Friday, February 17, 2006

The curious practice of footbinding

There have been times in history when there was little difference between concubines and dancers. We know in the eleventh century in China during the Sung Dynasty foot binding became an all pervasive preoccupation among the middle and upper classes. Foot binding was inspired by a group of small erotic dancers particularly favoured by the Emperor. As a mark of respect all Chinese ladies of high society had their foot bound. Foot binding started when the girls were between four and seven. Little bones were not completely formed and the tight bonding pulled the foot into a particular shape. The intention was to create a heightened arch by pulling all four lesser toes towards the heel. The great toe was left.

The children suffered great pain until the bones eventually set in the desired position (around eighteen years of age). Mothers or grandmothers normally carried out the binding which also included the application of balms and inunctions. Strange to even comprehend today but families would be very proud of their children with bound feet and the Lotus Foot was a status symbol. Having a daughter with bound feet was the equivalent of having someone in the family enter the priesthood or become a nun. The bound foot was assurance of a good marriage and a prosperous old age for the parents.

The coming of Christian missionaries to China combined with the Cultural Revolution eventually saw the end to foot binding. The once kept women had their feet unbound leaving them freaks unable to move without pain and there are many accounts of sightings of old women being carried on the backs of relatives through city streets.

Reviewed 19/11/2016

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