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Outlawed Foot Binding Practice in China

Outlawed Foot-Binding Practice in China

Outlawed Foot Binding Practice in China: The Subjectivity of Beauty

Before we get into the Outlawed foot binding practice in China (you may also have seen it as feet binding), I would like to explore the concept of beauty– an entirely subjective idea. As former colonies of Europe and European powers, one might describe beauty as Eurocentric in the world we live in. Fair complexion, light eyes, brown or hazel hair are all attributes that one may find attractive. Body variations are common for women. A breast implant here, a hip enhancement, and Botox on the face and lips are ubiquitous today. These alterations act as forms of self-expression. How one chooses their body to look like and how best to express themselves is up to them.

But what of a time before the white, Caucasian people took over the world? What of a time where surgeries and injecting needles ruled over the standards of beauty?

Outlawed Foot Binding Practice in China: Ethnic Standards of Beauty

Throughout the world, before globalization, each region had its beauty standards. The women had to hold to the standard, unlike men. In Japan, the epitome of beauty consisted of women with long jet-black hair. Similarly, in the subcontinent, big-eyed women held the beauty standards. However, in Europe, heavier women were desirable. This is because they represented a wealthy household that could afford food to eat.

Before the world fell into colonies and territories, these standards of beauty were extremely rigid. In those days, marriage was the only think women’s lives revolved around, according to people. Finding the right husband was key to securing a prosperous life full of abundance and good fortune. If this meant altering your appearance even if the pain killed you, then that is a small price to pay for a good, fulfilled life.

Outlawed Foot Binding Practice in China: Chinese Foot Binding Practice

In China, one beauty attribute is ‘lotus feet.’ This practice has maimed millions of girls across China both in terms of movement and growth. Thankfully, the CCP outlawed this practice in the last century.

Still, there are still parts of China where foot-binding continues.

By definition, foot binding was the practice of curling young girls’ feet to modify their shape. It was prevalent in ancient China. It was a known fact that Chinese men desired women with small feet.

Outlawed Foot-Binding Practice in China
Zhao Hua Hong is one of the last living foot binding practitioners.

History of Ancient Chinese Foot Binding

In the 10th century, a Chinese court dancer named Yao Niang famously bound her feet into the shape of a new moon.

She entranced the emperor Li Yu by dancing on her toes, and from there, the trend of binding women’s feet into smaller, daintier sizes popularized. Today we know that this is just a glorified foot fetish: men preferring smaller, daintier women whose feet resembled that of children’s.

At the beginning of this nationwide trend, only women from the nobility and aristocracy had their feet bound. This was because they had no real work, no farms to tend to, no food to cook, so they could afford to have their feet bound to 3-inch tiny ‘lotus feet. By the late 19th century, women knew that having small feet made them more desirable

In most provincial parts of china, men still hold women to this obscure standard of beauty.

Ancient foot-binding culture links to modernity
An artwork depicting a woman with lotus feet

The Gruesome Process of Foot Binding:

The most gruesome part of this practice is not the shape of the feet after the disfiguration. Rather, it is the fact that these practices start when girls are only five to seven years old!

Their feet submerge in boiling water, and later on, a feet massage using oil is provided. Their toes are then broken except for the two big toes. The feet are then molded and suffocatingly bound by bandages. Every time the foot begins to heal itself, the sole breaks. The toes push back, and the process starts all over again. This process takes a total of 2 years.

Just thinking of the millions of girls subjected to this process just for the approval of men is nauseating. Even though it is horrifying, it was the norm at that time.

Outlawed Foot-Binding Practice in China
Feet bound to represent the lotus flower

The main thing to consider when thinking of foot binding is a direct link to modernity. Lip injections, fat liposuction, or breast implantation are no different from having your feet be 3 inches in length. Sure, we can have these alterations reversed for the most part. However, the practice is prevalent today of women altering their bodies to appeal to the male gaze.

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A saying goes, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” What we have forgotten is that while we may turn up our faces and tut these practices today, we, as women, are no different from how we were ten centuries ago.

Outlawed Foot-Binding Practice in China
An ancient pair of golden lotus shoes


In conclusion, we know what foot binding is, how it has been practiced, and what the implications are. In the 10th century, an emperor may have fallen in love with the court dancer becaåuse of her tiny feet. But now we have the knowledge and education to deduce that maiming one’s body to appeal someone is wrong and unethical.

What happened to the millions of girls in China because of this foot binding practice was criminal. While it has been outlawed in China, it could be argued it was too late even if this was almost a century ago.

To support more posts on some of the forgotten history elements of China, comment below to let me know you are enjoying this content. If you want to read similar posts like The Harsh Truth About Social Media In China, subscribe to our blog. Have a good day.

Edited by: Syed Umar Bukhari.

By Hina Butt

Hina has spent a huge chunk of her life in China and considers it as her second home. She's a mommy of two perfect kids and now lives in Oman after moving in with her husband.
Before she started writing blog posts for SesameDisk, she got a graduate degree in Medicine(M.B.B.S) from Southeast University, Nanjing, China. During that time, just to shake things up, she went to Language school at the Shandong University in Jinan and ended up passing HSK Level 6 with flying colors.
She then worked as a GP and did a handful of practices, taught English in Chinese schools and later got into beauty blogging with some really important people who are way too dignified to be named here!
She now writes full-time.

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