Friday, April 07, 2006
Footbinding: The Origins
The most popular belief is when the Empress Taki (South Sung Dynasty ,1127-1279 AD) was born with clubfeet, her father made an edict that all high born women of China would have their feet bound. This myth was promulgated by the Christian Missionaries at the beginning of the 20th century, primarily because the truth was so unthinkable as to necessitate a total fabrication. Like all ancient Chinese the Empress Taki's father was transfixed with small feet and kept a large troupe of petite, erotic dancers, all with tiny feet. They would dance for his sensual pleasure on a floor of lotus leaves. The lotus is symbolic of the vulva. This form of erotica became extremely popular but not all merchants could afford the upkeep of their own dance troupe. Foot binding was an attempt to emulate the emperor's dancers and the habit plunged hundreds of millions of Chinese men into ecstasies of sexual pleasure for a staggering one thousand years.
Foot binding was principally the prerogative of the wealthy and merchant classes and the lotus foot, which was three inches long, was a must for all genteel lovers. The tiny foot provided endless amusement, with often the smell of the unwashed foot holding charms for some, who referred to it as a fragrant bed aroma. Binding started at about age four and the feet were kept bound until the child was eighteen. Women were traditionally trained to do the binding and the task often fell on mothers and grandmothers. Bandages were renewed daily with the bare foot washed and rubbed with alcohol, as a precaution against ulceration. Later the manipulated foot was confined within a strong convex soled boot to force the toes towards the heel. This created an exaggerated heightened arch coupled with proprioceptive changes in the skin over the decade and a half the sole of the foot became hypersensitive and was referred to as a second vagina. The alteration in walking, due to the smaller foot, is also thought to have caused sensitive folds to develop within the labia. The big toe was proportionately large and tactile and considered a useful extension. Foot kissing and sucking was a common practice with the whole foot being placed in the mouth.
Bound or lotus feet were considered the source of magical eroticism and lotus feet secured a worthwhile marriage. Despite their misshapen appearance, Lotus feet were looked upon as the most erotic part of a woman's body, and the delicate slippers or bootees worn to cover them were no less delectable. Chinese husbands respectfully coveted their wives' tiny Lotus shoes and would sometimes display them on a small plate (with room to spare) to show off the foot size.
Women commonly owned several hundred pairs of these shoes. They spent long hours embroidering them with symbols of fertility, longevity, harmony and union. Shoes worn on the wedding night often depicted explicit erotic scenes as a way of instructing the virgin bride. There were also “Tiny Foot Festivals" where ladies competed to see who had the smallest feet. Some wealthier families even dyed their daughter’s tiny feet just to make her to more attractive to would be suitors. When courting, if a man wanted to make sexual advances towards a lady he would drop an item as if by accident and tentatively touch her feet. If she did not become enraged then the man was free to peruse his advances. If she became angry with him then no apology would be acceptable, even if it were truly accidental.
Foot binding fell out of favour when China became a republic in 1912 and had virtually disappeared in most provinces by the time Mao Tse-Tung officially banned the practice in 1949. With the passing of the fascination for small feet came the condemnation of the practice, it was branded as rude, lascivious and overtly sexual, leading men to stray from their responsibilities. The Chinese, of course blamed, the western influence and in particular the Victorian preoccupation for excessive corseting. This is not without irony because at the height of the European fashion an attractive corseted waist, measured twelve inches, or one foot.