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Chinese Foot Binding

Updated on February 21, 2015

The foot binding practice of ancient China

This is a pair of antique Chinese bound feet lotus slippers which were fashionable when the old tradition of foot binding was in style in China. The practice lasted more than a thousand years. Young girls' feet were bound with long strips of cloth to keep them from growing and the toes were broken and bent towards the soles of the feet. The ultimate goal was to achieve the "golden lotus", a 3-inch long feet, arched and pointy resembling the lotus buds. Few women achieved this ideal. It was the standard of feminine beauty, eroticism, social status and a passport to marrying into wealth.

The origin of Chinese foot binding

Bound feet emulate the lotus buds

There is a lot of controversy as to the true origin of the practice of footbinding. It lasted more a thousand years spanning Five Dynasties. Rumors has it that the last emperor of the South Tang Dynasty, Li Yu, ordered his favorite consort, Yao-niang to dance in front of him atop a golden lotus pedestal that was specially built. She wrapped her feet in long strips of silk cloth not unlike the ballerinas in toe shoes today. The emperor was smitten by his concubine's bound feet beyond his wildest imagination. Immediately, the practice of footbinding became a symbol of feminine beauty, royal approval, social status and spread to all levels of society.

Photo Credit:tony d c *-* for your eyes only *-*

Suffering for beauty

The sight of the deformed bound feet may be too unpleasant to those unfamiliar with this thousand-year-old practice. The graphic pictures are shown in the link list below.

Details and pictures of foot binding - China's curious and mysterious past

These links are a must read for those not familiar with the ancient practice of foot binding. These contain details and graphic pictures of the bound feet and are a treasure trove of information on the seemingly barbaric practice that lasted more than a millennium. The practice of footbinding has not been completed obliterated and is still being secretly practised by women in some parts of Asia. Lotus slippers can still be seen being peddled by street vendors for aging bound feet women or for tourists in parts of Asia.

Old Chinese Saying:

"There are a thousand buckets of tears to one who binds her feet."

Why I bought the lotus slippers

A reminder of my childhood past

I have seen bound feet firsthand when I was a young child. My cousin's grandmother had tiny bound feet and as inquisitive kids, we never dared ask why her feet were kid-size. We always knew she was up and about from the sound of the lotus slippers dragging across the wood floor upstairs. When she took her afternoon naps, we would "borrow" her ornately beaded and embroidered lotus slippers and wear them while playing grownups.

My young cousin used to tell me that women have bound feet in China so that they would not run away and only the aristocrats have small feet. I never quite understood then why there was a reason for my cousin's grandmother to run away.

It was only after I acquired the pair of lotus slippers a few years ago did my interest in the practice of foot binding in ancient China become rekindled.

Anatomy of bound feet lotus slippers - Where size does matter

These are pictures of a genuine pair of lotus slippers I was fortunate enough to purchase in a jade market in Hongkong many years ago. These were hand-embroidered on cotton usually made in the home of the young girl who would wear them or by the wearer herself. Great care was made to sew and embroider the tiny shoes as these were considered part of the female's intimate apparel. The color of the shoe, style, and lavishness of the embroidery played an important role in attracting attention and showing social status

Arched beauty - Lotus shoes were made to accommodate tiny arched feet

Photo Credit: jennysh_who

This pair of lotus slippers barely measures 4 inches long. The ideal size of a well-bound foot foot was 3 inches and should be shaped like the bud of a lotus flower, full and round at the heel and coming to a thin point at the front. In order to achieve this length, the arch of the foot must be broken and all the toes, except the big toe, must be permanently bent toward the sole of the foot. The tiny pointed foot can now slide easily into the lotus bud-shaped slippers. The smaller the shoes, the more desirable, sexier and marriageable the young girls would be to prospective husbands.

How small is small?

Photo Credit:jennysh_who

The ideal size was a 3-inch bound foot ('Golden Lotus'), and no longer than 4 in. (10 cm), called 'Silver Lotus'. The bound feet would bend, becoming so concave they were sometimes described as "lotus hooks." When the women tottered on their lotus slippers or shoes, they would sashay their hips in a seemingly provocative manner which was known as the "Lotus gait." This walk was considered particularly alluring.

