Chinese Foot Binding

Foot binding is not necessarily a modern body modification, but it is proof that man has attempted to alter the body for centuries.

Foot binding began in the 10th century when women of a high class would practice binding because they thought it would make them more beautiful and appealing. Poor women were workers, so they were not able to practice this modification, but wealthy women did not need to be on their feet as much, which is where foot binding was seen most often.

Young girls had their feet wrapped tightly in bandages so that the feet did not develop naturally. Typically, this caused the feet to stop growing at 4-6 inches and would become highly deformed. As the child aged, the feet would stay the same size, which would actually lead to infection, paralysis, and muscular attrophy.

During the 17th century, Manchus tried to abolish the practice, but failed. He was able to forbid the Manchu women from binding, but they still wore bowl shoes that would make the feet appear smaller.

The practice continued and flourished in the 19th century through the early 20th century before more people began to revolt the practice and actually start the anti-foot binding movement.

In 1911, the Qing Dynasty banned foot binding. The women were forced to unwrap their feet or else they would be killed. After unwrapping their feet, some of the women’s feet actually grew 0.5 to 1 inch, which was quite painful. In 1949, when the Communists took over, the foot binding ban continued, which is still in effect today.

The Process of Foot Binding

Basically, the mother or grandmother began binding the young girl’s feet when she is between the age of 4 and 7, which is before the arch has a chance to properly develop.

They would start in the winter months so that the feet were numb and the pain would not be as severe. The feed were soaked in herbs and animal blood which was though to necrotise the flesh to fall off. The toenails were cut back as far as possible in order to prevent in-growth and infections.

The feet where prepared for the bandages, which were also soaked in the herbs and animal blood. The toes were broken and wrapped in the wet bandages, which would constrict when dried. The bandages were pulled tightly toward the heel, and the process was repeated every two days with fresh bindings, each time binding tighter.

Complications During Foot Binding

The most common problem during the foot binding process was infection. Sometimes the toenails would in-grow potentially causing flesh rotting. Sometimes causing the toes to fall off. Disease would follow infection, which could potentially lead to death.

As the girl grew older, foot binding could cause other medical complications, such as hip and leg problems that could lead to back problems. Some women would have trouble standing up after sitting for long periods. Sometimes, the ball of the foot would grow into the heal.