Status of Chinese Women in History: The Culture of Footbinding

Historically, matchmakers in China were asked not about the beauty of a Chinese woman but about the size of the feet of the Chinese girl. It is in this case where size does matter – small size that is. The Chinese of olden times consider the size of the feet as the measurement of laziness. If they are poorly bound, it just goes to show that the Chinese woman does not care about grace or beauty. A plain face may be forgiven, but an unbound foot was not.

This is the culture of foot-binding that prevailed as early as the time of the Han dynasty. For a Chinese woman to move gracefully similar to a lotus in a pond, the feet of a Chinese girl was bound early into tight, tiny packets with the objective of keeping them small during their lifetime. The size is about three to four inches long.

The culture of foot binding began in the eleventh century where Chinese girls from the age of three or four would have their feet bound tightly with bandages. The practice was spread not only in the imperial courts, but also to the middle and lower classes, which tried to imitate the style of the upper classes.

During the process of binding, all the toes were folded except for the big one, to create a slender and pointed foot. After a few years, the arch is made to bend to unite the big toe with the heel. This would further cause much pain for the Chinese woman and lessen the freedom of movement. This supposedly makes the woman teeter on her little points and move her hips from side to side to balance herself. Moreover, this action was believed to create full attraction among the men. Hence, foot binding became the fashion for women, especially for getting themselves hitched.

This practice epitomized the relationship between men and women in China. Foot binding teaches a Chinese woman of her place and responsibilities in life. Pain endured during the early years would later prepare her for the rigors of adult life that includes childbearing, denial of one’s self, and pleasing the husband. If unfortunate to become unmarried, a Chinese woman was then prepared, through foot-binding, to become subservient to her father or whoever is the patriarch in the family, who will take care of her for the rest of her life.


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