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…
At around a month old I was given to another family who looked after me. They treated me very well, like one of their own daughters. She was really good to me.
I grew up with one of her sons and at around 17 we started to sleep together in the same bed; but, we never married. For a long time we tried to have children but we couldn’t conceive.
So, at the age of about 28 we adopted 2 children, one boy and one girl. At the age of 28 I also fell pregnant with a set of twins and at the age of 28 my husband died.
I had too many kids after I gave birth to the 2 girls and couldn’t support them all. So, I gave one little girl to another family in a different village. That couple had no children, and they were so happy to receive her.
The little girl I kept died about a month later, but the girl I gave away survived. She came to visit me from the other family occasionally, but that was a long time ago. My biggest regret was giving the little girl away, and talking about it makes me cry.
At the age of around 11 my adopted mother started to bind my feet and to this day I still use long pieces of cloth that I make to bind them. I used to know many ladies with small feet, but they have all since passed away.
I think I might be the only lady left here with bound feet. I used to be able to make shoes myself but I can’t anymore. My hands ache very much from the work I used to do, and no medicine can help.
My daughter can help me make shoes, but the shoes she makes are all too big. I don’t let others see my feet as I think they are ugly and it’s a private thing for me.
I now live with my son and his wife who take care of me. They are sometimes busy working though so in the morning they’ll cook some food and then at lunch time I can heat it up for myself.
My back and hips also often ache. My life was tough before and we had to carry many heavy things every day, and slowly over time it caused me problems.
I never had the chance to study. Back then many girls didn’t have the chance so I can’t read or write.
The house I live in today was the one I lived in with the man I grew up with so there are many memories here, but mostly sad ones. I really don’t have many happy memories.
Now I am 85, I can eat well and I have some nice clothes to wear. On my birthday all the family comes to visit, and for that small amount of time I feel happiness.
85 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.