Foot Binding: Crippling Practice Fades into History


End in Sight

The onset of foot binding is unclear, but it seems to have developed during the T’ang Dynasty (618-906 AD) and lasted until it was outlawed in 1911. One legend has it that an empress or concubine had a club foot. She asked the emperor to make footbinding mandatory for all girls so her foot would be considered the ideal of beauty. Another story is that a favorite concubine wrapped her feet in white silk so they would look like crescent moons. She then performed a lotus dance on the points of her feet as though she “skimmed on top of golden lotus.” 


Upper class women copied this fashion of binding their feet in silk, and over the years, the practice spread throughout the population. Many such customs continue in secret long after they are outlawed, and such is the case with foot binding. Away from the cities, the practice lasted until 1949, when the communists took over. They strictly enforced the ban and the practice was punishable by death, so it finally died out. There are still women alive today with bound feet.


Throughout history, women have suffered for beauty, and often it is the women themselves who perpetrate the pain. We think of foot binding as a cruel and unnecessary, part of the history of Chinese culture. I’m sure many of the things Western women do in the name of beauty would be considered almost as barbaric—wearing corsets, using lead-based face paint, and plastic surgery are a few that come to mind. Humans judge outward appearance first, but SUCH beauty fades.  Instead, we should judge the heart--the unfading beauty of our inner selves.








- Patty Boyd, IPFH Roving Reporter

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