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Chinese Foot Binding: Barbarism At It's Finest

By Pamela Jean     May 17, 2007 in Lifestyle
The practice was finally banished in 1911. But for centuries Chinese women were subjected to it's barbaric practice. Very few women remain alive today to illustrate the effects of this torture. What exactly was "Foot Binding"?
Legend has it that one of the concubines of a Chinese prince late in the T'ang Dynasty (618-906) walked so gracefully that she "skimmed over the top of the lilies". This "lily footed woman" became the person to emulate for the Chinese upper class. Several other legends exist, so the true reason for it's inception is unclear. What is clear, however, is that the practice rendered women quite helpless. The concubines and wives of the rich were unable to run away or escape beatings or abuse. Confucian teachings at this time stressed the superior status of men over women as a basic element of social order. So, it seems that maiming and mutilating the women would be part of the natural order of things.
Foot Binding was initially something practiced by only the rich, as it left the bound women quite incapable of performing any duties in or about the home. Since they were wealthy, they had servants that would literally carry them to and fro and see to their physical needs. It soon spread to the poor however, and became a prerequisite to marriage.
Marriage of course was important for a woman at this time in history, since failure to marry was equated to having no life. Even worse, it was then believed that without husbands or children to tend to their graves, these women would be condemned to spend their afterlife as "hungry ghosts", roaming the Earth for all eternity.
The act of binding generally began for girls around the age of 4. The poor would often wait until the age of 7, as they needed the help of the girls on the farm, and once the binding began, the child was left quite crippled.
A bandage, ten feet long and two inches wide was wrapped tightly around the foot, forcing the four small toes under the sole of the foot. This made the feet narrower but at the same time it made the feet shorter because it also forced the big toe and the heel closer together by bowing the arch of the foot. The bandage was tightened each day and the girl was put into progressively smaller and smaller sized shoes.
Although the bound foot was described as aesthetically pleasing compared with the natural alternative, complications such as ulceration, paralysis and gangrene were not uncommon. Estimates indicate that as many as ten percent of the girls did not survive the "treatment".
The foot eventually became so compressed that women hobbled about with difficulty, or had to lean on a wall or another person for support. The entire process took about 2 years, by which time the feet were essentially dead and useless.
The actual binding of the feet was considered the easy part. The proper care of the now deformed foot was the most painful and time consuming part of the ritual.
The feet had to be washed and manicured on a daily basis. If they weren't manicured properly the toe nails could cut into the instep and infection could set in. If the bindings were too tight they could cut off circulation which could lead to gangrene and blood poisoning. The feet had to be massaged and given hot and cold compresses to help relieve the pain and help improve circulation. If all this isn't bad enough, corns would develop on the toes that were bent under and would have to be cut off with a knife. But wait! It gets worse! With the lack of circulation flesh would rot and fall off and sometimes the toes would ooze pus. The pain was said to have been excruciating especially if this process was begun at a later age.
In the end, the ideal foot fit into a shoe that was 3 to 4 inches long.
There was another reason behind the practice. One that had nothing to do with assuring the men that their women could not run away. It had to do with sex.
With their feet bound, women walked with a "lotus gait" that supposedly tightened their pelvic muscles. "The men said it was like always making love to a virgin." Bound feet were known to be an erogenous zone, possibly because the nerve endings were closer together because of the size of the feet. ..." It was believed that the way foot binding made a woman walk strengthened the vagina and made it more narrow. The girls' buttocks and "jade gate" were believed to develop to such a degree that she could grip her husbands "jade spear" more tightly.
The obsession with small feet bordered on perversion. The art and poetry during this time displayed what was considered to be pornographic images and writings extolling the virtues of the women's tiny feet.
In 1895 the Anti-Foot Binding Society was formed in Shanghai. Since you were not allowed to marry if you did not have bound feet, Society Members would not bind their daughters feet, but would register with the society the names and ages of all their children, both male and female. This way all registered members were able to find mates for their children. Registered members were not allowed to let their children marry women with bound feet.
Finally in 1911, with the revolution of sun Yat-Sen, foot binding was officially outlawed.
There is no real clear understanding of exactly how this practice became law. What is amazing is that it survived for over 1000 years. Estimates indicate that there are still about a million women in China with bound feet. The suffering they experienced in their lifetimes can only be imagined.
Thank God this practice was finally abolished.
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