Woman in living in China during the Song Dynasty believed that they would appear more graceful and beautiful if they had small feet. They used foot binding, a long and painful process of breaking and moving bones, to deform their feet until they were tiny. Foot binding perceived the role of women in Chinese society and Confucian moral values. This practice affected the lives of many women in ways that are unimaginably painful (Bound). One Chinese legend speaks of a time when Lady Huang of the Song Dynasty started this practice and continued it because her prince loved her little feet.
He was proud of her ability to dance and walk gracefully. Soon, others took up the idea of foot binding, and copied her idea of delicate feet. The first evidence found of foot binding is from Lady Huang’s tomb. She lived in the Song Dynasty, which was from around 960-1279 AD. In the tomb, the woman’s feet were bound and wearing five and a half inch long shoes (Bound). Another legend states that the first time foot binding was used was when a young concubine bound her feet tightly to be used in a dance routine for the emperor at that time (Ellis-Christensen).
By the twelfth century, the practice was greatly used among the upper class, particularly the Han Chinese. During the Qing Dynasty in the mid-seventeenth century, every girl who wished to be married into a wealthy family had to have her feet bound, in order to have a good life (Schiavenza). The reason for this is because men wanted their wives to be delicate. When a girl reached the age of 4-6 years old, her mother would perform foot binding on her. If she was any younger, she would not be able to endure the pain; but, if she were any older, her foot would be too grown to work with this process (Schiavenza).
First, her mother would soak the child’s foot in a mix of herbs and blood, to soften it up. Then, she would bend and pull back the girl’s toes, (except her big toe), under her foot toward the arch until her toes broke. The girl’s mother would also break the arch of her foot. Next, she would bind up the child’s foot tightly with a long bandage, until her foot formed a triangle with the arch, toes, and heel (Ellis-Christensen). In other words, the foot created a steep, indenting curve and fold in the center of the sole, while the heel was pushed up, causing the foot to become rounded.
The entire process was extremely painful. These feet, called lotus feet, were three to five inches long, and shaped like hooves (Bound). Even though foot binding created social possibilities for Chinese women, it caused many problems and deformity. The practice resulted in a shorter and deformed foot that came from the muscles and bones repositioning. Women had to walk on their heels, using a shuffling gait, seen as graceful (Bound). The bandages were worn all day and night, unless they were being washed, which did not happen very often, causing the feet to stink. This caused many infections and diseases.
The women who used foot binding had to bind their feet continuously for their whole lives. They wore tiny shoes to cover up their feet. The condition of their feet affected their mobility. Women in Ancient China at that time could not leave their houses by themselves. They also could not do any work that servants could easily do. It was very difficult to get up from a chair and to sit down (Ellis-Christensen). The last survivors from this period in time, all that remains of a vanished idea, suffer from old age, arthritis, and the diseases that came with the practice of foot binding (Mao).
Toward the end of the Qing Dynasty, when western countries had more influence on China, foot binding slowly gained more and more people who wanted to end the practice. Wives of Christian ministers, educated Chinese who had studied abroad in Europe and North America, and many others began to oppose foot binding (Schiavenza). Finally, in 1911, foot binding was officially banned (Bound). By the time Mao Zedong took control of China in 1949, the practice was gone, with the exception of a few remote areas in the mountains of China (Schiavenza).
During the end of foot binding, a young woman named Gladys Aylward had a chance to preach the gospel to the Chinese people. She grew up in London, England, but was called to go to China and be a missionary to the villagers there. Aylward learned the language and culture of the Chinese, and later became a citizen. One of the officials appointed her to be a foot inspector after the law was passed to ban foot binding. Traveling from village to village, while the unwrapped peoples’ bandages, she preached the gospel to them, and told Bible stories. Many of these people believed and were saved (Gladys).
Foot binding was not a form of torture, but was performed in respect to the Chinese culture and traditions. By making their feet exceedingly shorter, they believed that they were closer to perfection. Foot binding caused many women to suffer in their older ages, though. It is amazing that through suffering and pain, God finds ways to make himself known. Thankfully, foot binding is no longer practiced, due to the successful resistance movements of western influence (Mao). Works Cited “Bound to Be Beautiful: Foot Binding in Ancient China. ” McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture.
University of Tennessee Knoxville, 4 June 2005. Web. 25 Nov. 2013. Ellis-Christensen, Tricia. “Why Did Chinese Women Bind Their Feet?. ” wiseGEEK. Ed. O. Wallace. N. p. , 16 Nov. 2013. Web. 25 Nov. 2013. “Gladys Aylward’s Long Road to China. ” Christianity. com. Salem Web Network, 2013. Web. 25 Nov. 2013. Mao, J. “Foot Binding: Beauty and Torture. ” The Internet Journal of Biological Anthropology 1. 2 (2007). Web. 25 Nov. 2013. Schiavenza, Matt. “The Peculiar History of Foot Binding in China. ” The Atlantic. N. p. , 16 Sept. 2013. Web. 25 Nov. 2013.
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