Chinese Footbinding

Four x-ray views of footbinding, ca. 1948.
Four x-ray views of footbinding, ca. 1948. CC otisarchives1

The Chinese practiced footbinding for about a millennium, starting during the Sung (Song) Dynasty, perhaps as early as the 10th century, and ending in the 20th century. Footbinding was thought to make the foot look like a flower and was only done to young girls (starting at age 6-8) who were thus hobbled and unable to do most labor. The crippling process to create a 3-inch "lily foot" was painful, but was undergone because it enhanced marital prospects by making the girl more sexually appealing.

Even after the Manchu rulers banned footbinding, Han Chinese mothers pressed the 4 smaller toes under their daughters' feet and pressed the sole against the heel by applying tight bandages. The process was sometimes fatal.

Examples: Footbinding is an example of how standards of beauty change. Footbinding also shows the dramatic lengths to which people will go to make themselves attractive.

Sources: Jennifer W. Jay "Footbinding" The Oxford Encyclopedia of Modern World. Ed. by Peter N. Stearns. Oxford University Press, 2008.

"Ending Footbinding and Infibulation: A Convention Account," by Gerry Mackie. American Sociological Review, Vol. 61, No. 6 (Dec. 1996), pp. 999-1017.