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 don’t like to talk too much about my past as it was tough and there were many sad times, but now in my old age I feel much happier. I have had the chance to travel to some other cities and now my husband and I live quite well.
I am lucky that I have had the chance to grow old with him. I also have the chance to eat well, drink well, wear nice clothes, and I now feel safe.
We still live together, just us 2 and this year we are both 87. He is quite healthy but he shakes a lot and can’t walk very well. Our children bought him a zimmer frame and this helps keep him walking.
We married at 18 and I didn’t meet him until the day of the wedding. We weren’t allowed to meet before. He came from another village and when he arrived he first looked at my small feet and not my face.
Back then small feet were very important and the only way to be able to marry a good man. After we married I felt pretty happy with him.
When I was younger I was very beautiful and my husband thought so too. The house that we live in is the house we have lived in for the last 60 years or so.
After marriage, we continued our lives working as farmers and we grew lots of corn. We had 3 children 1 boy and 2 girls and things were good.
We never fight and he treated our children and me very well. He was and still is very gentle and patient and still really cares about me.
He had the chance to study as a young boy but I never had the opportunity, I was stuck at home. I started to bind my feet at around 8. My mum made me do it and she would help me at first. She told me when I was crying and in pain that if I didn’t have small feet, no one would want to marry me.
My grandmother also agreed to make my feet small and they both have very small feet like mine today. My younger sister didn’t have to bind her feet, she was lucky.
There is no pain in my feet now but I remember I often cried and couldn’t sleep well. I would try and avoid walking and I would crawl around on my knees instead.
I think my feet are ugly. It was and still is very inconvenient. Today I still wrap them up, as if I don’t I find it hard to walk. My daughter and I can still make shoes, as I can’t buy shoes that fit me anymore.
I am still pretty healthy. My eyes are still pretty good, unlike my ears. I can still cook and clean and take care of myself and my husband.
About 15 years ago our son took us on the train to Beijing. We visited some famous sights but didn’t climb the Great Wall.
We went to Tiananmen Square and lots and lots of people were looking at me and my small feet. I wasn’t scared and felt quite safe, I think Beijing is a good place but now I am too old to return.
We now spend our days at home with each other and we don’t need too much help but sometimes we feel quite bored. I care most about my children and I want them to lead a happy and healthy life.
87 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.