I would never put any of my children, male or female, through any of these horrible and unnecessary acts of mutilation just because it’s a norm in society. Way I see it is, if we weren’t meant to have it we wouldn’t be born with it.

      So no, it’s not a topic that should be addressed MORE but a topic that should be addressed equally.

      • Mireyna

        Leiura, I appreciate your response, and I agree with your point of view.
        I didn’t mean MGM should be addressed more than FGM, just “more” in general, since nobody had brought that one up yet.
        Glad we’re on the same page on this issue. 😉

  • Caryn

    I wish there were statistics on whether Foot binding was actually a good investment that paid off for these women (and their families and mothers who thought it was worth doing). For example, how many foot bound women married well? Relatively well? How many were given the luxury life their mothers dreamed of for them? Was it just a relief that someone married them at all, or did they hold out for top earning husbands since these women believed they endured something rare and precious? If men really tried to outlaw this practice, they would have refused to marry these women, changing the cultural value of this practice. I know that’s asking too much. But the real way to get rid of a damaging practice is to reduce its value in the culture. I.e. if every woman who bleached her hair and got breast implants were shunned by male suitors and hiring managers, there would be a whole lot less of it. However, if culture pressures cause every woman to do these thing because she wants to, regardless of mens preferences, then this leaves men with no other options but to court bleached blondes with implants, if he wants to have some kind of sex life and marry with family.

  • Paulette Loren

    Rufus had it correct – its not about beauty, its about keeping women vulnerable (not being able to run away). You can’t run in a corset, you can’t run in petticoats (or a skirt in general), you can’t run in high heels etc etc etc and let’s not even go into the vulnerability of having your chest exposed. Note that in times of female liberation like the 20’s & ’60’s skirts became shorter, heels became lower, waists disappeared and busts weren’t accentuated. As for plastic surgery etc not being imposed – careful – being forced need not be so open, we are conditioned by society, we are made to feel insecure – is that not vulnerability still? We need to open our eyes and be conscious – let’s learn from history about what’s going on now.

  • Huovycgc

    Eeeewww I feel so bad for her. Here’s some facts. practice possibly originated among upperclass court dancers in the early Song dynasty, but spread and eventually became common among all but the lowest of classes. Eventually foot binding became very popular because men thought it to be highly attractive. Even today in China (Guangzhou), there are families with “lotus foot ancestry”. In Guangzhou in the late 19th century, for example, it was usual to bind the feet of the eldest daughter of a lower-class family who was intended to be brought up as a lady. Her normal-footed sisters would grow up to be bond-servants or domestic slaves, and, when old enough, the concubines of rich men or the wives of laboring men – able to work in the fields alongside them. In contrast, the tiny narrow feet of the “ladies” were considered beautiful and made a woman’s movements more feminine and dainty. It was assumed these eldest daughters would never need to work. 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-footbinding campaigns.[1] 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.[2

    • Carrie

      Hi Alan,

      That is pretty amazing. I wish I could provide further insight into your lotus shoes, but I’m not an expert. Hopefully, one of my readers will be able to help out. Thanks for dropping by!

  • Voxel Wong

    I don’t know how these kind of feet have once being attractive to Chinese man. (Regarding Wikipedia)
    This is disgusting. As a Chinese man myself.
    What a shame!

  • rebekah

    Women today are still going through physical and mental pain for beauty. We rip out every hair bar those on our face, we use valuable time putting on a mask to face the world in the morning, we have fat liposuctioned away, man made implants shoved into our breasts, even labia trimmed down to a “neater” length, noses shaved down, fake hair glued to the roots for more fashionable styles. And much more! Yet all this is attractive to most men these days! And most men don’t even realise women have had all this done! They seem to think it comes naturally!
    But sadly I can’t see a day when difference and individuality is celebrated and craved!

  • Euphoracle

    Thanks for posting this article and photos. People need to see the truth.

    All those poor little girls! It must have broke their mother’s hearts to see such athing done to her little girl over and over again.

    I think that one of the integral parts of the foot binding process was breaking the arch of the feet, too. The arch was broken, to shorten the whole foot. Then, the 4 toes would get broken and bent under. Lots of the girls lost toes over the years. I read a great article on this subject on an angelfire site not long ago. She posted a quote from a girl, describing what she experienced when her feet were bound. Terrible.

    I read that girls were forced into foot binding because they couldn’t find a husband unless their feet were tiny. Men, even poor men, didn’t want to wed girls with normal feet. Many poor girls had this done to them just so they coould marry up. According to that angelfire article, very vey few poor women were able to benefit in this dreamed of way. In other words, they went through life-long deformity, imobility, and agony for nothing.

    Men thought it was sexy, the bound feet. They liked the way girls and women walked when they had sore feet–like a baby-stepping gait with lots of hip swinging. IIt was believed that bound feet made the girl have a strengthened vagina. Seriously. t was considered erotic, but most men never saw the naked feet of their wives, daughters, mothers, concubines, etc. It was too disturbing to them! Also, the bound foot is very putrid smelling.

    Corsets are bad. They were an instrument of torture and a means of controlling women. I don’t approve of the,, but I think I’d prefer the fate of wearing a corset all the time to having my feet broken over and over and over again, unable to stand without moving ( teetering from side to side), great difficulty for the rest of your life in simply standing up from a seated position. Terrible. Thank God it’s outlawed!

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