On Footbinding; Or, the Privileges of Womanhood

14 May


For a woman in China in most of the second millenium C.E., the bound foot–in several different styles varying with time, but most enduringly the tiniest and most injurious “golden lotus” foot–was the price of entry to upper-class womanhood, and a possible ticket to social mobility for the lower classes.  With the exception of the Manchu, who forbade the practice, the idea spread and became more and more de rigeur for Chinese women to inflict on their daughters, typically in the name of ensuring better marriage matches.

A woman with unbound feet, by the 19th century, was unlikely to thrive in court society, or even to be a successful dancer or performer.  She had greater freedom to walk, yes, but society constrained her role to that of a servant, a laborer.  To leave a daughter’s feet unbound was perceived as an act not of mercy, but of short-sightedness, letting sentimentalism…

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