Social position and tradition was very important in ancient Chinese
culture. An individual's position in society was often indicated by the
types of clothing worn, or the symbols embroidered on their garments.
For the wealthy, fabrics were endlessly luxurious and comfortable ...
except for the peculiar tradition of Chinese footbinding. Whether native
to the East or to the West, women have suffered for the price of beauty.
Clothing was embroidered in ancient times with symbols indicating one's
social position, especially those designed for imperial
court robes. Embroidery designs later became purely ornamental,
decorating traditional silk robes
and accessories with plants, fruit, birds, flowers, and other forms of
nature. Traditional robes were relatively plain in structure, loose and
comfortable in comparison with the corseted designs of many Western fashions
over the years.
However, the Chinese tradition of footbinding
for the upper classes caused permanent damage to a woman's feet - all
for the sake of beauty, pride, and husband hunting. If feet were not bound,
a girl would become a "large-footed barbarian" and cause shame
to her family.
Between the ages of three and seven, girls' feet were tightly wrapped
to begin the process of bending down the foot in order to break the bones
of the instep. By the time of her wedding at the age of fourteen, a bride's
fashionably-sized foot measured only three inches long. The convex top
of the foot sloped to the large toe, still facing upward, but the other
four toes had been imbedded underneath into the sole of the foot. Common
complications included ulceration, paralysis, even gangrene and the loss
Footbinding may have started as early as the Tang Dynasty (618-906) when
dancers of the imperial harem could hover like lotuses suspended above
the surface of a pool. Soon, "the Golden Lotus" or "lily
feet" custom had spread from the imperial court to society in general,
creating pure agony for generations of Chinese women. The practice was
banned in 1902, though it continued well into the 1920s.
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- imperial dragon robe of woven silk, 19th century.
--Artifact on loan courtesy of the Blanden Memorial Art Museum, Fort Dodge, Iowa
|Robe - Silk robe,
women's adult size, pre-World War II.
--Artifact on loan courtesy of Margaret Wolf, Washington, Iowa
|Shoes for bound
feet - silk with machine-stitched decoration, approximately 3"
in length, c.1890s.
--Artifact on loan courtesy of the Blanden Memorial Art Museum, Fort Dodge IA
|Shoes for bound
feet - approximately 3" in length.
--Artifact on loan courtesy of the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace, Stanford CA
|Diagram - shows
a normal-sized female foot, overlaid with a red drawing showing the results
--From an internet site on Chinese footbinding.
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