The perfect lotus feet - Doing a balancing act

Photo Credit: otisarchives3

These amazingly tiny bound feet wearing fashionable lotus slippers could easily fit into a tea cup. This photo gives a good perspective of what years of foot binding can do to one's feet for the sake of men folks, fashion, and the demands of society.

There is more to foot binding than meets the eye

Sexual revolution in China

Photo Credit: SyGuildmistress

Tiny bound feet were a sign of refinement and beauty which enhanced the prospect of marrying into wealth. Foot binding restricted a woman's movements, hence making her hips larger and the body seemingly more voluptuous. It was also a way of deterring the women from straying and running away from beatings and encouraged fidelity and chastity. Bound feet was the ultimate symbol of female submission and male dominance in China.

The bound feet was deemed the most intimate and erotic part of the female anatomy. It is not surprising that wives, consorts, prostitutes, paramours were selected solely on the size and shape of their bound feet tucked into these tiny embroidered shoes. The unbound feet were rarely seen without the lotus slippers which all the more created a sensual mystique around them. Poets wrote about the delights of the "lotus feet" and ancient sex manuals outlined and illustrated the many ways these can be enjoyed and caressed.

A woman with bound feet was also forced to walk on her heels to spare pain inflicted on the bent toes. Walking this way strengthened the muscles of the female organ and the nerves in her feet became more concentrated and sensitive making her bound feet a major errogenous zone. It is no wonder that the tiny bound feet appealed to a man's libido and was an erotic obsession.

Poor women did not have their feet bound

Needed to toil in the fields

The Han Chinese girls, from the wealthiest to the poorest had their feet bound. But it was less prevalent among the poor women who had to toil in the fields. The Mongols of the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) and the Manchus did not practice foot binding. The Manchu rulers of the Qing Dynasty tried to abolish the practice of foot binding but without success because the practice was already too firmly rooted in the custom to break. The practice of foot binding continued into the 20th century until anti-foot binding reforms were called by Chinese and western missionaries. Finally in 1911, with the revolution of Sun Yat-Sen, foot binding was officially outlawed, but the practice continued on in many areas. It was effectively abolished after the Communist Party banned it in 1949.

The social pressure created by foot binding

Women with large, normal feet were considered uncouth, unrefined and only belonged to the lower class or "unwashed masses." This was why some members of the lower echelons of society practised foot binding in secret.

Which shoes would I rather wear? - A study in contrast


This photo shows the difference between a 4 inch pair of lotus slippers and my size 7 1/2 hybrid tennis high heel shoe. Which one would I rather wear? Inasmuch as my normal shoes were called "weird or unattractive" by someone, I would choose them over the lotus slippers.

Interesting facts about foot binding in China woven into a tapestry of drama and intrigue - Educational and fun to read

The Three-Inch Golden Lotus: A Novel on Foot Binding (Fiction from Modern China)
The Three-Inch Golden Lotus: A Novel on Foot Binding (Fiction from Modern China)

The author skillfully intertwined the art of footbinding with a storyline and stresses the importance of this traditional practice during China's cultural turmoils. We follow Fragrant Lotus, a poor young girl in China in the 19th century, who obediently succumbed to her grandmother's desire to bind her feet. She rose up quickly into the ranks of the wealthy and aristocracy out of reach for the lower-class. However, the Communist Revolution came and footbinding was going to be abolished. We follow the many twists and turns and ironies that Fragrant Lotus have to deal with.


Lotus feet immortalized in art - Exquisite handiwork

Photo Credit: cisley

This regal and elegant doll with its bound feet and tiny lotus shoes seemingly reminded me of a Chinese Barbie Doll. Tiny bound feet with lotus slippers were the fashion and rage in Ancient China for over a thousand years. It was a passport to marrying well.

Read about China's curious practice of foot binding - A comprehensive book on the subject

The spectacular photos will keep you mesmerized for hours.

Splendid Slippers: A Thousand Years of an Erotic Tradition
Splendid Slippers: A Thousand Years of an Erotic Tradition

This a marvelous book with exquisite color photos of the tiny lotus shoes sewn by the women who wore them. It is also a homage to the women that survived the painful and brutal practice of foot binding and where for a millenium, women accepted and were enslaved by these erotic slippers. Sub-titled Spendid Slippers: A thousand Years of an Erotic Tradition, this book will fascinate, enlighten, intrigue and educate readers who are not familiar with this ancient practice of foot binding. It will not only pique one's curiousity but bring one closer to understand this important part of China's cultural history. I own this book and I guarantee that once you start reading it, you will have difficulty putting it down.


