The desire for beauty led individuals into mutilating their bodies, a practice that was carried out by many different cultures of the world. Examples of some of the practices are plastic surgery, tattooing, circumcision, but none compares to the pain and effort that accompanied foot binding, which was practiced by the ancient Chinese.
Dorothy, In Every day a lotus, indicates that the culture of foot binding began in China in the tenth century during the reign of the Tang dynasty. The culture lasted for a long period which is approximated to be around 1000 years. The Tang dynasty had their own dance troupes for entertainment during their cultural feasts. To allow them to make small and light steps required of them during such dances, the dancers used to have their feet bound. The dance troupes majorly composed of women, thus foot binding was done on women (Dorothy 105).
To impress the barbaric emperors was another reason why foot binding was practiced causing it to spread quickly more specifically among the upper class. In the long run, it spread out to the rest of the people and it was observed as a ritual, making it compulsory for every woman. Those who did not undergo the ritual lived a life of contempt, and were considered as outcasts in their own families
Initiating foot binding was Emperor Li Yu who was being regarded as one of the most respected romantic poets. The leadership of the emperor was absolutely wanting and had more interest on women, drinking of wine and dancing ending up forgetting matters of importance pertaining the state, consequently his term of leadership ended after a short period.
Foot binding was so engrossed on the Chinese’s culture that it was difficult for a woman with the large natural feet to find a husband. Perfect feet to them were described as thin and small, sharp pointed, soft, sweet smelling and also symmetrical. In the eventuality, it is estimated that a total of around three million women had undergone this ritual before it was abolished.
The foot binding process involved several steps and it was normally done when a girl attained the age of four to six years. Foot binding was advocated to start early in life since delaying would result to the feet growing to big to supple, however, their was a danger of one becoming a cripple if it was started too early in life.
Firstly, the feet to be bound were soaked in a mixture animal’s blood and wild herbs. This was done purposely to help in the falling off of all the dead skin. Secondly, the toe nails were shaped to be as short as possible to help counter the problem of toe nails becoming and in one way or the other to circumvent infections. Thirdly, the feet of the young innocent girl would be massaged.
Bandages which had specific measures of ten feet in length and a width of two inches were put in the herb and blood mixture which would then be used to wrap up their feet tightly resulting in the four small toes being pulled towards the direction of the heel. The toes would then be pulled tighter as the bandages dried. For every two to four days, the dried bandages would be changed and the process would be repeated again.
In most cases, the smaller toes would break within the first year but this would not deter the process from continuing for another ten years though some continued much longer. The victims were unable to walk and were left to lead a life full of great pain.
The psychology behind foot binding
The big question was why did so many parents inflict so much pain on there daughters. There were sexual reasons as to explain this arguing that their vaginal muscles would become more developed, and they thought that after binding the feet, the lower legs atrophied and this would result to an exaggerated hip swaying motion. They used their hip muscles to move resulting in enlargement of the hip muscle and the muscle of the perineum.
Binding feet was also associated with the shrinking of the vagina. Apart from the excruciating pain, there was a high price to pay for the increased shrinking power of the vagina in that their existed some physical limits on women and an increased workload for the men. They were limited to walking a distance of about three to five miles , thus there world was made smaller calling for care and support.
Hong and Fan found that Foot binding also influenced architectural designs whereby Chinese houses could be constructed with at most two floors because women were unable to climb upstairs. Women required the support of men to walk or even a rail, a wall, or else they could use carry umbrellas for use as walking sticks. The women couldn’t travel when the western countries explored and colonized the world. The effects of foot binding were physical and mental restricting the Chinese to their own country.
Among the polygamous men, foot binding was seen as an avenue to avoid the problem of jealousy among their wives. They averted from the usual emotional and personal attributes to sex and treated it as something physical. Although in ancient china, people preferred making children their female counterparts, foot binding reversed the whole perception. It was later thought that a bound daughter had a high chance of getting in a wealthy marriage as compared to the unbound one.
According to Chinese men bound feet was associated with higher degree of love and sex thus bound feet became a sexual fetish which was known to create a better environment for intercourse. The owner of bound feet was believed to bear a muscled vagina which was believed to be wondrous arousing both pity and lust.
Anti foot binding movements
Since foot binding was so connected to a woman’s gender, care had to be taken when trying to do away with it. Campaigns against foot binding were started by the enlightened in 1985 collapsing when they gave up on the campaign. Supporters of the movements had to make sure that the women knew that the pain of foot binding was clearly unnecessary. Churches also joined in the movements and backed up the naturally footed women and promised to find a marriage partner for the unbound daughters.
Some opposition arose during the Qing period (1644-1911) though it was belated and weak. The Qing ruling clan, who were said to be ethnically Manchu, attempted to prohibit the custom among the Chinese. The Shunzhi emperor, in 1645, made a declaration that foot binding be banned, but his successor, restored the practice arguing that it was deeply rooted in the peoples culture to abolish it.
It took a collaboration of internal Chinese and western missionary-inspired pressures in the twentieth century to generate calls for reform and a true anti-foot binding movement emerged. Eventually, the practice of foot binding was officially done away with.
It took some time for the Chinese to change their perspective on foot binding. The educated Chinese realized that the foot binding act made them appear in-human to foreigners , social activists argued that it made the nation weak since enfeebled women produced weak sons while the feminists attacked it because it caused suffering to womenfolk.
The work of anti reformers had three aspects: first they carried out modern education campaigns that intimated that the rest of the world did not practice foot binding and that china was losing face in the world making it the subject of international ridicule. The anti foot binding reformists also took amble time to explain the importance of natural feet to both men and women, they later came up with anti foot binding societies whose members swore never to practice foot binding to their daughter’s feet and to deter their sons from getting married to women who had their feet bound.
These tactics effectively succeeded in bringing foot binding to an end, resulting to the removal of a practice that had lasted for about 1000 years. Young girls thereafter were spared the tortures of foot binding, though bound feet women who were elderly still could be found.
It is evident that foot binding was a horrible experience that the Chinese women underwent and would never want to repeat again. It’s also quite funny, how the Chinese men used to link bound feet with better sexual intercourse and as a method of judging civilization in women. It was thus imperative that anti foot binding movement’s rose to abolish the barbaric ritual. The elite should always be at the fore front championing for the rights of the less privileged and against oppressive cultures.
Dorothy, Ko .Every Step a Lotus: Shoes for Bound Feet .University of California Press, 2001.
Feng, Jicai. The Three-Inch Golden Lotus. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1999
Hong, Fan. Foot binding, Feminism and Freedom: The Liberation of Women's Bodies in Modern China .Rutledge, 1997.