THE SHIFTING MEANINGS OF FOOT-BINDING IN SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY

THE SHIFTING MEANINGS OF FOOT-BINDING IN SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY

In the ancient history of the world, several cultures were adopted to enhance sexuality, especially on females. In Europe and America for instance, some cultures coerced ladies to put on corsets to enhance reduction of their waist which was viewed as beauty at the time. On the other hand, in China foot binding was a culture, which was associated with beauty, sexuality and marriage of Chinese women. Although the origin of the practice was not vividly known, some tales and theories have tried to deduce the origin. The culture spread across all the boundaries of china where women bound their daughters’ feet using some clothing as a rite of passage into womanhood. Foot binding involved wrapping the feet of young girls at an early age of around 5-7 years by some clothing to hinder its growth.[1] The process was painful and torturing since it involved the breaking of bones so as the feet could have a maximum length of three inches.[2] According to many, the practice was viewed as body mutilation although the practice had other meaning according to Chinese men. This paper will explore the perception of Chinese elite male on foot bidding according to Dorothy Ko’s article.

Since the practice involved body alteration, the external community as well as some society group within China viewed it as evil. The practice started with a high-class group where they encouraged their women to bind their feet. This was because women in this status were not involved in vigorous physical activities and hence could afford the procedure unlike in the case of poorer women. It translated that high-class men could only marry women with beautifully bound feet hence encouraged the spread and development of the practice across the country. These men viewed the ladies with bound legs as attractive and sexy.[3]

In addition, Dorothy highlighted some other perspective that elite men viewed the culture. First, foot binding acted as a feature of civility. One of the influential leaders in the late sixteen century had a strategy that foot binding would help in weakening their barbarian rivals. In his proposal, Shen postulated that the barbarians should adopt the Chinese culture of binding their women feet. By civilizing their customs to those of Chinese, Shen thought that it would help in minimizing their men morale and, therefore, become lax in attacking and pricking. Although he was not sure whether the strategy was to work, it can be inferred that foot binding was a method of suppressing women in the society, which was used to imply politeness to their male counterpart. In this scenario, Shen was of the opinion that, foot binding was a sigh of civility unique in china alone. This monopoly he claimed to be the source of the bride of Chinese culture.

Secondly, foot binding was a symbol of dividing the ethnic groups, Han from Manchu. In the seventeen century, the mode of dressing and type of shoes worn played was a major role in different cultures. For instance, during the Han-Chinese civilization, foot binding was considered prestigious in Confucian tradition in terms of moral importance, culture, and political aspects. Although not officially permitted, this practice among female Han Chinese developed among the elite during the Ming dynasty. Han ethnic group viewed the practice as distinct from their tribal counterpart since it enhanced beauty among women including their footwear, lotus shoe [4] On other hand, Manchu females did no embrace the culture of foot binding. Instead, they tied their feet tightly to give them a slender look. Hong Taiji, the Manchu leader, tried to ban foot-binding culture in mid seventeen century due to the implication it had on women but since the practice was valued the time, only a few Han Chinese heed the order. The Manchu women on other hand had a unique type of footwear, “horse-hoof” which was also a prestigious part of their attire. In this aspect, it has clearly depicted how females from both ethnic groups had distinct footwear as influenced by the elite leaders at the time. In this view, foot binding among the Ham females was not seen as body mutilation but as a prestigious form of custom attire among Confucians.

Lastly, foot binding was viewed as a decoration of the body. In Ko article, she compared the body to attire with respect to this aspect.[5] Foot binding around 16th and 17th century was seen as part of women attire, especially as part of decoration and not as part of body suppression. This practice was supposed to be taken as decoration to the body of women and not as a defect. This was evidenced in the female attire where the lady was supposed to have hairdos and feet that were bounded while their Han males were supposed to clad robes with broad collar and sleeves. Also, apart from being seen as a marker of the ethnic boundary, foot-binding was used to show gender differences. In this context, elite males viewed foot binding as a beautiful element in a lady hence depicting the feature of sexuality in females. This virtue of sexuality encouraged men of high class to marry women with bound feet.

In conclusion, different views have been suggested with regard to foot binding but the Chinese men had a different perspective on the culture. On a broader picture, the custom depicted how much the females were willing to sacrifice in order to fit in the culture given the pain they had to endure. Some of the aspects of social status by elite males encouraged the tradition to grow since most of the families wanted their daughters to be married by wealthy individuals for financial support. In addition, Dorothy article explored another perspective of men with respect to foot binding which showed that, although the practice had crippled many females, they derived joy in the tradition.[6] However, due to the severe implication of the practice, a campaign by anti-foot binding society and intervention by the international community, the tradition started ceasing at around 19th century and ended in the early 20th century.

 

 

Bibliography

Ko, Dorothy. Every Step A Lotus: Shoes for Bound Feet. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2001.

Ko, Dorothy. “The Body As Attire: The Shifting Meanings of Foot-binding in Seventeenth-Century China.” Journal of Womens History, 8 no.4 (n.d): 8-27.

Lim, Louis. “Painful Memories for China’s Footbinding Survivors.” Npr. 19 Mar 2007. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=8966942 >a

Ping, Wang. Aching for Beauty: Foot-binding in China. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2000.

Wagner, Ann. “For Beauty’s Sake: The of Foot-binding in China.” Marquette University. 2015. http://academic.mu.edu/meissnerd/wagner.html >

 

 

[1] Louis Lim, “Painful Memories for China’s Footbinding Survivors,” Npr, 19 Mar, 2007, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=8966942 >a

 

[2] Wang Ping, Aching for Beauty: Foot-binding in China (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2000) 3-6.

[3] Ann Wagner, “For Beauty’s Sake: The of Foot-binding in China,” Marquette University, 2015. http://academic.mu.edu/meissnerd/wagner.html >

[4] Dorothy Ko, Every Step A Lotus: Shoes for Bound Feet (Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2001), 50-52.

[5] Ko, Every Step A Lotus, 1-21.

 

[6] Dorothy Ko, “The Body As Attire: The Shifting Meanings of Foot-binding in Seventeenth-Century China,” Journal of Womens History, 8 no. 4 (n.d): 8-27.

 

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