The ancient Chinese practice of foot-biding goes back centuries to the T’ang Dynasty (618-907 BC), when it was believed, particularly among the wealthy, that women with smaller feet looked beautiful and elegant.
Although the practice has been banned since 1912, many women continued with their bindings and today a number of elderly ladies in China still have deformed feet from binding.
Zhou Guizhen, 86, used to trick government inspectors by wrapping her crushed feet with thick bandages and wearing big shoes to make her feet look bigger.
She was born into a wealthy family and married a rich husband, in part thanks to her much-admired tiny feet.
Zhao, below, had her feet bound when she was 15, which is relatively late for most girls. She was a farmer and spent hours on her feet, spending years in agony.
As young as age 4, girls had their feet bound by their mothers, grandmothers, or sisters, because the young bones are soft and easier to manipulate.
Each toe would be broken to curl under the foot, as close to the heel as possible, and would be unwrapped and rebound again and again to stop the feet from growing.
A highly-desirable three-inch foot was known as a “golden lotus”, while a four-inch foot was a “silver lotus”.
The practice was so painful that women would often be bedridden. The long bandages used to bind the feet were only washed once or twice, and many women suffered horrific infections, even having to cut off parts of their flesh to allow pus to drain.
Women would make their own shoes for their tiny feet, using intricate embroidery to create colorful, elaborate shoes that they would then wear to their weddings.
After the communist revolution, women like Zhou, above, were shunned because of their small feet as they couldn’t do physical labor.
As they couldn’t contribute to the “communist dream”, many well-born women lost all of their riches during the revolution, leaving them penniless and painfully deformed.
Zhou regrets binding her feet, saying that she can no longer dance or even move properly. But, years ago, she had no choice but to bind her feet if she wanted to secure a good marriage.
They say women have to suffer for their beauty, but this is just a whole different level — we’ll stick to plucking our eyebrows, thanks.