Chinese Culture: Foot Binding

In the chinese culture women were subjected to the painful process of foot binding. This process deformed the foot into a tiny doll-like replica. The long term affects included painful walking and osteoporosis.

The practice of foot binding began in the Sung Dynasty, sometime between 960-976 BC. It is reported that a prince had a concubine who was required to dance with her feet bound. The prince forced his concubine to dance with bound feet because he had a fetish with tiny feet. This caused traditional family values to dictate that the feet of young girls should be bound to keep them small. The term "Lily feet" was used to describe the tiny feet because they were thought to be very beautiful and a symbol of gentility and high-class.

The actual foot binding process began when a girl was between the ages of three and eleven years old. First the inner foot of the child was washed in hot water and then massaged. Then all of the toes, except the first toe, were broken, turned under, pressed to the bottom of the foot, and bound tightly with cloth strips which kept the feet from growing larger than ten centimeters or three point nine inches. Next, the arches were broken as the foot was pulled straight with the leg. The cloth bandages would be tightly wound around the foot from the toes to the ankle to hold the toes in place.

After about two or three years, the child's feet actually shrank to the point that they could fit into shoes that were only three inches long. These tiny shoes, which were called "lotus shoes", were made of silk and were decorated with beautiful embroidery. The results of the foot binding were highly deformed feet that were extremely painful to walk on. Many times, the toes actually fell off because the bandages were wrapped so tight that blood could no longer reach them.

The purpose of foot binding was to identify women of high-class, and to keep a woman from "wandering". The bound feet kept control over the women because the pain was so intense that they could not even walk short distances without assistance. In the upper class of China, a good marriage would be impossible to arrange if the girl did not have small feet.

The practice of foot binding lasted far over one thousand years until the Manchu Dynasty was toppled in 1911 and the New Republic was formed. It was at this time that foot binding was outlawed.

Foot binding mangles the feet of these people, and causes many other disabilities. The University of California San Francisco did a study that looked at the "prevalence and consequences" of foot binding, and how it was linked to osteoporosis in China. The study included women from the ages of seventy to one hundred. Of those women studied, the ones that had had their feet bound were thirty eight percent more likely to suffer from a fall than those who never had their feet bound. The study also discovered that the women with bound feet had a 5.1 percent lower hip bone density and a four point seven percent lower spine bone density than women with normal feet, putting them at greater risk of suffering hip or spine fractions.

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