What Is Foot Binding and Why Did Chinese Women Do It for Hundreds of Years?


When I first came across the tradition of foot binding, I couldn’t start wondering why an act like this was performed in China and what was the meaning behind it. This is why I decided to write a 6,000 word thesis on the issue and discover its entire semiology.

Like the word itself explains, this tactic wanted women to actually bend their feet in half, break their four smaller toes, so that they can hide under the sole and bind the foot with strong fabrics and keep it in a tight lotus shoe that would not give it any space to ‘open up’. This is the horrifying tradition of foot binding that lasted in China for over 1,000 years and Chinese women swore by it.

Foot binding started in China somewhere in the 12th century, during the Song Dynasty.

Girls were required to bind their feet between the ages of 4 and 9, based on how much their feet had grown.

The binding process would last for 2 years until the feet would take the desirable shape.

Girls would release their feet from their lotus shoes once in three or four days and would even sleep with their feet bound.


The mothers of the children would first massage their feet and later break their four smaller toes, so that they would go under the sole.

They would also cut their toe nails carefully and deep the feet in very hot water before breaking the toes.

Many women who didn’t release their feet regularly suffered from infections and even gangrene.

Women had trouble standing up for many hours at once and would spend their entire lives in pain from their disfigured feet.


When the procedure was over, the feet could not go back to their previous state and that would require the same amount of pain that the girls suffered in the first place.

It wasn’t impossible, but getting your feet back to normal could completely destroy the soles and even leave you unable to walk at all.

The procedure is said to tighten the inner thigh and pelvic muscles of the female, which made sex more pleasurable for men.

It wasn’t just the fact that small feet were considered prettier, but there was also a sexual reason behind the cruel tradition.


The tactic was also economically motivated, since women with bound feet had no other option but to sit on a chair all day and work endlessly.

Women who made clothes, shoes and fishing nets had no other choice but sit on a chair and produce all day long. Only the women that worked in agriculture did not bind their feet.

Women that had unbound feet were considered outcasts and would not find a groom to marry.

After foot binding was banned, husbands would leave their wives because of their bound feet and many men would stop women on the streets and violently take their lotus shoes off.


Foot binding was nothing more than a suppressing method for men to control women and impose on them their idea of beauty. The same thing happened with Ohaguro in Japan, corsets in Western societies, neck rings in Africa and so on. Women have always been victims of men’s fashion and beauty conceptions of what trendy is and it is time this stopped.