It’s estimated that during the nineteenth-century foot binding was carried out on as high as 50 percent of China’s female population.
The cruel and barbaric practice saw girls as young as two have their bones and ligaments in their feet broken and bent to try and make them as small as possible. In some cases less than 3 inches long. The practice is thought to date back to the Song Dynatsy – around a 1000 years ago and was officially banned in 1911 after the fall of the Qing Dynatsy.
Although illegal, many parents and grandparents still bound their daughters and granddaughters feet in order for them to find a husband to marry. Young girls were still having their feet bound in 1958, years after it was outlawed.
Here are some of their stories…
I think I am still so healthy because these days I am very happy and also carefree. I don’t really like to much eat or have never really eaten much meat which is maybe another factor as to why I am still so healthy!
This year I am 93 and I can still pretty much do anything I could do 50 years ago. I don’t take medicine, drink or smoke. I have better hearing than some of my children, my eyes are very clear, I still cook and clean.
Each summer I grow plenty of vegetables for us to eat including, pumpkins, squash, tomatoes and chilies, but life hasn’t always been this good and before life was tough.
At the age of around 6 I started to bind feet under instructions from my mother who had smaller feet than mine but I can’t remember the first time as it was such a long time ago. She thought that without small feet a girl was ugly. I really didn’t want to make my feet small but my mum said I had too. It was so painful, I couldn’t walk or I couldn’t sleep very well.
At night I also wrapped my feet, I didn’t wear shoes to bed but a tight pair of socks. If the pain was too unbearable I would undo the bandages but my mum would hit me if she knew. It was hard to undo anyway as my mum sowed them up with needle and thread.
We would take off the bandages once a day to clean them as this would prevent infections and smell then wrap them up once more, each time tighter. After a while I got used to the pain and my childhood became a little better as when my feet stopped hurting I could walk pretty well and go and play outside with the other girls who were all going through or had been through same process as me.
I don’t really know why I had to bind my feet as when I married it wasn’t really important unlike before. They didn’t look at my feet first but when my mother married they looked at her feet to see if they were small in order to marry my dad. They just looked at my face. My husband didn’t care about small feet either and he didn’t like or dislike them, it was just something that I had.
I was always shy about others seeing my feet and I always hid away when they were bare. I still don’t like others seeing them today and luckily I am still healthy enough too able to clean them myself. When I am unable to do so my daughter will be able to help me.
When I was younger my mum could make shoes for us to wear and those shoes were worn by my sisters also. We also had wooden shoes which would prevent my feet from growing as they were very hard unlike cotton shoes which would stretch.
I think I am shorter than I should have been because of foot binding. Even though, at the time I bound my feet it was illegal, no one ever told us to stop and if China hadn’t opened up then I probably wouldn’t have bound my daughter’s feet. I am happy that this practice is now outlawed and no girls have to suffer.
My parents were born during the Qing Dynasty and they were very traditional, I was 1 of 4 children, there 3 other girls and we all had small feet and pretty much everyone I knew had small feet back then. My dad was a farmer and a well-educated man, he could read and write and my parents were quite rich, we lived in a big house and had lots of land but after 1949 the government took it off us and shared it out equally.
I met and married my husband on the same day and I was 21 years old, a little later than other girls of which some married at the age of 15. I had no choice about marrying him and even if I didn’t want to I’d have had to. He died about 10 years ago and we had 8 kids in total but 3 died when they were young and like my mother and father we were farmers but not as rich as they were.
We struggled to find enough for us to eat and what we did have we’d give to the children first. If there was anything left then we’d eat. We also struggled to find enough clothing for us all. Back then I could make clothes, socks, gloves, hats and shoes but it was hard to find cloth to make them, I was around 30 years old. As things slowly got better I could afford some nice clothes, I used a little make up, I used to keep my hair very long and now, I have more then enough and I am very happy.
I’ve never left Tianjin and when I was 13 years old I saw the Japanese army and the soldiers were horrible people. Sometimes when they saw innocent Chinese people walking along the street they’d just decided to kill them, all for no reason. They liked to use knives to open up peoples stomachs, they burnt people alive and beat them to death. I remember they threw 3 people into a the local well and then they threw a grenade into the well on top of them but it only killed 2 of the people, 1 survived but has since passed away.
My biggest regret was that I didn’t study. I really wanted to study and then I wanted to be a solider. I wanted to help fight back against the Japanese. We were all very scared and were very happy when a division of the Chinese army came to Tianjin to keep back the Japanese from entering some villages and killing more people.
As I said, these days life is good and I only have a few problems, one being that I can’t find shoes to fit me. This house I live in was built in 1976 and is filled with happy memories from 5 generations. Before I was very worried about my sons as I knew it was hard to find a wife but now I couldn’t be happier or prouder of all my children. I love seeing my grandkids and great grandkids.
I would like to live until I am 100 and at this rate I think I might live to be more than 100. I think it’s important to be happy and I love to laugh and joke.
93 years old
These ladies have lived a tough life. They have seen huge changes and experienced a lot. They are the very last of their kind and within the next 10 years it might be impossible to find a lady with bound feet. For now, I think we can all agree and are glad that this culture and tradition no longer happens.