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Work, not sex? The real reason Chinese women bound their feet

Category: It`s interesting to know 
2017-05-22

It was an excruciatingly painful practice that maimed the feet of millions of Chinese girls and women for centuries: foot-binding.

 

Tiny "golden lotus" feet -- achieved through breaking girls' toes and arches and binding them to the sole of the foot with cloth -- were thought to be a passport to a better marriage and a better way of life.

 

"In the conventional view, it existed to please men. They were thought to be attracted to small feet," said Laurel Bossen, co-author of the new book "Bound feet, Young hands."

 

But Bossen's research suggests that the custom has been massively misunderstood.

 

 

Girls who had their feet bound didn't lead a life of idle beauty but rather served a crucial economic purpose, especially in the countryside, where girls as young as 7 weaved, spun and did work by hand, Bossen said.

 

 

Foot-binding persisted for so long because it had a clear economic rationale: It was a way to make sure young girls sat still and helped make goods like yarn, cloth, mats, shoes and fishing nets that families depended upon for income -- even if the girls themselves were told it would make them more marriageable.

 

 

Bossen says women weren't shy about talking about or showing their bound feet, making her skeptical that it was an erotically charged fetish.

 


'Distortion of history'

 

 

"You have to link hands and feet. Footbound women did valuable handwork at home in cottage industries. The image of them as idle sexual trophies is a grave distortion of history," said Bossen.

 

 

Foot-binding persisted because it ensured that young girls sat still and worked at a boring, sedentary task for many hours each day, she said, and it died out only when manufactured cloth and foreign imports eliminated the economic value of handwork.

 


Girls began hand spinning yarn as young as 6 or 7 -- roughly the same ages as when their feet were bound. The women they spoke to made the connection between the two:

 

 

"My mother bound my feet when I was around 10 years. At around age 10, I started to spin cotton. Each time she bound my feet, it hurt until I cried," one woman who was born in 1933 told the researchers.

 

 

Foot-binding dates to the Song dynasty (960-1279) and spread from court circles to wealthy elites and eventually from the city to the countryside. By the 19th century, it was commonplace across China.

 

 

It began to decline in the early years of the 20th century, with its demise usually attributed to ideological campaigns led by missionaries and reformers, and subsequent moves by the Nationalist government followed by the Communists to ban the practice.

 

 

Bossen said she spoke to women born as late as the 1940s whose feet had been bound for a short time.

 

 

Source 

Tags: golden lotus feet women Chine

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