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Updated by Ammaarah Wadee on Feb 18, 2017
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Let's Explore Chinese Culture: Foot Binding

A website giving a short summary on Chinese Foot Binding.


The shoes that the Chinese had to wear

The shoes that the Chinese had to wear

These shoes were made of silk. They were approximately 10cm! The Chinese girls had to have 10cm feet! That is why the Chinese started binding from young ages

A brief website giving a introduction to Chinese Foot binding.

The Peculiar History of Foot Binding in China

A detailed website about Foot Binding including its origin. See paragraph 5 - When and Why the practice began - for more information on its origins.


Process of Binding: an extract from a website on the process of foot binding

Process of Binding: an extract from a website on the process of foot binding


The process was started before the arch of the foot had a chance to develop fully, usually between the ages of 4 and 9. Binding usually started during the winter months since the feet were more likely to be numb, and therefore the pain would not be as extreme.

First, each foot would be soaked in a warm mixture of herbs and animal blood; this was intended to soften the foot and aid the binding. Then, the toenails were cut back as far as possible to prevent infections since the toes were to be pressed tightly into the sole of the foot. Cotton bandages, 3 m long and 5 cm wide, were prepared by soaking them in the blood and herb mixture. To enable the size of the feet to be reduced, the toes on each foot were curled under, then pressed with great force downwards and squeezed into the sole of the foot until the toes broke.

The broken toes were held tightly against the sole of the foot while the foot was then drawn down straight with the leg and the arch of the foot was forcibly broken. The bandages were repeatedly wound in a figure-eight movement, starting at the inside of the foot at the instep, then carried over the toes, under the foot, and around the heel, the freshly broken toes being pressed tightly into the sole of the foot. At each pass around the foot, the binding cloth was tightened, pulling the ball of the foot and the heel together, causing the broken foot to fold at the arch, and pressing the toes underneath the sole. The binding was pulled so tightly that the girl could not move her toes at all and the ends of the binding cloth were then sewn so that the girl could not loosen it.

The girl's broken feet required a great deal of care and attention, and they would be unbound regularly. Each time the feet were unbound, they were washed, the toes carefully checked for injury, and the nails were trimmed. When unbound, the broken feet were also kneaded to soften them and the soles of the girl's feet were often beaten to make the joints and broken bones more flexible. The feet were also soaked in a concoction that caused any old flesh to fall off.

Immediately after this, the girl's broken toes were folded back under and the feet were rebound. The bindings were pulled even tighter each time the girl's feet were rebound. This unbinding and rebinding ritual was repeated as often as possible (for the rich at least once daily, for poor peasants two or three times a week), with fresh bindings. It was generally an elder female member of the girl's family or a professional foot binder who carried out the initial breaking and ongoing binding of the feet. It was considered preferable to have someone other than the mother do it, as she might have been sympathetic to her daughter's pain and less willing to keep the bindings tight.

For most the bound feet eventually became numb. However, once a foot had been crushed and bound, attempting to reverse the process by unbinding is painful, and the shape could not be reversed without a woman undergoing the same pain all over again.


The Cause of binding: an extract from a website describing the purpose of binding

The Cause of binding: an extract from a website describing the purpose of binding


Binding was a horrid process and the women suffered in pain for many years since the feet had to be continually broken and tightly re-bound until they stopped growing. Women suffered through this pain as its purpose was to find an appropriate and wealthy husband. “…the smaller a woman’s feet, the better husband she could find…” as men found tiny feet stimulating. Tiny feet become a trend as it began from an emperor who was captivated with a particular woman who obtained smaller than average feet and performed on a lotus –shaped stage.

A law in Imperial China was that women did not choose their husbands as marriage was arranged by the men, which again stresses the dominate discourse of a male controlling nation. The men selected the women by the size of their feet, the wealthier men choose the woman with the smallest. A matchmaker would visit accompanied with a bachelor, and he would sit and observe the women’s deformed feet. If they were too large and did not satisfy him, he simply turned her down.

To sum it up, the Chinese wanted smaller feet because small feet were considered elegant for marriage.

A website briefly describing the objectives, method, results and conclusions on foot binding


A foot which had been bounded

A foot which had been bounded

The large toe stood up straight and the small toes were bent inwards.


The law comes into effect, banning the practice...

The law comes into effect, banning the practice...

The practice was outlawed because the effect and suffering endured by Chinese woman for centuries was highlighted and realized. The woman were forced to do this against their will most of the time.

An informative, detailed, YouTube video on Chinese foot binding. It includes the process, living victims and interesting facts on the topic.

A YouTube Video "In her own words."