Your opinion counts so do take this quick poll.

What do you think was the motivation for the practice of foot binding in China?

See results

The price of being beautiful

In every culture, women are willing to suffer for the price of being beautiful. In the western world, this includes wearing stilleto heels which could throw off the back, tight corsets to whittle down the waistlines, liposuction to remove fat overnight, tattoos to make a statement, plastic surgery to improve or change one's appearance.

Small feet is to the East as a small waist is to the West

Cultural relativism

The use of corset as an undergarment to slim the figure have been around since the 16th century. It was used by men and women for aesthetic and also for medical reasons. Later more of the wearers were women and the style of the corset changed through the Victorian, Edwardian eras until after the World Wars. The corset have enjoyed a revival in the 20th century as top garments aside from undergarments and as fetish fashion and bondage corset.

These were corsets used in the 1890's to change the contour of a woman's body instantly so she can achieve an hourglass figure, with the tiniest possible waistline. The corset was worn as an undergarment for 18 hours a day, 365 days a year for training as it took practice to sit up straight without leaning back in a relaxed manner. Bending forward was almost impossible to do as the boning in the corset structure stiffens the woman's torso. Why do you think the gentlemen were there to pick up those dropped hankerchieves?

The corset reduced the waist considerably and exaggerated the bust and the hips. This was often referred to as the hourglass figure. In spite of the constricting effect of the undergarment which made it hard to breathe, these women seemed to be happy with the resulting effects of sporting tiny cinched waists. The men folk were twice as contented.

Photo Credit:Helen Stern

Lovely hourglass figure - Bound and determined

Photo Credit: Helen Stern

Dresses were tailor-made to the compressed shape of the woman's torso with the corsets worn as an undergarment and not based on the woman's actual body measurements. Wearing the tight-lace corset everyday not only changed the posture but the way a woman carried herself when she walked. After a year or so of being encased in this tight contraption, suffering for beauty becomes worthwhile.

Guinness World Records

See the smallest waist on a living person

Corsets and cultural history -- interesting books from Amazon

A nicely done video about the price women pay for beauty - How far would you go for beauty?

This is your chance to make your opinion count. - Let's duke it out.

Body modifications have been pervasive in many cultures. In China, the practice of foot binding lasted over a thousand years for beauty and eroticism. In Europe and America, the practice of wearing tight-laced corsets to achieve a tiny wasp-like waist was for the same reasons.

Do you believe foot binding was barbaric and the other forms of body modications are not? Like, breast implants, tattoos, lipo-suction, body piercing..

Our bodies should not be modified in any way.

Our bodies should not be modified in any way.

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    • OAstamp 3 months ago from USA

      This was great, here's another great article that get's more specific about fetishism, and why it's actually not a big deal -

    • Johne225 2 years ago

      Thanks for this article. I'd also like to convey that it can always be hard if you find yourself in school and starting out to initiate a long history of credit. There are many college students who are only trying to live and have long or good credit history can often be a difficult thing to have. gcabffceebkf

    • LoriBeninger 4 years ago

      I have pierced ears so this vote is somewhat hypocritical...but I would like to see the insanity stop. We need to learn to appreciate our natural bodies.

    • June Campbell 4 years ago from North Vancouver, BC, Canada

      I am voting on this side because for the most part, this is what I believe. However, there are exceptions. I see no harm in pierced ears and tattoos. I have both. I also see no harm in cosmetic surgery performed to address a disformity or injury. I see no harm in breast reduction when the breast size is causing pain and discomfort. However, cutting up the body purely for vanity -- no way. And as for those who say if it makes a person feel better about themselves, go for it -- my response to that is to get couselling and find out how to love yourself and why you don't.

    • Elyn MacInnis 4 years ago from Shanghai, China

      Anything that damages the body or makes it hard to get through the day is a bad idea. I have seen older women in China with bound feet. It is so sad to see - but I have to say that most of them do not have broken spirits. They just have broken feet.

