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Chinas History Of Foot Binding Human Civilizations English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2371 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it. – Confucius (Chinese teacher, philosopher, and political theorist, 551-479 BCE.)

Beauty is pain. Nowadays, women in our generation would not be satisfied in how their physical appearance would present them around the general public. They would feel anxious to be rejected by men; pertaining to anyone they feel attracted to. Because of this, they would go through medical operations just to be glanced by the one they have been longing for. Some teenagers would endure the feeling of starvation just to become slim and to appear fine-looking. They would visit the dermatologist to have their pimples pricked and removed, and would leave with tears in their eyes because of the pain they had felt. Young adults would undergo cosmetic surgeries such as breast and buttock augmentations, lip enhancements, and liposuctions to further improve their body figure. Surely, most of these would be painful even with the application of pain killers. Although, could you imagine undertaking these procedures without the utilization of proper anesthetics possibly in the 12th century, when everything was not yet that sophisticated? Undeniably, people would suffer just for the sake of beautification.

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For more than a thousand years in China, foot binding or “bound feet” has been practiced and applied on young women, beginning in the 10th century until the early 20th century. At the age of three, the feet of a Chinese girl were wrapped in tightly stretched strips of cloth or bandages so that it would hinder its ordinary growth development and would not mature to an extent of four to six inches. The ideal and perfect lotus foot was generally three inches, commonly called as gold lotuses. Silver Lotuses (4 inches long) and Iron Lotuses (more than 4 inches long) were considered as an insult to women because they failed to achieve the “high-class foot”. Since the binding process was done, the phalanx bones (phalanges) were easily inclined to fractures. The moment they reach a ripe age, their feet would still be undersized and non-adaptive; moreover it would have the tendency of getting hold of paralysis, muscular atrophy, and infection. At the end of the Qing Dynasty, foot binding had become accepted and eminent not only in the affluent parts of China but among inhabitants of all social classes. In the present day, the basis of being crippled among some elderly Chinese women would be due to the practice of foot binding which could not be mended thereof.

As stated in the previous paragraph, the entire procedure of foot binding begins with girls at the age of three to seven. The binding process was done by their mother. Primarily, the daughter’s feet would be soaked in warm water with mixture of animal blood and herbs to get rid of the dead flesh as well as to alleviate the foot and to give support to the binding. Secondly, the toenails would be cut short so as not to let them grow into the foot, and to avoid in-growth and upcoming infections. In preparation for the crucial part of the practice, the feet of the daughter would be massaged delicately like a goddess. At a young age, bones are still flexible and tender so binding the feet is quite simple. Without the use of modern anesthetics that we have today to lessen the pain, the four smallest toes on each foot would be ruptured by curling the toes wrapped with silk or cotton bandages (3 meters long and 5 centimeters wide), compressing them downwards with immense force, and squeezing them tightly into the sole of the foot; leaving the big toe the only one relatively unbroken. Because the arch of the foot has not yet been fully developed at this time, it would reduce the twinge suffered by the daughter especially if it was set up during fall or winter season for the foot would turn numb due to the cozy climate. As soon as the entangling was finished, the cloth would be stitched firmly to thwart the girl from removing the bandages. In addition, it would be necessary for the daughter to stand on her newly shattered and lumped feet to constrict them into structure. Every couple of days, the binding would be unwrapped and would be recovered with fresh bandages, pulled even tighter causing long lasting torture. As soon as the daughter’s feet reaches three to four inches long, this binding process would be prolonged to ten more years of agonizing pain. Because of this, bound feet women could not even walk in short distances and unable to bear themselves alone.

Historical archives in the 10th century have proven that a Sung emperor in ancient China began the practice of foot binding because he loved the small “Lily Feet” of his concubine Yao Niang, commonly known as Lovely Maiden. Because he had a fetish with tiny feet and had found it erotic and eye-catching, the royal highness asked his consort to dance with bound feet atop of a golden lotus pedestal to bear a resemblance of the beautiful crescent moon lighting up in the night sky. Her tiny foot happened to be a symbol of gentility and high-class. Soon, Golden Lotus became a euphemism for their delicately bound feet.

Foot binding had dominated not only to the well-heeled Chinese families but also to every social class in China. It continued to spread from the royalty and the affluent to the impoverished inhabitants of the country. The average size of a woman’s foot would be eight inches and in this period, this foot measurement was thought of as unappealing and unsightly. To be preferred amongst men, a woman’s foot should be three times smaller than a regular foot. Women with bound feet and stylish shoes which consist of embroidery, charming scent, and tiny bells were deemed greatly attractive and apparently pleasing. Normal shoes would not be suitable for the Lotus Feet since they had to be enfolded in clot and so the manufacture of Lotus shoes had begun. The lotus shoes were very much decorated and ornamented footwear. The adorable little bounded feet of the women were more than just precious possessions of men; it became the soul of feminine exquisiteness and sexual air of secrecy. Bound feet were thought of as intimately erotic and increasingly appealing to a man’s libido, said to be beneficial to better sexual intercourse. Ancient sex manuals of the Qing Dynasty were unraveled which demonstrated forty-eight different positions of playing, fondling, and caressing with a woman’s bound feet. Certainly, love was blind as to beauty was in the eyes of the beholder. Although as a preference for nearly all men, they should not see the real feet in flesh, and that it should be always hidden from their sight and covered with small lotus shoes. It was stated by Feng Xun that if a woman reveals her bound feet with the removal of the bandages, the zealous sensation will be destroyed permanently. Ancient Chinese men were stimulated sexually in the bound feet of a woman for it has the sensual outcome in the lotus gait, or the swaying walk of a woman; small and endearing steps, at the same time.

