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.