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Foot Binding in Ancient China Illustration

Foot Binding

Ancient China for Kids

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Legend says that foot binding began in Shang times. Other stories say foot binding began during Tang times. Whenever it started, it was a barbaric practice. Young girls, between the age of 5-7, had their toes tucked under their feet, and then had their feet wrapped in long pieces of cloth to hold their toes in place. The heel and the tip of the toes were actually touching. This broke the bones in their feet, and was very painful. Over the course of the next several years, their feet would be broken over and over, until the perfect shape was achieved. The result was a very tiny looking foot, about 3-4 inches long, with a very high arch. The process was extremely painful. The result was that women who had their feet bound could barely walk.

In the beginning, only women of the royal court had their feet bound. Peasant women were needed to work in the fields, so they escaped this torture. Those who had their feet bound hid the bindings under layers of socks and perfume. Their clothes were also long enough to cover their feet.

Foot binding was seen as sign of beauty and preparation for marriage. When a girl was of marriageable age, the mothers of marriageable age men would come to her home to check the size of her feet. If a girl wanted a wealthy husband, she had to have tiny feet.

Foot binding continued for thousands of years. It was finally made illegal in the early 1900s in modern times. Still, some people practiced foot binding anyway. There are women alive today who had their feet bound as a child.

Women in Ancient China

Daily Life in Ancient China

Interactive Quiz for Ancient China (with answers)