25 February 2020
A young girl with bound feet is assisted by her mother. Photo: Guancha
A young girl with bound feet is assisted by her mother. Photo: Guancha

Foot binding sees revival in China

Foot binding is an ancient Chinese tradition that should have no place in modern society. It is one of the worst examples of cruelty to women, consigning them to life-long suffering and disability.

Yet traditions die hard, and in these modern times, the outlawed practice still survives and is seeing some sort of a revival in parts of China, according to an Apple Daily report, citing a mainland website that has documented cases of foot binding.

Foot binding is a six-year process of applying painfully tight binding to the feet of a young girl with the aim of limiting the growth of her feet to less than 12 centimeters in length.

A pair of “lotus feet” was regarded as beautiful in ancient China. It was also a sign of high social status as it implied that those with bound feet could afford not to work and stay at home most of the time.  Lotus feet were also considered highly erotic in ancient culture, and women with bound feet were likely to marry wealthy men.

As society progressed, the practice was eventually considered impractical and even hazardous to health as foot binding often led to infections and permanent disabilities. It was banned by law in 1952.

But according to the website, the tradition is seeing a revival in some parts of the country. It related the case of a 29-year-old woman who started foot binding six years ago. After obtaining the “lotus feet” she desired, she got engaged to a young man and eventually married him.

The administrator of the website says foot binding, with a history of over 1,000 years, still maintains its allure. Otherwise, a woman of the present generation would not experiment it with her own feet.

In foot binding, a woman’s toes are held tightly against the sole of the foot. The foot is then drawn down straight with the leg and the arch forcibly broken. The bandages are repeatedly wound in a figure-eight movement, starting at the inside of the foot at the instep, then carried over the toes, under the foot, and around the heel.

At each pass around the foot, the binding cloth was tightened, pulling the ball of the foot and the heel together, causing the broken foot to fold at the arch, and pressing the toes underneath.

Through the centuries, women would go through great lengths to enhance their beauty and charm. Most of us now abhor the ancient practice of foot binding. But, really, how different is it from today’s tongue and ear piercing or having a facelift or a breast enhancement procedure for that matter?

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