Feb 6, 2011

Consequences of 'Foot Binding' among Women in China

               Foot binding  was a custom practiced on young girls and women for approximately one thousand years in China, beginning in the 10th century and ending in the first half of 20th century.
Foot-binding resulted in lifelong disabilities for most of its practitioners. As the practice waned in the early 20th century, "some girls' feet were released after initial binding, leaving less severe deformities," according to a study conducted by the University of California, San Francisco. However, some effects of foot-binding were permanent, especially if a girl's arches or toes had been broken or other drastic measures taken in order to achieve the desired smallness. In the 1990s and early 2000s, some elderly (born until mid-1940s) Chinese women still suffered from disabilities related to bound feet.

Legend has it that the origins of footbinding go back as far as the Shang dynasty (1700-1027 B.C.). The Shang Empress had a clubfoot, so she demanded that footbinding be made compulsory in the court.
But historical records from the Song dynasty (960-1279 A.D.) date footbinding as beginning during the reign of Li Yu, who ruled over one region of China between 961-975. It is said his heart was captured by a concubine, Yao Niang, a talented dancer who bound her feet to suggest the shape of a new moon and performed a "lotus dance."

During subsequent dynasties, footbinding became more popular and spread from court circles to the wealthy. Eventually, it moved from the cities to the countryside, where young girls realized that binding their feet could be their passport to social mobility and increased wealth.
  • However, there is little strong textual evidence for the custom prior to the court of the Southern Tang dynasty in Nanjing, which celebrated the fame of its dancing girls, renowned for their tiny feet and beautiful bow shoes. What is clear is that foot binding was first practised among the elite and only in the wealthiest parts of China, which suggests that binding the feet of well-born girls represented their freedom from manual labor and, at the same time, the ability of their husbands to afford wives who did not need to work, who existed solely to serve their men and direct household servants while performing no labor themselves.

    • When the Manchu nobility came to power in 1644, they tried to ban the practice, but with little success. The first anti-footbinding committee was formed in Shanghai by a British priest in 1874.
              But the practice wasn't outlawed until 1912, when the Qing dynasty had already been toppled    by a revolution. Beginning in 1915, government inspectors could levy fines on those who continued to bind their feet. But despite these measures, footbinding still continued in various parts of the country.

    • A year after the Communists came to power in 1949, they too issued their own ban on footbinding. According to the American author William Rossi, who wrote The Sex Life of the Foot and Shoe, 40-50% of Chinese women had bound feet in the 19th century. For the upper classes, the figure was almost 100%.

    Some estimate that as many as 2 million Chinese women broke and bound their feet to attain this agonizing ideal of physical perfection. Author Yang Yang says that women with tiny feet were a status symbol who would bring honor upon the entire clan by their appearance.
  • The economic and social attractions of such women may well have translated into sexual desirability among elite men.
And 86-year-old Zhou Guizhen says, "At that time everybody had bound feet. If you didn't, you'd only be able to marry a tribesman from an ethnic minority."
  • These women disfigured their feet to guarantee their own future, but according to Yang Yang, this act ultimately consigned them to tragic lives. Most of Liuyicun's bound-feet women were forced to perform hard physical labor in the late 1950s, digging reservoirs, for example — work which was punishing enough for ordinary women, but agonizing for those with tiny, misshapen feet.
    Their families also suffered food shortages as they were often unable to fulfill their production quotas at work, or walk into the mountains to pick vegetables and fruit like other mothers.
    "Their tiny feet sealed their tragic fates," Yang says
Consequences of foot binding among women in China

A case study of Chinese bound feet: application of footprint analysis:  Foot print patterns of the bound feet of a 90-year-old Chinese female were made to obtain insight into the ergonomic consequences of a Chinese custom that caused significant disabilities for many women throughout history. Pressure patterns were evaluated using the techniques applied to standard thumb print analysis. 

A digital summary of the pressure patterns were compared to the patterns obtained from a normal subject. The outcomes indicated that the bound foot produced greater plantar tissue pressures than the non-bound foot. These observations help explain the discomfort, gait abnormalities, and disabilities exhibited by many older women with bound feet living in China today. Although foot-binding is no longer practiced, this study offers an ergonomic perspective on a custom practiced in China for centuries.

Case: More Pictures http://fabulously40.com/article/id/honey-i-shrunk-your-feet-2360
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