China’s Bound-Feet Women

According to historical accounts, foot binding appeared in China during the Sung Dynasty (960-1276 AD).

The process of foot binding usually started between the ages of four and seven. Feet were soaked in a blood and herb mixture. Toes were broken. Then the arch was broken. There was extreme pain since no pain relief was used. It is estimated that in a thousand years about two billion women went through the process.

What would you do for beauty?

The Manchu leaders of the Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1911) tried with little success to stop foot binding, and Manchu women did not bind their feet. Mostly Han (the majority in China) women continued the practice.

In 1928, the Nationalist government announced plans to do away with foot binding. This attempt to end foot binding met with mixed success. In rural areas, large feet were still considered unattractive and unacceptable and the practice continued.

While working in China for National Geographic on a three part Marco Polo series, Michael Yamashita, a veteran photographer, went in search of women who had bound feet. He found them living in remote urban villages.

Even in 19th century San Francisco, there were Chinese girls and women with bound feet. Source: Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco

In most of China, social and sexual customs resist rapid change. For millions of women, the practice would continue until 1949 when the Communists came into power.

Then the popularity of foot binding to enhance a woman’s beauty ended.


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Note: This post first appeared November 7, 2010.

One Response to China’s Bound-Feet Women

  1. Interesting. And disturbing. The things that women have and do endure in our quest for beauty and security are at times astounding. I think the thousands of women who have plastic surgery today, to enhance and or reduce our natural attributes, to be a modern day form of ‘binding,’ albeit less dramatic, at least of the ‘surface.’ I just wrote a piece with a bit of my personal experience and recovery from two such procedures. Leslie

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