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 was born in 1922 so this year I am 96 years old. I am one of the last remaining ladies in Beijing with bound feet and I am the only one left in my village.
I started to bind my feet around the age of 6 years old. It was a long and painful process taking a few years to complete and I had no choice.
Every girl wants to marry and when you’re being told that if your feet are not bound then no boy will want you and you won’t be able to find a husband, you start to agree with the process. My mum and sisters all had bound feet but they are no longer alive.
My feet were wrapped with bandages and the pain reached my knees. The cloth we used was very long and very smelly.
I married at the age of 15. The groom and his family first looked at my feet and not my face. His family told my mum that if my feet were not small then they wouldn’t have allowed us to marry each other.
They were so surprised at how small my feet were and they asked my mum was I born with some kind of disability or were my feet so small because they were bound so well. Back then appearance wasn’t important, the only thing that was important was the size of the women’s feet.
Before marrying, I didn’t go to school which was really unfair and after marriage, we had 5 children, 3 girls and 2 boys who are all still alive today. I gave birth to 6 children, the first child I gave birth to was a boy and just after he was born the Japanese invaded our village and we were on the run. Whilst running away from them he died.
My husband liked my feet whether they were bare or if I wore socks and shoes but my husband passed away when he was 54 years old. That was one of the saddest times of my life.
I never wanted to marry again as I still feel like we are married today. We’ve been married for around 80 years.
I was very tall, very nimble and very quick when I was younger. I could climb trees to collect fruits, dig soil, cook and clean even though my feet were tiny.
We were farmers and that’s hard work. Even with bound feet I still had to work and after a day’s work, my feet were painful, again.
I lived a very tough life and when my children were young there was hardly anything to eat. I’d work hard to provide for them but when it wasn’t enough I’d have to borrow from other people.
No matter how hungry I was or how much I wanted and needed food my children came first. I’d let them eat as much as they needed and if there was anything food left over then I would be able to eat but if not then I would go hungry.
Even though I am old I think I am healthy. I go to sleep early and wake up early at around five in the morning. I’ll put on my shoes, pick up my walking stick and take a walk around the courtyard.
I can still cook but I live with my children now so they take care of me. I have grandchildren and great-grandchildren and hearing the news of them being born were some of the happiest times of my life.
Each day my daughter will help me carefully wash my feet with clean warm water and when I need new shoes she will help me order them from the internet. They are custom made and cost us around 300 yuan.
Festivals are very important to me and at these times we all gather together to eat and drink and it’s lovely to see my huge family of 5 generations in one place.
A few years ago I completed my list of dreams by visiting and taking a photo in Tiananmen Square. My son drove us there and took the photo for me.
Since then I have had many journalists visit me but I sometimes find this annoying. They just come to take a lot of photos of me and don’t talk but I have never been interviewed by a foreigner before.
These days I am happy.
96 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.