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Bound Feet: Horrible Body Modification that Chinese Women Practiced for One Thousand years

Binding young female feet has been practiced in China for about one thousand years, from the tenth to early twentieth centuries. During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), entertainers and members of the Chinese court practiced this. Towards the end of the Song dynasty, the practice had spread to the scholarly class that ruled China. Foot binding was initially limited to the wealthiest regions of China, mainly in the north. However, foot binding became popular among people of all social classes except the poorest, who needed non-disabled women to work the fields by the late Qing Dynasty.

Women with bound feet wore tiny, beautifully embroidered shoes. Since they couldn’t work, the tiny feet symbolized privilege and wealth. Girls with small, bound feet had a better chance of getting a higher bride price.

For girls between the ages of three and eight, the four tiny toes of each foot were wrapped tightly with long bandages and rewrapped every day or two. Due to the pressure of the bandages, the bones broke, and the arch rose upward, resulting in “lotus feet,” a condition where the feet don’t grow more than 3-6 inches (10-15 cm), leaving the adult woman with small and dysfunctional feet. The practice of foot binding finally ended in the twentieth century when Chinese and Western missionaries campaigned against it, and nationalists and communists prohibited it.

#1 China:Three Chinese women with bound feet, Qing Dynasty, 1870

China:Three Chinese women with bound feet, Qing Dynasty, 1870

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#2 Women with bound feet on station at on the Peking (Beijing) to Hankow (Hankou) railway line, 1909

Women with bound feet on station at on the Peking (Beijing) to Hankow (Hankou) railway line, 1909

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#3 China: A young woman with bound feet reclining on a chaise longue, 1890

China: A young woman with bound feet reclining on a chaise longue, 1890

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#4 Girls with bound feet in Shanxi.

Girls with bound feet in Shanxi.

There is little evidence for the custom prior to the court of the Southern Tang dynasty in Nanjing, which celebrated the fame of its dancing girls, renowned for their tiny feet and beautiful bow shoes.

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#5 Young Chinese Girls with bound feet.

Young Chinese Girls with bound feet.

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#6 A lady with bound feet, 1912.

A lady with bound feet, 1912.

Bound feet continued to exist in Old Shanghai's brothels and singsong establishments long after the practice was officially banned at the end of the Qing Dynasty.

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#7 A young Han Chinese girl from a wealthy family with bound feet, late 19th century

A young Han Chinese girl from a wealthy family with bound feet, late 19th century

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#8 One unbound, photographed by Lai Aifeng, 1870

One unbound, photographed by Lai Aifeng, 1870

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#9 Detail of 15cm elaborate and costly mati xie or ‘horse-hoof shoes’ worn on formal occasions by Cixi, 1900

Detail of 15cm elaborate and costly mati xie or 'horse-hoof shoes' worn on formal occasions by Cixi, 1900

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#10 A woman reveals her tiny, bound, feetm 1874

A woman reveals her tiny, bound, feetm 1874

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#11 Bound Feet Women in Liuyi Village of Yunnan Province

Bound Feet Women in Liuyi Village of Yunnan Province

A member of the Bound Feet Women Dancing Team, puts on her "Three Cuns Golden Lotus" shoe as she prepares for dancing practice at Liuyi Village on April 2, 2007 in Tonghai County of Yunnan Province, China.

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#12 Bound Feet Women in Liuyi Village of Yunnan Province

Bound Feet Women in Liuyi Village of Yunnan Province

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#13 Bound Feet Women in Liuyi Village of Yunnan Province

Bound Feet Women in Liuyi Village of Yunnan Province

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#14 Members of the Bound Feet Women Dancing Team, practise dancing at Liuyi Village on April 2, 2007

Members of the Bound Feet Women Dancing Team, practise dancing at Liuyi Village on April 2, 2007

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#15 Bound Feet Chinese Women.

Bound Feet Chinese Women.

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#16 Bound Feet Women in Liuyi Village

Bound Feet Women in Liuyi Village

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#17 100-year-old bound feet woman, whose surname is Luo Pu, poses for pictures with her son at Liuyi Village on April 3, 2007 in Tonghai County of Yunnan Province, China.

100-year-old bound feet woman, whose surname is Luo Pu, poses for pictures with her son at Liuyi Village on April 3, 2007 in Tonghai County of Yunnan Province, China.

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#18 100-year-old bound feet woman, whose surname is Luo Pu, 2007.

100-year-old bound feet woman, whose surname is Luo Pu, 2007.

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#19 Young women in 1930s Shanghai proudly – and confidently showing off their unbound feet and modern, Western footwear.

Young women in 1930s Shanghai proudly - and confidently showing off their unbound feet and modern, Western footwear.

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#20 China: Unbound feet (left) compared with bound ‘lily’ feet (right), C H Graves, 1902

China: Unbound feet (left) compared with bound 'lily' feet (right), C H Graves, 1902

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#21 Bound Feet Women in Liuyi Village Of Yunnan Province

Bound Feet Women in Liuyi Village Of Yunnan Province

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#22 Sichuan Provincial Capital Maintains Tradition Amid Rapid Economic Modernization

Sichuan Provincial Capital Maintains Tradition Amid Rapid Economic Modernization

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#23 A 1930s Chinese shoe, made for women with bound feet.