Nevertheless, foot binding turned out to be an emblem of influence and opulence for men. One purpose of this tradition was to limit mobility for women, ensuring chastity and faithfulness. During this period, Chinese men prefer to get married with bound feet women with the assurance of the man’s mother. If the mother of a man finds out that the woman has not undergone the process of foot binding, she would not let her son see or talk to that woman anymore. Beyond doubt, foot binding practice was an indication of female oppression because women were strained by the surrounding community for they were anxious of social isolation and dishonor. Because of this, it has segregated the two genders, making women weak and being dominated by men. Hence, what mattered more to the woman was gorgeousness than her own wellbeing.

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In spite of the unfavorable results of foot binding, historians trust their judgment that a number of Chinese people in the 17th century held up their support on the tradition of foot binding. One of these enthusiasts is Liu-Hsien, sometimes called P’u Sung-hing, along with seven grounds. First and foremost, Chinese city dwellers would laugh and would make fun of the “unbound” woman, saying that she looks like a man. They would tease and would call her impolite names; therefore the parents would be humiliated of their daughter. Second, Chinese women’s feet should be bound undersized so that they would stride delightfully and would sway elegantly to portray themselves as women of decency and uprightness. Third, men would not ask the hand of an unbound woman in marriage because its feet are unsatisfactory and imperfect. Next, a woman whose feet are not bound would be discriminated in the society. She would be asked to do tedious work. She would not be allowed to sit on a sedan chair in public or in wedding ceremonies and would not be entitled to wear red clothing as part of the Chinese culture for she is a woman of shame. She would be treated simply as dirt, drenched with rain during a storm. To break away from these adversaries, her feet should be bounded. Subsequently, they would be differentiated as a lower class part in the community. Afterwards, unbound women are regarded as defective and unwanted gems, as quoted from the reading, “Girls are like gold, like gems.” They would walk around the Chinese town making themselves no good name. Finally, a number of families are desirous of wealth because of economic predicaments, and would ask their daughters to have their foot bound so when marriage arrives, the parents would ask a huge amount of price for foot binding.

On the other hand, the twinge of the bound feet never ended for there were negative effects of foot binding that were believed to be immensely severe to a woman’s physical condition. Apart from the never-ending misery of the bound beet, infection was most likely to occur because the ball of the foot would fold into the heel and that the toenails which have grown were coiled into the skin causing the decomposing of the flesh and the toe. Likewise, the woman would be bringing with her an awful stench all over because of her decayed feet. This indicates that her feet are dead. Some bound feet women never experienced physical predicaments in their formative years. However, majority of the women have their health troubles in a ripe age such as tripping on the ground, not able to rise from a seated position, and unlikely to squat easily. Having lower lip hip bone density made them prone to tremendous hip fractures. Along these infections were diseases and eventually death. Even though, foot binding was a privilege for the women, they never realized how excruciating it was to endure all the hardships in their existence.

During the 17th century, the Qing Dynasty was founded by the Manchus who overthrew the Yuan Dynasty. These people were rigorously in opposition to foot binding and began charging families with bound feet women although they were not able to impede the practice. Regardless of it being against the law, foot binding had happened to be an integral component of the traditional Chinese families as a striking ethnicity. Despite the troublesome the practice of foot binding has caused, it continued even into the early 20th century.

In the emergence of the New Republic of China and Taiping Revolution in 1911, the government had legitimately banned the custom of foot binding to further establish gender equality and to create a new appearance globally. Women were asked to remove their bound feet for they would be executed if it was not done. After the revolution of Sun Yat Sen, the Founding Father of Republican China, the nationalist commenced the suppression of the foot binding practice followed with anti-foot binding protests. The movement’s intention was to make the pain of a woman the center of attention as it was an obstacle to woman’s education. Subsequently, Darwinists and Feminists had disputed that foot binding was an obstruction to the economic and political development of the country and was an aspect of a woman’s anguish, respectively.

At the evolution of the contemporary century, China grasped the realism that foot binding had sketched them a face of barbarians to emerging countries. The majority of the upper and middle class society became aware of the foreign influences and innovations, labeling the practice of foot binding as a savage behavior and turning its back on the tradition as swiftly as they had once embraced it. When the victory of Communist Party of China (CPC), headed by Mao Zedong, so as the People’s Republic of China was proclaimed in 1949, the stern prevention of foot binding is still in effect until now.

Human civilizations offered bizarre and horrible traditions as a way of their life. Some customs like the Eunuchs from Sumer would remove their sex organs i.e. the penis before puberty to attain high pitched voices for a social function. In Japan, Harakiri is a ritual wherein a Samurai would use a knife to cut and pull out his intestines without screaming or crying in pain as a proof of allegiance to the brotherhood. Another peculiarity would be the tradition of Sati in India. Sati is a Hinduism principle wherein men burn themselves alive as a symbol of piety or faithfulness illustrating women’s possession of men.

China’s foot binding was more than just a trend and expression; it was a way of life for every person during its era. The observance of this certain culture was fundamental in the society because it was engraved under the Chinese mores. It became a basis of attractiveness, higher social class, and even in tying the knot; and for centuries, it destroyed and weakened the role of women in the society because of the dominion of men. However, as we view its history, series of protests and objections as well as stipulations of laws and rules were needed just to put an end on this callous ritual.


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