The diminutive and coquettish shoes, not more than three inches in length and with arched heels, exquisite embroidery, semi precious stones and in iridescent colours, are not doll’s shoes but regular shoes worn by Chinese women centuries ago. One pair was just 7 cm in length, the smallest shoe in the display from collection of Dr David Ko Chi-sheen of Taiwan’s Foot-binding Culture Museum. (Hong Kong 2009).
Foot binding or ‘Lotus Feet’ was a Mainland China custom percolating down from rich to poor. Finding a suitable match negated educational qualification and ‘tinier the feet’ meant better chances of appropriating rich husbands. A three feet foot, referred to as ‘silver lotus‘ or ”Small, slim, pointed, arched, fragrant, soft, and straight giving the same pleasure as a lotus blooming in murky waters’, was considered the perfect symbol of bound feet. A prospective mother-in-law, knowing her son’s preference for ‘butterfly’ dainty steps, would first inspect a girl’s feet and then say yes to the marriage proposal . The pain and suffering due to decaying toes and peeling skin was inconsequential.
Dorothy Ko in ‘IN EVERY STEP A LOTUS’ writes that the Han Chinese women were bowing to social dictates of the time wearing the embroidered and colorful symbols of prosperity. By the seventeenth and eighteenth century the custom had percolated down to the masses.
In 1887, Alicia Little, refers to bound feet and how ‘six year old girls instead of hopping, skipping or jumping like little girls in England, were leaning heavily on sticks taller than them or being carried on a man’s back or sitting sadly crying’.
I look at the ‘normal’ feet of women walking the Hong Kong streets and find the giant strides equally ‘beautiful’.