Monday, July 6, 2020


“Footbinding in China:
A Curious Look at the Male Role
in a Tool of Social Subjugation”

Melodie Dongyao Liu
The Concord Review Fall 2015

For centuries, Chinese mothers tightly bound their daughters’ feet to alter them into highly coveted “golden lotus” shapes. This included forcing up the arch and creating a cleft in the sole of the foot, requiring the bones to break and the skin to rot and peel away. After two years of torturous suffering, the girls’ feet would ideally measure only three inches in length. These mimicked the feet of famed 10th-century dancer Yaoniang, who was said to have performed atop a giant gilded lotus in the court of Li Yu, last ruler of the Southern Tang dynasty. Mothers knew that their daughters’ feet would serve as the main determinants of their future prospects. To matchmakers, rich rulers, and prospective mothers-in-law, the quality of their feet spoke volumes about  their upbringing and strength of character. By the Qing dynasty, neatly-bound feet were necessary for the navigation of almost every Chinese province’s social structure.

Historians trace mythological beginnings of the practice to the Southern Tang dynasty of the Five Dynasties period. In the course of a thousand years, footbinding became ingrained in Chinese culture, due to its erotic appeal and symbiotic relationship with class distinction. By the mid-twentieth century, criticism from Western cultures and internal nationalist pressure had eradicated the practice from China. The purpose of this essay is to explore how male forces facilitated the practice’s beginnings, institutionalization, and eventual downfall.

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