Foot Binding and Other Stupid Customs

May 28, 2008


There is a stunning post at EastCoast Life about the abhorrent practice of foot-binding in the Orient. The photos are both sickeningly fascinating, and inexplicably horrendous.

The kids and I have studied the missionary work of Gladys Aylward, a hero of ours. She was an Englishwoman in the early 1900s who desperately desired to evangelize China, but was considered too old and too inexperienced to join the missions group. Aylward decided to be a missionary, anyway, without their help. She got a job and saved up her own money to take a train through dangerous Russia and on to China– Manchuria, specifically. Her story is INCREDIBLE and I highly recommend the book Gladys Aylward: The Adventure of a Lifetime (it’s a young-adult book and very readable).

At first, the Manchurians treated Gladys like a hostile intruder, but after seeing her compassion, love, and incredible generosity, named her “Ah-wei-dah,” which means “virtuous one.” The Manchurian leader became a Christian by observing her love and compassion. Gladys also adopted dozens of orphaned children; she quelled a violent prison outbreak and then negotiated for the starving prisoners; and she rescued hundreds of Chinese children (she led them on a dangerous– but life-saving– journey over mountains when the Japanese invaded during World War II). What a wonderful woman she was! (By the way, you just know that the modern Christian Chinese church is a direct descendant of the work of Gladys, Hudson Taylor, and Eric Liddell among those children, because all foreigners were expelled from China during WWII. These little Christian children were all that remained of the Christian faith in that country). Gladys is buried in Taiwan, facing her beloved China. Eric Liddell died in a concentration camp in China by the hand of the Japanese occupiers; he is buried in China.

During her missionary ministry, Gladys helped enforce the new law in China against foot-binding. Foot-binding, practiced for centuries in China, had been outlawed by the Nationalist government. They were finding it hard to enforce, because Chinese men still wanted it. Like EastCoastLife says, the perverted disfigurement and torture of little girls’ feet was for the sole purpose of their selfish, perverted pleasure.


It made me think that nothing new has really changed, has it? In our Western culture, it has been the same way, too. There were corsets, which restricted a woman’s waist so badly that mothers died during pregnancy or during childbirth. The female mortality rate was horrific. In Gone With the Wind, it is made notable that Scarlett O’Hara had an 18-inch waist. Talk about disfigurement!

What is it today? Being super-skinny, having watermelon-sized implants, Botox, etc. I shake my head and really wonder why men like their women so disfigured and unnatural and why women tolerate it and allow the perversion to continue on to afflict their children.

It’s something to think about. Are we really any different now? Are we still ruled by pressures to contort our bodies so as to appear more enticing for men? Is it really worth it?!

8 Responses to “Foot Binding and Other Stupid Customs”

  1. Cromely Says:

    I think the modern problems we face are a bit different. The uber-skinniness and the watermelons isn’t demanded or forced the way foot binding was. While the media may portray that as the standard, what we actually see is far from that. The country’s rising obesity rate would seem to dispell the idea that it is wide spread.

    What I find particularly interesting, is that these modern challenges may be male driven in the media (I’m not sure) but in reality, I don’t see that drive on the ground. Anecdotally, the the intense dieting and serial plastic surgery seems to more driven by women competing with one another. Most men I’ve spoken to are perfectly happy with a “normal” woman; they don’t expect women in actual life to be the super model standard.

    But it obviously is something to be aware of.

  2. My Bug Life Says:

    I watched the horrors of footbinding on Discovery Channel few years ago….the feet looked grotesque…and I shudder at what was done to the women then. My grandma was one of the victims…but thankfully, her feet were not bound for so many years like most women so her feet were not “deformed”. But I believe that was not her actual feet was smaller due to the early stages of feet binding.

  3. Rebecca Says:

    Hi Cromely, thanks for your interesting comment. I have to disagree with your “most men are perfectly happy with a ‘normal’ woman” just because all you have to do is read some of the blogs, see what magazines men are buying, and what kind of women men gawk at. Women are sensitive to these things, because she still feels a lot of pressure to please the man. Certainly it is women competing with women, but the competition is for the man. The country’s rising demand for super-skinny women would dispel the idea that men just want the average gal.

    Not all Chinese women practiced foot-binding– similar to today, where not every woman is starving or getting implants. But the SOCIAL pressure is definitely there and it is very pervasive. As a woman, I can tell you that the drive for a woman to look like a “super” woman is DEFINITELY there. Maybe some women who read this blog would throw in their two cents about this? Or, I could do a poll?

    Thanks for your comments– it’s great to hear what you think.

    My Bug life– I didn’t know much about the practice until I saw the post at the other blog. YUK!

  4. A. Says:

    I have read, and I can’t quite remember where, that foot-binding became so pervasive that if a girl’s feet weren’t bound, there was a lot less likelihood that she would marry. I once quoted the article with regard to FGM, where one of the arguments put forward for continuing the practice is that without it the girl will have little chance to marry.

    Whether there is quite the same pressure to look like a super woman I’m not so sure. My feeling is that it is media driven rather than anything else: women are encouraged to look a certain way in order to attract men, but men are led to believe that is what they should aspire to, ie they should have a good job with a high income, a fast or flashy car, and then they can hope to have a partner like a model.

    All the same, I don’t think it can be considered as bad as foot-binding because foot-binding was inflicted on young girls by their parents, and the girls had little or no say in the matter.

  5. Sushi Says:

    This is absolutely shocking! I’ve heard about it but never really saw what the feet could look like. Atrocious!

  6. Cassy Says:

    Hi! You must read “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” by Lisa See. The novel revolves around foot-binding practices in China. A must-read, difficult to put down. I love the story.

  7. Camille Says:

    I saw the same post while out ‘entrecarding’ *smile*.

    My feet hurt looking at the photo.

    I have to agree with you that a lot of men want women that look perfect, or at least that is the message coming across to women. All those rag magazines of models that dress with less (was that a tactful way to put it??) wouldn’t still be in business if men didn’t get something out of them. You know what I mean?

    As for parents forcing it on little girls, I have seen that myself. From hair, to make-up, to clothes, to weight – you’d be surprised what you see! In a sense, with some women, ‘perfection’ is forced on their daughters in today’s society. I’m not saying this is the ‘norm’, but it is definitely out there.

    Blessings –


  1. Freaky Frugalite » Blog Archive » English to Chinese in 10 EZ Lessons! - August 19, 2008

    […] I love the Chinese language. Seriously. Can’t understand a word of it, but I do like it. Oh, wait– I do know a little bit! We learned a few Chinese phrases when we read about Gladys Aylward, missionary to the Mandarins. I wrote about it here. […]