Guest Author - Inci Yilmazli
As beauty comes first for women, for us, we are willing to do anything we can do for it. It was the same for women in ancient China. Women had to suffer all their lives in order to look beautiful and charming for men. We have high heels now and they had “foot binding” back then. It is the most known and common tradition for that period. There are many stories told about the beginning of this tradition and the most accepted and reasonable one belongs to the Tang Dynasty period in the 10th century.
The period’s emperor Li Yu had a mistress who started a new fashion in China by dancing, with her small feet, on a lotus-shaped platform covered with pearls and precious stones. All Chinese women, especially the women in the palace, thought that this beautiful mistress had drawn the emperor’s attention with her small feet. After a while, small feet became the symbol of feminine beauty. Then, the search began. The search for a way to keep the girls’ feet small. And the way found was to break the four toes of girls between 3-7 ages and bind them really tight with silk bandages.
This method was very excruciating but all the girls had to suffer from this pain for the hope of a better future. A better future’s meaning for them was to be able to get married. The mother of a young girl was supposed to do the painful binding procedure. The child’s feet were first soaked in an herbal water and then rubbed to remove the dead skin off the feet which was followed by the breaking of four toes. Bandages were soaked in warm water and then wrapped tightly around the broken toes up to the heel. Every 2 days, the feet were unbound and rebound tighter. For the first couple of years, mothers would do the binding and unbinding procedure and then the girls would continue doing it. In order to be able to get the feet in the exact shape and size, the binding procedure needed to be done at least for a decade without taking a break. Over time, bound feet became the symbol of a higher status, sexual appeal and purity in China. Millions of women were forced to perform this tradition and lived their lives in pain for hundreds of years for the hope for wealth, prestige and a good marriage.
This is a tradition which supports ancient Chinese beliefs and separated women and men. It also made women weak, powerless and dependent on their husbands. When women’s feet were bound, men would easily dominate them and wouldn’t have any concerns about women taking their power away.
The tradition was banned for the first time in the beginning of the 17th century by the Qing Dynasty but this ban was ineffective. In 1911 the practice was labeled as a crime and banned. Again this ban was not effective. After the foundation of the People’s Republic of China, the tradition waned, however, it survived until the 1950s despite all the bans and even today is known to continue in some regions of China.