A 1930s Chinese shoe, made for women with bound feet.

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#24 A high caste lady’s dainty ‘lily feet’, showing method of deformity’, China, 1900.

A high caste lady's dainty 'lily feet', showing method of deformity', China, 1900.

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#25 A close-up of the feet of an aristocratic Chinese woman, deformed by binding.

A close-up of the feet of an aristocratic Chinese woman, deformed by binding.

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#26 Chinese woman wearing holiday clothes and shoes for bound feet, 1910s

Chinese woman wearing holiday clothes and shoes for bound feet, 1910s

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#27 A Wealthy Chinese Woman with Bound Feet

A Wealthy Chinese Woman with Bound Feet

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#28 Group portrait of wealthy Chinese women with bound feet.

Group portrait of wealthy Chinese women with bound feet.

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#29 Two young Chinese women in silk tunics and pants. Both have bound feet, 1900s

Two young Chinese women in silk tunics and pants. Both have bound feet, 1900s

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#30 A woman with bound feet sits on a chair while her small son stands next to her.

A woman with bound feet sits on a chair while her small son stands next to her.

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#31 Two Chinese women with bound feet sit in chairs while their young sons, dressed in robes and hats, stand next to them.

Two Chinese women with bound feet sit in chairs while their young sons, dressed in robes and hats, stand next to them.

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#32 82-year-old bound feet woman Fu Jifen, displays “Three Cuns Golden Lotus” shoes she made at Liuyi Village on April 2, 2007.

82-year-old bound feet woman Fu Jifen, displays "Three Cuns Golden Lotus" shoes she made at Liuyi Village on April 2, 2007.

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#33 Bound Feet Chinese Women.

Bound Feet Chinese Women.

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#34 Bound Feet Chinese Women.

Bound Feet Chinese Women.

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#35 The bound foot of a southern Chinese woman

The bound foot of a southern Chinese woman

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#36 Mandarin Wife

Mandarin Wife

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#37 A young woman reveals her bound feet, with a normal foot (left) posed next to her for comparison, Amoy (Xiamen), Fujian province, southeast China, 1871.

A young woman reveals her bound feet, with a normal foot (left) posed next to her for comparison, Amoy (Xiamen), Fujian province, southeast China, 1871.

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#38 Chinese lady with bound feet.

Chinese lady with bound feet.

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#39 Mandarin Wife with bound feet.

Mandarin Wife with bound feet.

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#40 Femme du Lanxchow, 1870s.

Femme du Lanxchow, 1870s.

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#41 Culling Tea, 1869

Culling Tea, 1869

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#42 Plaster copy of a bound female foot with shoe and stocking, Chinese.

Plaster copy of a bound female foot with shoe and stocking, Chinese.

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#43 Shoes for women with bound feet, Chinese, 1870-1910.

Shoes for women with bound feet, Chinese, 1870-1910.

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#44 hinese woman, whose feet have been bound, rests on a carved stone bench in Beijing, China in February, 1984.

hinese woman, whose feet have been bound, rests on a carved stone bench in Beijing, China in February, 1984.

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#45 Disfigured feet of a Chinese woman. Cruel custom of bandaging feet of women of the aristocracy from infancy.

Disfigured feet of a Chinese woman. Cruel custom of bandaging feet of women of the aristocracy from infancy.

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#46 The atrocious pain of Chinese foot binding usually starts around age four for women and requires wrapping bandages tightly around the foot.

The atrocious pain of Chinese foot binding usually starts around age four for women and requires wrapping bandages tightly around the foot.

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#47 Not only is it a way for Chinese ladies to earn respect from others, but it is also a Chinese custom for ladies to wrap and bondage their feet enabling themselves to insert their feet into the smallest of shoes.

Not only is it a way for Chinese ladies to earn respect from others, but it is also a Chinese custom for ladies to wrap and bondage their feet enabling themselves to insert their feet into the smallest of shoes.

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#48 A Chinese woman shows her deformed bound feet.

A Chinese woman shows her deformed bound feet.

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#49 Unbandaged bound feet of a Chinese woman.

Unbandaged bound feet of a Chinese woman.

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#50 A portrait of young Chinese woman around the turn of the century whose tiny feet are the result of the Chinese tradition of foot-binding.

A portrait of young Chinese woman around the turn of the century whose tiny feet are the result of the Chinese tradition of foot-binding.

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#51 Cruel custom of bandaging feet of women of the aristocracy from infancy was still practiced around 1900.

Cruel custom of bandaging feet of women of the aristocracy from infancy was still practiced around 1900.

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Written by Aung Budhh

Husband + Father + librarian + Poet + Traveler + Proud Buddhist. I love you with the breath, the smiles and the tears of all my life.

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