“When I was seven my mother washed and placed alum on my feet and cut my toenails. She then bent my toes toward the plantar with a binding cloth ten feet long and two inches wide doing the right foot first and then the left. She ordered me to walk but when I did the pain proved unbearable, that night my feet felt on fire and I couldn’t sleep. Mother struck me for crying. On the following days I tried to hide but was forced to walk on my feet. After several months all toes but the big one were pressed against the inner surface and mother would remove the bindings and wipe the blood and puss which dripped from my feet. She told me that only with removal of the flesh could my feet become slender and every two weeks I changed to new shoes. Each new pair was one to two tenths of an inch smaller than the previous one. At summer my feet smelled offensively because of puss and blood and in winter my feet felt cold because of lack of circulation. Four of the toes were curled in like so many dead caterpillars and it took two years to achieve the three inch model. My shanks were thin; my feet became humped, ugly and odoriferous. “– A woman explaining about her foot binding.
Food binding, a practice that as bizarre as it sounds, was performed on almost 10 million females through 1000 years until it was banned. Underneath its mask of silk and colors, there was a world of pain agony, and symbols of family life, beauty, and fashion. It made small girls feet deformed, tortured them and was extremely painful. It basically began in the Tang Dynasty (618-906) and spread through the upper class during
Why was it done?
The custom of foot binding started as a luxury tradition among the rich to identify the high class from the poor but most important it was a way to keep the women and girls home and not outside losing their chastity. The bound feet isolated the women at home so that they were not able to walk out and stayed home most of the time.
The problem was that the men had the right to call off a wedding if the girl’s foot was not bonded and this brought pressure to those who couldn’t afford to perform on their daughters since a mother was obligated to bind her daughter’s feet to make sure she would get married. The men were charmed by the small feat that restricted their women to the home as it became a symbol of chastity and as they dressed in their robes, their movements reminded of the lotus flower blowing in the wind and the small feet made them walk slowly.
The ritual of foot binding
The process was started before the arch of the foot had a chance to develop fully, usually between the ages of 2-5and usually during the winter months so that the feet were numb, and therefore the pain would not be as extreme.
First, each foot would be soaked in a warm mixture of herbs and animal blood; this was intended to soften the foot and aid the binding. Then, the toenails were cut back as far as possible to prevent in-growth and infections, since the toes were to be pressed tightly into the sole of the foot. Then the girls feet were massaged delicately while cotton bandages were soaked in blood and herbal mixture. The next step was to curl the toes under by pressing with great force downwards until they broke. The broken toes were held tightly against the sole of the foot while the foot was then drawn down straight with the leg and the arch forcibly broken. The actual binding of the feet had then begun. The bandages were 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 round the heel, the freshly broken toes being pressed tightly into the sole of the foot. At each pass around the foot, the binding cloth was tightened, pulling the ball of the foot and the heel ever close together, causing the broken foot to fold at the arch, and pressing the toes underneath, this would cause the young girl extreme pain. When the binding was completed, the end of the binding cloth was sewn tightly to prevent the girl from loosening it, and the girl was required to stand on her freshly broken and bound feet to further crush them into shape. As the wet bandages dried, they constricted, making the binding even tighter. All this was done without any kind of pain relief.
The girl’s broken feet required a great deal of care and attention, and they would be unbound regularly. Each time the feet were unbound, they were washed, the toes carefully checked for injury, and the nails carefully and meticulously trimmed. After this pedicure, the girl’s broken toes were folded back under and the feet were rebound and the bindings were pulled ever tighter each time, so that the process became more and more painful. Whilst unbound, the girl’s feet were often beaten, especially on the soles, to ensure that her feet remained broken and flexible. This unbinding and rebinding ritual was repeated as often as possible (for the rich at least once daily, for poor peasants two or three times a week), with fresh bindings. It was generally an elder female member of the girl’s family or a professional foot binder who carried out the initial breaking and ongoing binding of the feet as the mother would give up on their daughter’s cries and tears. A professional foot binder would ignore the girl’s cries and would continue to bind her feet as tightly as possible and they would also tend to be more extreme in the initial breaking of the feet, sometimes breaking each of the toes in two or three separate places, and even completely dislocating the toes to allow them to be pressed under and bound more tightly. This would cause the girl to suffer from devastating foot pain, but her feet were more likely to achieve the 7 cm (3 in) ideal. The girl was not allowed to rest after her feet had been bound; however much pain she was suffering, she was required to walk on her broken and bound feet, so that her own body weight would help press and crush her feet into the desired shape.
This bizarre process would take around 2 years as the foot would die or become useless. To maintain it, the feet’s had to be washed and manicured on a daily basis, if not the nails would grow in and lead to infections. If the bandage was too tight, the circulation would be cut off and lead to gangrene and blood poisoning. The flesh would then rot and fall of and in some cases the toes would ooze pus.
Some of the other problems foot binding caused were the loss of toes and/or even death. If the woman’s feet were not properly bound, an insufficient amount of blood supply in the feet led to gangrene, causing the decayed toes to fall off. Some of the women even died from foot binding. One of the reasons were the failure to give the feet proper cleaning and grooming but another important problem was that foot binding disrupted the regular menstrual flow.
The general names commonly used for bound feet were “golden lilies,” “lily feet,” or “golden lotus.” Natural footed women, who did not bind their feet because they had to work in the fields or those who rebelled against the traditions, were called “Duckfoot” or “Lotus Boat” and they were disliked and despised for not following the traditional Chinese custom. But they were the lucky ones as footbinding caused enormous pain and agony for the women. Even walking around the house was a difficulty and if the woman had to attend a funeral or anything that took place Outside of her house, she had to be carried on a sedan chair. The unbearable pain and deprivation caused physiological and psychological effects on the women that had to suffer in silence as they covered up their true feelings.
Suppressing the women
This painful custom controlled the women’s life and restricted them to stay home and showed that their place was at home, not on the outside that belonged to the men. The girls did not have a choice as this was done to them on a early age were they didn’t even understand what was happening to them. It had become such important part of tradition and culture that those who chose not to perform it was discriminated and could not get married. While the men enjoyed the sight of the girls walking with small steps and femininity, the women however covered their pain, agony and depression inside of themselves just to satisfy their husbands. Foot binding is banned now and not performed anymore, but there is several old women with small feet that remembers the procedure and pain.