Chinese Foot Binding
China History

Chinese Foot Binding

By Fercility JiangUpdated Mar. 18, 2021

Foot binding was the practice of curling young girls' feet to modify their shape. It was prevalent in ancient China.

Foot Binding Showed Beauty and Status

chinese foot binding Chinese foot binding

The bound feet, to about 10 centimeters in size, were considered to be attractive in ancient times due to their small size. With bound feet, a woman's beauty was enhanced and her movement was daintier, which gained the support of both men and women for the practice.

Additionally, it showed a girl's status because the rich didn't usually need to work. However, foot binding restricted women from going out, leaving them at home to serve the family.

Usually Females Had Their Feet Bound

Foot binding began among the Han people. Generally, it was a practice for females. Rich girls would have their feet bound while the poor would not. That's mainly because the rich had servants to serve them since they couldn't walk. The poor girls needed normal feet in order to work.

Process of Foot Binding



Bad Effects on Health

History of Chinese Foot Binding

Binding Feet to Gain the Emperor's Favor in the 10th Century

The first recorded foot binding started from the Five Dynasties and Ten States in the 10th century and it became prevalent in the Song Dynasty (960–1279).

According to history, an emperor's favorite concubine danced on a gilded lotus flower with bound feet, which gained the emperor's favor. Then other concubines imitated her, making the practice popular from the royal court to the whole country. It was thought to be a sign of beauty.

Binding Feet to Have a Good Marriage Since the 12th Century

Foot binding began in the north of the country and soon reached the south. In the 12th century, it became much more widespread and peaked in the Qing Dynasty.

In order to have a good marriage, girls had to have their feet bound between the ages of 4 and 9. Foot binding also showed a woman's social status because only the very poor didn't need to do it.

Anti-Foot Binding Campaigns Failed Many Times

In the 19th century, many reform-minded Chinese intellectuals began to consider foot binding as a backwardness of China and advocated to abolish the practice. However, any movements to oppose it failed. It was not until 1912 that foot binding was banned by the new Republic of China government.

Famous Opponents of Foot Binding

Beautiful Embroideries Inside and Outside

There were certain types of 'arch shoes' (弓鞋 gōngxié /gong-sshyeah/) for women with bound feet. A pair of well-made arch shoes had various embroideries both inside and outside the shoes. Rich women even added some accessories,such as bright pearls in the heels.

Pursuit of Fashion and Beauty

Binding their feet and wearing a corset and high heels were behaviors of women pursuing beauty. They were, to some degree, harming their health. The main differences were that foot binding and wearing corsets were forced while wearing high heels was voluntary.

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