    • jballs6 5 years ago

      I think it alright to try to change your body shape but not to such extremes as to deform the body

    • Elyn MacInnis 5 years ago from Shanghai, China

      Absolutely barbaric. I live in China and know some women who had their feet bound. It is terrible. And I think high heels are not a good thing either, but not as bad as breaking someone's feet and wrapping them up to make them small.

    • sherridan 5 years ago

      The practice of body modification continues today through cosmetic surgery - in my opinion this should only be valid if medically justified (i.e. due to deformity) and not due to vanity. Have you ever seen the actual foot rather than shoe - it is a hideous gnarled and deformed hoof not the pretty pixie foot one might envisage. Thanks for an interesting read

    • JoyfulReviewer 5 years ago

      What's barbaric to one person, is not to another. I personally think the foot binding and corseting to extremely tiny waistlines is barbaric. And I detest all forms of tattoos and most forms of body piercing (I can accept pierced ears, but not for really young children).

    • Tamara Kajari 5 years ago from Zagreb, Croatia, Europe

      I wouldn't use the word 'barbaric', but all such body modifications are simply the wrong thing to do and they've been (or still are) done for all the wrong reasons. The real challenge in life is to be satisfied and content with and in your own body as it is.

    • anonymous 5 years ago

      What's wrong with us as we are? Being fit and healthy is the best way to true natural beauty. I think foot binding was an evil and hateful practice, and those concerned really had no choice had they?

      All these strange practices carry health risks too, not to mention the pain and suffering some of them cause.

    • Laniann 5 years ago

      I think that breast implants are right up there with foot binding. The man a woman does this for isn't worth it.

    • gogolf162 6 years ago

      I think you should like what you have. If you want a better body you should consider eating better or working out.

    • avgsuperheroine 6 years ago

      I wouldn't personally do these things. I do think if one chooses to alter their body, it should be their own choice when they're at an age to fully understand the permanency and the consequences.

    • Peggy Hazelwood 6 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      I think ALL of those things are barbaric personally. I have no piercings or tattoos and am pleasantly (naturally) fat. Whatever. I would rather be real than hurt myself. I just don't get it!

    • miaponzo 6 years ago

      I believe that we should keep our bodies as natural as possible... the way God made them. :) I have pierced ears and nose.... my kids have gone a little further... but drastic irreversible modifications seem extreme to me. :)

    • fluffyclouds 6 years ago

      I think body modification is a natural result of human nature - something both men and women engage in. At this point in society, I cannot condone or support any body modification to another person before they can consent (circumcision for example) or that causes irreversible damage/pain to the individual.

      So I would say the body shouldn't be modified in any permanently damaging way.

    • sheriangell 6 years ago

      I believe we should accept what we are blessed with. Sure we can improve or accentuate what we have, but often it's taken too far.

    Changing the body in any shape or form is perfectly normal.

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      • 2 years ago

        ft ft

      • anonymous 5 years ago

        We all practice body modification to some degree.

        Every day things like hair cuts, waxing/plucking, trimming our nails, etc. are all forms of mild body modification & personal maintenance.

        Hair dye, makeup, nail polish, tanning & other semi-permanent beauty enhancements are things that we do to increase our attractiveness.

        Braces for crooked teeth (this can be medical or just cosmetic), back braces for scoliosis, leg braces, etc are more drastic forms of body modification in that these things move bones & can be painful.

        Corsets don't usually move bone, just shift soft tissue. Tight lacing is different, but few people practice that. Bras do exactly the same thing, just on a smaller part of the body. So do control top pantyhose.

        I think any time you permanently move bone, you have to be careful. The issue here is that it's a cosmetic disfigurement that limits a person's ability to life a full, active life. Intentional hobbling limits a person's potential. A tattoo won't do that.

      • yayas 5 years ago

        Everyone does some form of body modification, even if it is jus' the act of wearing an article of clothing that enhances one of our more appealing features. However, I feel that if body modifications are to be made, they should be the sole decision of the person who will be most affected by it. Ear piercing? The person who will be wearing the earrings. Tattoos? The person who will feel the pain. Circumcision? Definitely, the person whose *winky* is gonna' be tampered with. Some things simply should NOT be decided by anyone else.

      • Cinnamonbite 6 years ago

        Civilized people modify their body. Trimming your hair is modifying the, "natural," order. So is birth control and taking vitamins. Nature has it's place but we need not be subjected to it's whims.

      • Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 6 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

        Any form of body modification, even pierced ears (which, by the way, I DO have) are for the purpose of attracting others. Body modification can be carried too far, and then it's done for the purpose of shocking others

      • Everyday-Miracles 6 years ago

        The body has always been modified for various reasons, including religious reasons and beauty reasons. There are even medical reasons for minor body modification. It's quite normal.

      Fascinating lotus shoes collectibles - Own a piece of history

      These tiny bound feet shoes were the rage in ancient China and ensured a woman's eligibility for marriage. The bound feet was deemed erotic and attractive and was widely practised which lasted for over a thousand years.

      Step right up and take this quick poll.

      Have you ever heard of the ancient practice of Chinese foot binding and lotus slippers?

      See results

      Tippy tiptoe to my guestbook, please. - Your thoughts on the subject?

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        • sheriangell profile image

          sheriangell 6 years ago

          Your lenses are always so fascinating and this one is no exception. Well done and blessed by a Squid Angel today!

        • MelissaInTheSky profile image

          MelissaInTheSky 6 years ago

          A well made lens with lots of information. Makes me very sad, though. :(

        • Everyday-Miracles profile image

          Everyday-Miracles 6 years ago

          This lens is just incredible. Very well put together. I couldn't stop reading it!

          I knew about the practice of foot binding in China and have always been curious, but I haven't really explored it in depth. Now I'm more informed. Great job!

        • Nancy Hardin profile image

          Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 6 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

          I own the book on footbinding, Splendid Slippers, and have always had a fascination with the custom. Maybe I was Chinese in an ancient life...haha! Thanks for sharing such an interesting subject.

        • fluffyclouds profile image

          fluffyclouds 6 years ago

          I find the practice interesting and repulsive at the same time...but as a lifelong, professional ballet dancer...I can also see parallels with pointe shoes.

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          miaponzo 6 years ago

          Great topic.. thanks for that.. loads of great info here and very interesting pics. thanks! :)

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          anonymous 6 years ago

          Another very well done lens, packed with great information. Congratulations on your Purple Star, very well deserved :)

          I am just happy we don't have to wear corsets these days, and the foot binding, well, that to me just was not right, painful too.

        • Everyday-Miracles profile image

          Everyday-Miracles 6 years ago

          Congratulations on the purple star! Very much deserved!

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          NYThroughTheLens 6 years ago

          Really informative and nicely designed lens about an intriguing topic.

        • mattseefood lm profile image

          mattseefood lm 6 years ago

          I've heard a lot of stories about this one since I am pure chinese. Thanks for sharing your knowledge :)

        • avgsuperheroine profile image

          avgsuperheroine 6 years ago

          This was very interesting. I read a wonderful short story as a teen that was historical fiction that centered on foot binding and I remember being really fascinated with it. It's an interesting subject, thank you for sharing it.

        • profile image

          gogolf162 6 years ago

          I do not care too much for feet other than for walking or running.

        • phoenix arizona f profile image

          phoenix arizona f 6 years ago

          What interesting history.

        • kweni16 profile image

          Quennie 6 years ago from London

          @gogolf162: i totally agree lol! if i were a guy as long as my girl has feet then i'm good!

        • sukkran trichy profile image

          sukkran trichy 5 years ago from Trichy/Tamil Nadu

          very interesting subject and well presented lens. ~blessed~

        • bangcool profile image

          bangcool 5 years ago

          whoho, i think they will hurt their own feet when they use those shoes

        • lemonsqueezy lm profile image

          lemonsqueezy lm 5 years ago

          This always makes me feel uncomfortable. I feel so sad for the girls who had to have their feet bound. Very interesting.

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          Light-in-me 5 years ago

          You make a good point, by showing the other ways that women and men deform themselves for supposed beauty. I am really horrified by most of these things.

          Execellent lens,


        • Serenity30 profile image

          Serenity30 5 years ago

          Chinese were not the only culture of Foot binders, there was Japanese,Taiwanese foot binding practices.

          It is barbaric when this effects the natural bone structure of the person,inhibiting normal movement. I watched a documentary years ago on National Geographic about this practice in Japan.

          Congratulations on the purple star.

