UCLA Asia Institute
FOOTBINDING

Draft lesson by Nancy Miles

The ancient custom of foot binding was practiced in China from about the
10th century and ended in 1911 after approximately 1000 years

Photos
http://www-ec.njit.edu/`jke1763/fb.htm feet
http://www.sfmuseum.org/chin/foot.html Chinese girl with bound feet
http://www.thai-d.com/siam-china/bound%20feet/lesson.htm lotus shoes
http://www.kidzworld.com/site/p2142.htm Chinese bound foot

The ancient custom of foot binding was practiced in China from about the
10th century and ended in 1911 after approximately 1000 years. This practice
touched most of the lives of young Chinese girls regardless of their social
class. Many questions have been asked regarding this custom. Why were
young girls subjected to such a painful custom? How could these young girls’
mothers have participated in such a painful practice? What was gained, or
hoped to be gained, by this practice? This unit will attempt to answer some
of these questions and to further the understanding of this custom.

Background Information:
Foot binding began at about age 4 to 7 on young Chinese girls. The foot
was soaked in hot water and massaged then it was wrapped in a way in which
the child's toes were turned under and pressed against the bottom of her
foot. Her largest toe was left unturned in order to give the girl a sense of
balance. The child's arches of her foot were broken as the foot was pulled
straight with the leg. This caused the foot to actually shrink. This
process took anywhere from three years or longer to complete. The result of
this process was a deformed "tiny" foot (about three inches long). Another
result was extreme pain for the child, as well as infection, gangrene and for
10% of the girls who had their feet bound death. Some accounts say that when
the process was complete the feet were unbound. Other accounts say that the
foot was continually bound because it was more painful to have it unbound.
Regardless, of some unclear information regarding this practice, it is
without debate that this process kept women from being able to move as their
western counterparts. It further rendered them subservient to men and was
used as a social control over women for 1000 years.

Why foot binding?
There are many theories regarding the purpose of foot binding. One
theory is that women who had their feet bound were less independent and more
able to be controlled. In Chinese society it is said that women are ruled by
their fathers, then their husbands and finally, by their sons. This was a
way to ensure that women did not travel away from that control because
literally the pain was too great and debilitating to allow them the freedom
to be free. Another theory is that the smaller the woman's feet the more
desirable she would be in marriage. One story tells of a mother who tells
her daughter that the size of the foot is more important then the
attractiveness of the daughter's face in the eyes of a possible husband.
Families needed the security of a daughter marrying "well" to ensure the
families place in society. Foot binding was a way to gain this security. A
third theory is that foot binding was a way to show status. If a family had
a daughter whose foot was bound then they were perceived by their neighbors
to be able to have a capable and working member of their family not work.
This implied success for the family.

Lessons

Lesson 1
This Chinese custom of foot binding is difficult to understand for most. It
must be understood that many societies had and have customs that render women
more as objects than as equals. An example are corsets that cinched women’s
waists to 16 inches or less, body piercing, etc.
Objective:
Understanding of various customs that may be hard to understand in a variety
of societies.
Process:
Students research different customs in various societies in which women were
subject to such customs. They can broaden this research to include freedoms
such as having the vote, education opportunities, land owner ship, etc.

Lesson 2
Research of Chinese women; their roles, accomplishments, struggles, etc.

Objective:
Students research Chinese women who, whether in fact or fable, have
contributed to Chinese society. The list of 100 Celebrated Chinese Women
lists a variety of "celebrated" women. Through this research/bibliography students will be able
to understand that though women were often rendered nearly useless in society
that they did have an impact.

Process:
Students will choose one of the women listed and research the myth or
complete a biography of the actual person. This material will then be
presented to the class in an oral presentation.

Lesson 3
Three inch shoes are equivalent in size to what objects that we find in our
day to day living.
Objective:
Students understand greater the actuality of this practice by locating
various items that are three inches long. Through this activity they will be
able to better visualize the impact of foot binding on women and the
struggle/pain they endured in wearing three inch shoes. PICTURE OF LOTUS SHOES

Process:
Students are assigned to cut out a three inch piece of tag board for
reference. They are to use this in a "hunt" for other items that are
similiar in size. They are to list these items and display some for the
class to observe.

Lesson 4
Primary source interviews of women who had their feet bound.

Objective:
Learning from primary source interviews
Understanding of women's experience through interviews. Professor Pamela
Cooper
conducted interviews with women who had their feet bound.

Process:
Students can read the work of Professor Pamela Cooper. She conducted intervie
ws with women who had their feet bound. This first hand information brings
insight to the custom of foot binding and offers readers information that
helps explain the resilience and determination of many of these women.

Lesson 5
Women in Chinese history in the 20th century

Objective:
Understanding of women's roles in China in the 20th century. This will help
students understand the processes women endured and what their current roles
are in Chinese society.
Process:
View video Through Chinese Women's Eyes