The Last Surviving Women of China’s Agonizing Foot Binding Tradition

Footbinding in China

I remember hearing about China’s foot binding tradition when I was in elementary school and wondering why the heck a woman would mutilate her body in hopes of marrying into money. My eight-year-old mind couldn’t fathom having my toes broken and my feet crushed.

And to this day, I still can’t believe how this cruel custom of having tiny feet was seen as a symbol of beauty and social status. Can you imagine getting your feet to fit into a three-inch-long shoe? Didn’t think so.

Bound feet, also known as “lotus feet”, were first introduced by the Song Dynasty back in the 10th century and banned in 1912.

In photographer Jo Farrell’s project called Living History, she has been capturing the lives of the last known foot binding survivors in Liuyicun, a village in Southern China’s Yunnan province. Farrell thought it was important to document their lives before they pass away. She also created an amazing video documenting the lives of these foot binding survivors, check it out below. 

“I regret binding my feet,” Zhou Guizhen says. “I can’t dance, I can’t move properly. I regret it a lot. But at the time, if you didn’t bind your feet, no one would marry you.”

While foot binding may be a thing of the past, suffering for beauty still remains an all too familiar concept for many modern day women, who dye their hair, squeeze their feet into ridiculous heels or have various parts of their bodies surgically enhanced.

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