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Ancient Foot Binding In China Was A Symbol Of Beauty And Elegance

Chinese cultures and traditions are one of the oldest and doggedly practiced which dates back thousands of years. Foot binding is one of the traditions in China although no longer widely practiced, was popular among the elites in the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms during the 10th century.

It allegedly originated from the time of Emperor Li Yu before the time of the Song Dynasty. Emperor Li Yu made a six-foot-tall golden lotus decorated with precious stones and pearls, and asked his concubine Yao Niang to bind her feet in white silk into the shape of the crescent moon, and performed a ballet-like dance on the points of her feet on the lotus.


Yao Niang was believed to be the Emperor’s favourite concubine so all the other concubines followed suit and started binding their feet to please the Emperor.

Ancient Chinese foot binding. Photo: YouTube

It then continued with the Royal court and became widely practiced and any girl who had a wish to get married had to bind her feet. From the age of four, girls started binding their feet to bend it into the lotus shape.

After that, it was seen as a symbol of class, elegance, and beauty and became a prerequisite for marriage. Girls were expected to have three-inch feet at most four but five-inch feet was considered unacceptable. In fact, girls with five-inch feet found it difficult to find good suitors.

Foot binding became a tradition that started with a ritualistic ceremony to dispel bad luck. And then the feet will be immersed in a warm mixture of herbs and animal blood to make the foot soft and make binding easier. And then the nails are cut as short as possible to deter the growth of nails or infections.

Then the toes are broken except the big toe and then the foot is bent as far back as possible and tied. This is massaged and retightened from time to time till it maintains that lotus shape.

Foot binding has since been stopped but some old women still have this bent foot today.

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