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“Chinese Girl with Bound Feet”

Nineteenth-century photograph of a San Francisco child who wears beautifully embroidered three-inch “lotus shoes.”

This cruel practice lasted from the tenth century to 1911, when it was banned by the new Chinese republic.

In November 1997, UC San Francisco released details of the first study on the consequences of foot binding. In a news release it said:

The Chinese Xinhua News Agency announced, in 1998, that the last factory to manufacture shoes for bound-feet women in Harbin, China, had ended production.
Special Shoes For Bound-feet Women Now A Thing Of The Past

BEIJING (Oct. 26) XINHUA — Elderly Chinese women whose feet were bound since childhood to keep them small have fewer shoes to choose from in Harbin, the capital of northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province, because shoe factories no longer produce them, according to a report of Wenhui Bao.

In the past, Chinese women’s feet were bound with meters of cloth to stop them from growing so that they would resemble a “three-inch golden lotus” at a time when normal big feet were considered alien to feudal virtues. The practice originated in the palace of the last king of the Latter Tang Dynasty (923-936 AD) and continued even when it was banned by the Manchuria who established the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). In remote mountainous areas, women still had their feet bound even when the New China was founded in 1949.

The last shoe factory to cease mass production of such shoes in Harbin was the Zhiqiang Shoe Factory. It announced on October 20 that it will make the shoes only on a special-order basis.

The factory added small shoes for old women to its product range in 1991 to fill a gap in the shoe market, which was gluttered with high-heel shoes for normal feet.

In the first two years, more than 2,000 pairs of the shoes were sold annually, but now the factory has to think of what to do with the stockpile of tiny pointed shoes, which are not even suitable for babies.

The head of the factory, Du Guanghua, says that he’s already preparing to stop making the shoes in the near future and that he will donate his shoe trees to museums at that time.


Photograph by Isiah W. Taber, San Francisco.

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