The binding of feet was said to be an indicator of Chinese class and a symbol of beauty, but through time, ended up becoming a tradition, lasting over a thousand years and affecting all women in every society leading to one billion women having their feet bound. It was a custom that controlled every woman’s lifestyle. Trying to find a husband for those whose feet were left unbound was virtually impossible. The origin of foot binding is not clear, but it is alleged that binding the feet of women, stopped concubines and wives of the upper class from straying or escaping a beating. It was considered an effective method of restraint.
Girls were subjected to the tradition of foot binding from an early age, sometimes, as soon as they were able to walk. The process involved the wrapping of bandages tightly around the feet, preventing them from normal growth. If the family was poor, the binding would not happen until the girls were older which meant having to break the bones in order to attain the required size which was no more than three inches long. The shoes known as the lotus shoe were made of silk. The bandage would be wrapped so tightly around the foot it would force the four small toes under the sole of the foot thus making the foot narrow and shorter as the foot, having no room to grow, would begin to arch. The bandage is tightened on a daily basis and the shoes provided became gradually smaller.
The whole process would take around two years to complete, but the aftercare entailed a lot of work to keep the feet free from infection. Manicure and washing had to be done on a daily basis or the nails, if left to become too long, would cut into the sole of the foot leading to infection and possible gangrene. The binding had to be monitor also as if it was too tight circulation would be cut off again leading to gangrene. Many girls and women have died due the lack of after care and infections The feet would be massaged and hot and cold compresses given in order to relieve the pain and help with circulation and corns would be cut off with a knife.
A nasty as this sounds, it is not really any different to European women who alter their looks for their man by the wearing of laced up corsets in Victorian times in order to have a small waist, having breast implants, liposuction, tummy tucks or the wearing of stilettos. In the US a couple of generations ago, it was fashionable for women to have small feet and so it was not uncommon to buy shoes a size smaller. This did not go without pain. Today women sport tattoos and body piercings. The only difference here is that European women do these things voluntarily.
One of the many folklore stories involved an empress who had a club foot. She convinced her husband to make it mandatory for all young girls to have their feet bound and compressed, thus allowing the empress to set her deformity as a model of beauty and elegance. It was believed that a woman whose feet had been bound would walk in a certain way which strengthened her vagina and made it narrow. The females’ buttocks and “jade gate” were believed to develop in such a way that she could grip her husbands’ “jade spear” tightly.
Men who were turned on by bound feet were referred to as “lotus lovers”. They were aroused by the mysterious feet and were thrilled when the cotton covers were taken off. They inhaled the fragrant aroma and took delight in smelling the bared flesh. The husbands would fondle the foot in the palms of his hand before gradually caressing it with his mouth. He would place watermelon seeds or almonds between the toes before eating them from the woman’s foot. Beside these strange fetishes some men would drink the water that had previously been used to bathe the feet. The bound feet would be treasured like gold.
Starting in the T’ang Dynasty in the years 618-906, foot binding gradually spread through the upper classes during the Song Dynasty, 906-1297 and continued through the Ming period, 1368-1644. The first anti foot binding society was formed in 1895 in Shanghai, eventually spreading across the country. All registered members were not allowed to marry any woman with bound feet. Finally, foot binding was officially banned in 1911 during the Revolution of Sun Yat Sen.