Odd Traditions: Chinese Foot Binding

Odd Traditions: Chinese Foot Binding

Throughout the various cultures of the world, there are many traditions that make us shake our heads. One of the most intense and odd is the old Chinese practice of foot binding. The staggering aspect of Chinese foot binding to me is that fact that it lasted until the 20th century, and was prevalent for nearly 1,000 years. In the early 13th century there were two royal concubines that were, according to tradition, two of the most beautiful and graceful women of their age. One of these women was a renown dancer that was said to have feet as perfect and gentle as a lotus flower, and this dancer, Yao Niang, was supposed to be the best dancer in China.

Soon, young women from around the Chinese aristocracy began to shape their feet in the shape of the lotus flower, to show their femininity, and to be seen as more delicate. The women were permanently disfigured by the act of foot binding and did it all to be seen as a proper woman.
It seems that most Chinese men of the era had a foot fetish because bound feet were seen as erotica and men lusted over the women who went through with the process. This process is the truly terrifying aspect, the parents of these girls would decide between the ages of four and nine, whether their young girls would have their feet bound. If the girl were forced to bind their feet, they would have their feet doused with hot water, herbs, and animal blood. Once the feet were drenched in this weird concoction, the girl’s toes were pushed all the way down to their soles until their toes snapped. The feet were then bound in tight bandages to shove the toes even further into the ball of the foot. The foot eventually turned into a grotesque arch that was kept covered throughout life with elaborate “doll shoes.”

Finally, the people of China pushed back against this treatment of women, but there are still elderly women throughout China that bare the marks of this twisted, and odd tradition.

Foreman, Amanda. “Why Footbinding Persisted in China for a Millenium” Smithsonian Magazine May 2, 2015
Lim, Louisa (19 March 2007). “Painful Memories for China’s
Footbinding Survivors.” Morning Edition. National Public Radio

Published by TheOddPast by Matthew A. Perry

Writer, teacher, broadcaster, and podcaster from West Virginia. I write about and discuss the wacky and weird side of history on my website www.theoddpast.com and my podcast "The Odd Past Podcast" available everywhere

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