In ancient China, 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 drugs were used. It is estimated that in about a thousand year period about two billion Chinese women went through the process.
But China wasn’t always like this. According to historical accounts, foot binding appeared in China during the Song Dynasty (960 – 1276 AD). That means Chinese women before the Song Dynasty did not have their feet broken to keep them small. In fact, during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD), women gained more freedom that wouldn’t return until after the Civil War that the Chinese Communist Party won in 1949.
The Manchu leaders of the Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1911) attempted to stop foot binding, and Manchu women did not bind their feet, but many Han women continued the practice. More than 90-percent of China’s population is Han.
In 1928, the Nationalist government also attempted to end foot binding but with mixed success. In rural areas, large feet were still considered unattractive and unacceptable and the practice continued. Smithsonian Magazine says, “Despite the pain, millions of Chinese women stood firm in their devotion to the tradition.”
The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco reports, “Even in 19th century San Francisco, there were Chinese girls and women with bound feet.”
For millions of Chinese women, the practice of foot binding continued until 1949 when the Chinese Communist Party came into power and enacted laws that made women equal to men for the first time in China’s history.
And if you think the practice of foot binding in China was horrible, the BBC reports, “There are still plenty of fashion victims in the 21st Century. ‘Although we haven’t got corsets or crinolines anymore, there are now people having their ribs removed to get a smaller waist.’”
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