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History of Chinese Shoes

Updated on February 22, 2009

Foot Clothing: the earliest shoes and socks

The earliest shoes in China were made by tanned animal hide. They are ancester of leather boots.
In the ancient script engraved on bone and tortoise shell it depicts a whole animal hide was trimmed and stretched out. This would indicate that, at the time written Chinese was being formulated, socks and shoes were both related to leather. In ancient times there was no distinction between shoes and socks. The ancients would protect their feet by cutting out pieces of animal hide, wrapping them around their feet, and securing them with leather thongs. According to archaeologists, this kind of foot wrapping first appeared in the Old Stone Age.

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Straw shoesWooden sandals
Straw shoes
Straw shoes
Wooden sandals
Wooden sandals

Straw Shoes

People in the east and south of China were making straw shoes using bamboo needles and flax thread. Archaeological finds show that as early as 7,000 years ago, ancient Chinese had learned to make articles of daily use from plant fibers.

Many kinds of grass can be used to make shoes. In ancient times, almost all people across China wore straw shoes, excepting nomadic tribes. The main difference in mode of this footwear was that people in the frigid north wore thick straw boots, while those in the hot, humid south wore straw sandals. Straw footwear was worn by all, whether they were nobles, men of letters or farmers. Even today, local farmers still weave straw shoes for daily use and export.

Wooden Sandals

Ancient Chinese also made wooden sandals by attaching straw ropes to wooden soles.

Silk Embroidered Arched Shoes
Silk Embroidered Arched Shoes

Silk Shoes

Silkworm breeding started about 5,000 years ago in China. In the Shang Dynasty, some 3,000 years ago, people learned how to weave silk cloth and color it with mineral and plant dyes. The development of sericulture greatly influenced Chinese shoe making, and colorful silk shoes gradually replaced straw shoes.

The Empress Dowager Cixi's high heel shoes
The Empress Dowager Cixi's high heel shoes

High Heel Shoes in old times

Manchu women's high heel shoes (from 18th to 20th century) had a concave heel of 10 to 15 cm in the center of the instep. The vamp was made of silk and embroidered with designed of flowers, birds, and fruits. These shoes are inconvenient to walk in, but they encourage the swaying gait of the wearer which was regarded as beautiful and also made the wearer tower over the others.

The picture on the right shows the Empress Dowager Cixi's splendidly decorated shoes dripping with strings of pearls.

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Quilted cotton shoes
Quilted cotton shoes
Quilted cotton shoes

Traditional Cotton Shoes

Traditional black cotton shoes with white cotton padded soles have been very popular since a hundred years ago and continued to be popular in rural areas of China today.

Sturdy cotton shoes (the vamp can be made of silk, velvet, or quilted cotton for winter days to keep feet warm) go with any fabric in any season, dressy or casual. They suits for teenage girls, middle age, and old ladies. They fit any type of foot because they simply take the shape of the foot they are on.

When I was a child I worn quilted cotton shoes quite often in winter. My mother made the sole, sewed with linen, stitched together with many layers of cloth. She bought the vamp from open markets and stitched it with the sole using a big needle. I miss the soft and cosy feeling of those handmade quilted cotton shoes. However, they are not suitable for rainy days due to the material used. Certainly they won't be much of use in England's wet winter except wearing them as indoor slippers.

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    • profile image

      angela 

      6 years ago

      I have a project at school that is about chinese shoes and it is very hard.

    • profile image

      lamps 

      7 years ago

      Those look as if they would hurt to wear

    • profile image

      sasha 

      9 years ago

      it will hurt to have bound feet

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