In the Sung Dynasty, about 1100 AD, a fashion started at the emperor"s court for women to bind their feet. Women thought that to be beautiful they needed little tiny feet, only about three inches long. They got these tiny feet by wrapping tight bandages around the feet of little girls, about five or six years old.
The bandages were so tight they broke the girls芒鈧?toes and bent them underneath their feet and then they had to walk on them like that. The girls spent most of their time crying for two or three years and then the feet stopped hurting so much. Women with bound feet couldn芒鈧劉t walk very well at all, and when they had to work in the fields often they would crawl. Some of the earliest versions of the story of Cinderella come from Sung Dynasty China. In these versions, the point of the story is that the Prince loves Cinderella because she has the smallest feet of any girl in the kingdom, so the slipper will only fit her.
It is well-known that even after the conquest of China Manchu women did not bind their feet. The Qing emperors took clothing and hair very seriously as ways of defining groups under the empire. Thus after 1644 all Han men were expected to wear the Manchu hairstyle of shaving their foreheads and growing a queue in back as a way of symbolizing their submission to the dynasty. At the same time the state was Manchuizing Han men via their hair it was ordering Manchu women to keep their feet natural.This was one of many things that were done to preserve a specific Manchu identity.
In the seventh month of 1638 the Manchu emperor Hong Taiji (Abahai) decreed that the Chinese custom of footbinding was not to be adopted. 芒鈧揟hose who imitate the clothes of another country or order their women to bind their feet, [they] have their bodies in our dynasty but their hearts in another country.芒鈧? There were at least some who defied this order. In 1804 the Jiaqing emperor was furious to find that women of the Chinese Bordered Yellow Banner (ethnically Han, but politically 芒鈧揗anchu芒鈧? were binding their feet. (Elliot p.470) Still, in general Manchu women did not bind their feet. In 1911 when the banner population at Nanjing and Hankou were slaughtered women芒鈧劉s feet were the one marker of ethnic difference that could not be disguised.
Why Foot-binding was Practiced
People often incredulously wonder how mothers who had loved their daughters could practice such painful, and seemingly inhumane treatment on them. Often it is assumed that this was very easy to carry out against females and that it was probably done because the families did not care whether female children lived or died. Although females were less valued in society, the family members may have viewed the foot-binding of daughters as an investment in them. This was thought to be an investment that would make their daughters more fertile, more sexually pleasing to men, more socially acceptable, and more disciplined (note: these are the arguments which support infibulation and female genital mutilation today). Even the orphanages run by nuns gradually and reluctantly allowed this practice to be allowed on orphans because of the societal treatment of girls and women with unbound feet ( Splendid Slippers 1997). If men valued women with bound feet more highly than those with unbound feet, this placed pressure on women to observe the custom by binding their daughters feet. So societal pressure is one reason the practice continued.
Eroticism and Attractiveness
The belief was that the smaller the feet, the better. Women in tiny silk slippers enticed men, regardless of whether or not he found the face to be attractive . It was not unusual for men to be aroused just from looking at the tiny silk slippers, with or without a woman wearing them. Men masturbated looking at tiny silk slippers. Men drank from the slippers. Some men would steal slippers, especially red slippers worn to bed by women ( Splendid Slippers 1997). They fondled the tiny feet and slippers during sex. To some, the cleft in the foot was treated like a vagina ( Splendid Slippers 1997). Another part of eroticism was that women with bound feet were thought to be like well-pruned trees in that the weight of the body was being shifted to just one point of the foot, just as a pruned tree has limbs manipulated to attain the desired effect. The weight shift to just the heels was alleged to have had the effect of tightened vaginal muscles, along with muscular thighs and hips ( Splendid Slippers 1997).
It is important to mention that some debate and are even offended by the erotic stories behind foot-binding. Author, Dorothy Ko, advises people to be cautious in separating what we know to be facts in foot-binding with what is given as facts (" The Body as Attire: The Shifting Meanings of Foot-binding in Seventeenth-Century China" 1997). Readers are cautioned to be aware of where the facts come from and what the intentions may have been. For example, a lot of the information we have comes from those voicing their opposition during the late 1800"s or early 1900"s. Because we know that their purpose was to end foot-binding, we don"t know to what degree they may have gone in their attempts to persuade.We also do not know how much western missionaries may have misunderstood regarding why foot-binding was desirable to the Hans. Instead, the reader is advised to examine the literature and pictorial representations of foot-binding from the days before missionaries entered in the 1800"s . It is important to note that she isn"t denying that foot-binding occurred on a wide-scale basis over one thousand years, but is questioning the accuracy of things like men being so focused on the size of women"s feet for eroticism. One example of something she finds particularly offensive is the arousal of men by the smell of women"s bound feet.
Unnaturally small female feet were
1. A status symbol
The crippled feet of aristocratic ladies demonstrated their high social rank and the fact that they did not have to work.
2. A mark of oppression
Women with crippled feet could not walk very far and thus were prevented from 芒鈧搑unning away芒鈧? Instead, they were tied to the household and restricted to the domestic sphere. This also ensured their obedience to their husbands.
3. Objects of sexual desire
Female crippled feet were considered erotically attractive and increased a girl芒鈧劉s chances in the marriage market. Indeed, many girls were sold as brides or concubines to rich men who paid handsome sums to their parents.