Chinese folklore attributes the origins of footbinding to a fox who tried to conceal its paws while assuming the human guise of the Shang Empress. Another version suggests that the Empress had a club foot and insisted that all women bind their feet so that hers became the model for beauty in the court.
Footbinding began in China during the Song dynasty (10th century) and continued until the end of the Qing dynasty. The practice was formally prohibited in China in 1911 but continued in isolated regions well into the 1930s. In 1998, the last factory to manufacture shoes for women with bound feet (in Harbin, China) ended production.
Mothers bound the feet of their daughters at around 5 years of age and gradually decreased the size of the child"s foot over a period of months. The feet were called lotus of gold if they were 3 inches (about 7.5 centimetres) long, silver if they were 4 inches (about 10 centimetres) long or iron if they were more than 4 inches long. Feet became the object of devotion and, eventually, so did shoes. Women made their own shoes and even wore them in bed. The colour of the shoes was important. Red was the most popular colour.
Some men, such as actors or male prostitutes, also bound their feet.