Link #129: Ancient Chinese Found Deformed Small Feet Beautiful



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Link #129: Ancient Chinese Found Deformed Small Feet Beautiful

A Chinese Golden Lily Foot by Planet Mag/CC0 Public Domain.

In our last post, we described how your feet contain about 25 percent of all the bones in your body. We also explained why it’s so important for feet to be complex and elaborate. Having 26 bones in a region as small as the feet and ankles means that this part of your body is also has a lot of joints.

In fact, your feet also have approximately 25 percent of all the joints in your body. It is this variety of bones and joints that make your feet capable of performing numerous critical tasks. Some of these include propelling your body, balancing it, and being able to handle weights much greater than just your body weight.

In effect, these bones and joints make your feet flexible and strong at the same time. However, the ancient Chinese didn’t understand the great efficiency of human feet and instead found small and deformed feet beautiful. Their fascination went so far that ancient Chinese girls artificially deformed their feet through the process of foot binding.

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What Was Foot Binding?

X-ray of bound feet, China/CC0 Public Domain.

Foot binding was a process which resulted in the ancient Chinese women having feet that were no longer than four inches in length. Ancient Chinese parents would take their young daughters (often under three years) and bind their feet to prevent them from growing with the rest of the body.

The process began with clipping nails and soaking the feet in hot water for an extended period of time. After hot water dousing had made the tissue and bone pliant, all toes except for the big one would be broken and folded inwards. Alum would then be rubbed onto the feet to prevent infection.

Finally, the feet would be bound with strips of either silk or cotton cloth. At regular intervals the wrappings would be removed to wash the feet and prevent infection before they were wrapped again.

How Did Foot Binding Begin?

Photograph by Underwood & Underwood, London & New York. A HIGH CASTE LADY’S DAINTY “LILY FEET.” Showing the deformation (the shoe is worn on the great toe only). CC0 Public Domain.

While there isn’t any clear cut evidence regarding the origins of the process of foot binding, the most reliable point to the late 10th century. This was time of Emperor Li Yu of the Tang Dynasty. The stories say that Yu asked one of his concubines or consort to bind her feet in the shape of the crescent moon and dance for him.

She’s said to have been so graceful and beautiful that the Emperor was entranced. Other concubines, supposedly, saw his appreciation of the feet and decided to bind their feet too. From that point on, the practice spread and began to be associated with beauty and grace.

When Did Foot Binding Stop?

Image credit: OpenClipartVectors/CC0 Public Domain.

Foot binding carried on in ancient China for more than a thousand years. In the late 19th century, there were some anti-foot binding campaigns in China which began a gradual decrease in the number of foot binding rituals in the country.

However, despite the fall in number, the process still continued in rural regions up until 1912 when it was banned. After the ban, there was drastic drop but some women still did it to their children in secret. Gradually, the ritual died down completely.

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