        • Tamara14 profile image

          Tamara Kajari 5 years ago from Zagreb, Croatia, Europe

          I remember watching some history series on TV and that was my first encounter with this old Chinese custom. This is an excellent lens. Squid angel blessed~

        • Dee Gallemore profile image

          Dee Gallemore 5 years ago

          An outstanding presentation on foot binding history and practices. Just blown away by the depth of information and the images, too. A really good read ... Blessed!

        • Mistl profile image

          Mistl 5 years ago

          This is a very powerful lens, I like how you are not only spotlighting foot-binding, but all forms of extreme body modification in the name of beauty.

        • JoyfulReviewer profile image

          JoyfulReviewer 5 years ago

          Thanks for the wonderful pictures and extensive information on extreme body modifications just to please others. Congratulations on being one of the final 100 favorite Squidoo lenses of 2011!

        • Auntiekatkat profile image

          Auntiekatkat 5 years ago

          Congrats on being nominated for Community Favorite Lenses of 2011. A wonderful lens. Fortunately we both share one thing it was easier to vote than for most as mine was my "why-I-am a- vegetarian was nominated as well. A proud moment for all of us. Good luck in the voting.

        • yayas profile image

          yayas 5 years ago

          Congratulations on your won'erful approach to a very hidden topic. It is difficult to find information that tells very much about foot-binding. You have taken a great deal of the mystery from this subject an' portrayed it for what it really is... torture.

          Thank you so much for your support on my What Is A Balloon Christmas page. I so appreciated it. I also wanna' wish you a Happy New Year!

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          JZinoBodyArt 5 years ago

          Excellent Lens!

        • julescorriere profile image

          Jules Corriere 5 years ago from Jonesborough TN

          Happy New Year! Congratulations on being chosen as a top 100 Community favorite for 2011! This is an absolutely stunning lens. I read it all the way through, stopping to catch my breath sometimes, and I absolutely appreciate your pointing out of the corsettes and other ways bodies are modified. Wonderful, wonderful lens.

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          cmadden 5 years ago

          Very interesting and disturbing lens.

        • LouisaDembul profile image

          LouisaDembul 5 years ago

          Very interesting comparison between chinese foot binding and corsets, etc!

        • mary lighthouse15 profile image

          mary lighthouse15 5 years ago

          Very informative. I've been wondering about this foot binding long time ago. Thanks for sharing!

        • GonnaFly profile image

          Jeanette 5 years ago from Australia

          Thanks for this eye opening lens.

        • artbyrodriguez profile image

          Beverly Rodriguez 5 years ago from Albany New York

          What an interesting and informative lens and great photos.

        • snazzify lm profile image

          Katie Harp 5 years ago

          blessed by a squid angel :) <3

        • PearlHowie profile image

          PearlHowie 5 years ago

          Wow - what a great informative lens. I've always loved reading about China, Chinese culture and the way it's changed so found this really interesting! And thanks for liking my lens x P

        • jballs6 profile image

          jballs6 5 years ago

          A fascinating subject. I was only telling my son about Chinese foot binding two weeks ago and have just shown him your page. Excellent lens

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          JoshK47 5 years ago

          A very interesting read, indeed. I remember I first heard about this on Ripley's Believe It or Not. Thanks for sharing - blessed by a SquidAngel!

        • iWrite4 profile image

          iWrite4 5 years ago

          Very interesting! Never heard of these before. Thanks for sharing

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          jakealoo 5 years ago

          Very nice lens and I like the title to the guest book, LOL.

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          entertainmentev 5 years ago

          Fantastic lens! I learned so much about this tradition.

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          Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

          This subject has fascinated me since I was a child. Thanks for the info.

        • Elyn MacInnis profile image

          Elyn MacInnis 4 years ago from Shanghai, China

          Sigh. Foot binding makes me feel deeply for the poor women who were forced to have their feet bound. They didn't just "bind" them. They basically broke them. My elderly friends who just escaped this awful torture feel so relieved and happy that they missed it.

        • LoriBeninger profile image

          LoriBeninger 4 years ago

          Great and informative lens. I just published a book review on Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, which includes many passages on the practice. I've included your lens as a link. Thank you.

        • Demaw profile image

          Demaw 3 years ago

          Very sad what young children sometimes have to go through.

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