The Ancient Chinese Custom of Footbinding

The Ancient Chinese Custom of Footbinding

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The Ancient Chinese Custom of Footbinding

The ancient Chinese custom of footbinding has caused severe life-long suffering for the Chinese women involved. The first documented reference to footbinding was from the Southern Tang Dynasty in Nanjing. It was introduced in the 11th century and spread from the ranks of the wealthy to those of more modest means to peasantry. A main reason women did this was for the pleasure of men. Men preferred women with small feet and sexual urges weren't present for un-bound feet. Although the history of footbinding is very vague, it lasted for at least one thousand years. This painful process which folds all the toes except the big one under the sole to make the foot slender and pointed, was created just for the enjoyment and looking pleasures of men.
Earlier text has said that the Han Dynasty was referred to as the people who preferred that the women have small feet. It also stated that the first documented reference to footbinding was from the Tang Dynasty in Nanjing. Before the Song Dynasty, binding was only slightly constricting, allowing some free movement. The Yuan Dynasty introduced binding into the central and southern parts of China and footbinding was most popular in the Ming Dynasty. A famous writer, Zhu Xi helped spread footbinding by introducing it into the southern Fuijan in order to spread Chinese culture and teach proper relations between men and women. Many legends exist to explain where the creation of footbinding came about such as that it began out of sympathy for Empress Taki, who had extremely large feet. Or, where the emperor, Li Yu, ordered his favorite concubine and dancer, Lady Yao, to bind her feet and dance on a golden lotus platform decorated with pearls and gems. Thus came the name "golden lotus" and women from both inside and outside the court began binding their feet thinking them as beautiful, dainty and elegant. A main reason for the practice of footbinding continuing over 100 years was because of its sexual appeal.
Footbinding is an issue that the Chinese do not like to talk about: The men don't because it suggests that men have the power to dominate over women and tell them what to do. Women don't like to talk about it because it is unsettling to think that their ancestors crippled their own daughters just to fit a social standard.

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The truth is that footbinding was very popular and degrading to women. The most obvious reason for bound feet was for the pleasure of men. Men that loved bound feet were called "lotus lovers". The most important part of the foot was the crevice that was created by breaking the arch during the original binding process. The beauty of bound feet was a value deeply rooted in the sexual process. Feet were only unbound for cleaning and for lovemaking. Men said that looking at an unwrapped bound foot would destroy their pleasures forever. It was also said that a girl of marriageable age with natural feet only had limited chances of having a successful marriage, while a girl with bound feet will have increasing opportunities to have a great marriage. Another reason women bound their feet were to show refinement and a sense of class. No matter what the reason was, women still endured this great pain from an early age and continued this agonizing process for many of their childhood years.
The girls were bound at an early age to take advantage of the softness of their bones. Before beginning the actual binding process, the feet would be soaked in warm water to soften the skin. Various ingredients were added such as ground almonds, mulberry root and other herbs to help soften the skin and make for a better binding. Families would pass down these special soaking recipes from generation to generation. The bandage used was approximately two inches wide and ten feet long. The four toes (leaving out the big toe) would be forced under the foot towards the sole. The bandage would be placed against the instep and wrapped over the toes, holding them against the sole. The bandage was then wrapped back around the heel, pulling the heel and toes together. The bandages were sewn together with heavy thread so that they wouldn't unravel, and so the girl would not try to loosen them. The severe pain of bound feet lasted for about a year, but the pain did not disappear until the child's bones quit growing. The feet would be washed and rebound every three days and every two weeks they would change shoes, with each new pair being two tenths smaller than the pair before. The ideal foot was three inches long but this was a rare accomplishment.
There were also many physical effects from binding feet other than the breaking of your toes and forcing them under your foot. One was a groove line down the center of the back caused by tension of the back muscles. Another, caused by making the lower body of the women tense, was the skin tightening. Also the outside swelling of the abdomen was present, a forward curve of the lumbar vertebrae, and the buttocks became larger. The binding process also caused a small part of the foot to lose flesh by rotting away. This caused a putrid smell from the blood, puss and perspiration. It is said that alum was used to absorb the puss and swelling.
As young as four years old, the Chinese girls were forced to bind their feet. None of them asked why they had to endure this torture. Footbinding was formally outlawed in 1911 but the practice still continued into the 20th century. Anti-footbinding reformers decided to start a movement. The first step they took was to carry out a campaign, which explained that the rest of the world did not make their women bind their feet. Secondly, they had the campaign explain the advantages of natural feet and disadvantages of bound feet. Third they formed natural --foot societies whose members pledged against bound feet. These three tactics soon brought footbinding to a quick end. Footbinding, however, was an important social custom in China. It is sometimes compared to plucking eyebrows or getting a face-lift today. It was all a scheme to make their appearance more beautiful and refined. It basically shows that what one society feels is wrong, another may consider right in the context of their cultural beliefs.
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