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 and this year I will be 97 years old, I am only four years away from my 100th birthday but I don’t know how I will spend it yet but I would like to live that long to experience it.
I never thought I’d live this long as when I was younger I wasn’t particularly healthy and it was difficult to find enough food to eat and to stay healthy. I had to climb mountains and find wild foods which were free for us to eat.
I live and have always lived in the countryside of Beijing. I’ve only visited the city centre once, for a wedding a few years ago.
At 17 I married my husband in an arranged marriage and I met him on the wedding day. As I had bound feet and my feet were small he and his family agreed that we could become husband and wife. Nothing else really mattered back then only small feet.
We had 7 children – 2 girls and 5 boys. My husband died in 1948, he was sick and we had no money to see a doctor or buy any medicine. He was a soldier.
I remember the happiest time was before I was married, I had no hobbies and although life wasn’t easy it was just better. After marriage, life was hard and in 1959 there were about 40 people all living together in one hall. The females used to have to cook and clean, look after the children and grow vegetables and corn.
Eggs and meat were rarely eaten as we didn’t have the money to buy them. We used to eat a lot of white radish as they were easy to grow. I have never really eaten meat and I believe this is one of the reasons I’m still alive today.
Before I was a very strong lady and could do more than most ladies could back when we were young. I worked very hard to make our lives as best as possible and tried to make my family as happy as I could.
My hearing is still very good and apart from my eyes, everything else works fine. Nowadays I spend most of my days at home alone, my children don’t really care about me but the government does. I receive money each month which is enough but I don’t have the opportunity to spend it.
I feel scared when I am home alone, I never used to when I was younger, I was a brave young lady and wasn’t scared of much. I can’t see well so I can’t do much for myself like cooking so I have to wait for my son to come home and cook for me. Sometimes when he gets home I am really hungry.
I also don’t like using electricity, in fact I am a little scared of it. When I was younger I also used an open fire to cook as we didn’t have modern utensils like we have today to cook.
I did have two brothers but they both died at a very young age. They were outside near our house when a plane dropped a bomb and unfortunately it killed them both. We found out after that the bomb was supposed to be dropped on a village close by where Chinese soldiers were working and living.
My mother was very traditional and started binding my feet when I was 10 years old. She broke my toes and bandaged them up tucking them under the soles of my feet. In the day time I’d wear tight bandages which gradually got tighter and tighter stopping my feet from growing.
I only bound my feet during the day and it was so, so painful. At night we took the bandages off.
My feet are not really small but not the size they should be. They are deformed.
The binding process lasted about two years. I didn’t want to bind my feet but I had no choice, these days I wear shoes designed for children as I can’t find adult shoes to fit. My mum always told me that if I didn’t bind my feet and make them small no boy would want me.
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.