Chinese Bound Feet Shoes

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(This is taken verbatim from information given to us by a shoemaker in Melaka.)


Chinese Bound Feet Shoes

    Of all the styles of Chinese footwear, none causes so much curiosity and as much controversy as the shoes worn by Han Chinese women with bound feet.  The shoes were known as Lotus hooks, golden lilies, and golden lotus.

    The cult of foot binding is thought to have begun in the 10th century.  One of the rulers during this time was Li Yu.  According to [history], his favorite consort had bound her feet in a dance she performed for him to suggest the new moon.  The fashion caught on among the women in the court.  However, after the Song dynasty, the bindings became so tight that it was impossible for women with bound feet to dance.  Gradually, the styles spread to women outside the court until it was almost universal in China.  The Manchus tried to ban it when they came to power in 1644, but were not successful.  Manchu women never wore the tiny shoes.

    By the end of the 19th century, the custom had begun to decline in popularity due to western influence.  The new Republic banned foot binding in 1912, and the custom finally died out in the 1930s.

    A girl would have her feet bound [starting] between the ages 3 and 5 [then for the rest of her life].  A binding cloth of white or black finely woven cotton or silk was wrapped around the foot beginning with the toes.  The feet were usually bound to a length of 5 inches.  As part of her dowry, a girl would make between 4 and 16 pairs of shoes to prove her skill in needle work as well as her small feet.  After the wedding, a pair was given to each of the main female in-laws.  All were richly embroidered.  Low and high heels were worn.

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