Category Archives: The Traditional – Foot Binding

Footbinding: A Chinese Cultural Practice Used to Highlight the Uneven Comparisons Between the East and West

Dorothy Ko, in her articles The Body as Attire and Footbinding and Fashion Theory, highlights the problems that result when scholars try to compare cultural practices between the East and the West as they relate to fashion. Ko asserts that the lack of academic and historical information about foot-binding has lead to an oversimplification of the cultural practice and its significance within Chinese society.

In The Body as Attire, Ko explains that our understanding of foot-binding is based off of firsthand accounts of western missionaries who entered China with prejudices about the inferiority of Chinese culture. Their goal upon arriving in China was to expose the horrible aspects of foot-binding and work to abolish the practice altogether, which explains the use of “scientific tone of objective observation” in articles about foot-binding (Ko 9).


Natural Feet v. Bound Feet Comparison (,_1902.JPG)

Western missionaries and non-Chinese sociologist failed to understand how foot-binding was the basis of gender identity, cultural identity, and national identity. Foot-binding was part of a woman’s beauty ritual, having unbound feet was considered ugly and uncivilized. Foot-binding embodied wen civility, the highest form of cultural prestige which placed emphasis on concealing the body (Ko 14). Concealment was a form of respect and of self-control. The designs and embellishments on the lotus shoes were a reflection of a woman’s  socioeconomic status. Foot-binding was also an expression of political allegiance and ethnic identity (Ko 17). Chinese people considered groups from other nationalities (i.e. Korea, Japan) barbarians because they did not practice foot binding, which was justification for their imperial conquests (Ko 15). Han-Chinese did not view people from other ethnic groups (i.e. Manchu) as Chinese if they did not bind their feet because their choice was viewed as a lack of appreciation for wen civility.

Footbinding in Fashion Theory focuses more on the early interactions between westerners and Chinese people. Dorothy Ko’s analysis of western observations of foot-binding shows the reader that westerners viewed Chinese fashion as timeless costumes. While western scholars felt as though the Chinese were easier to relate to than other racial/ethnic groups (i.e. blacks, Hispanics), they perceived Western fashion to be more modern.

Wikicommons Foot binding wealthy

Chinese women wearing lotus shoes and long robes (

Westerners believed that Chinese people were similar to them because of their fairer skin and straight hair. However, their observations of Chinese facial features and stature are indicative of racial tensions: “for they are great people, on par with ourselves, but of uglier aspect, with little bit of eyes” (Footbinding in Fashion Theory 9). As a result, westerners observed that Chinese fashion had adopted aspects of western fashion, such as shoe designs and stockings, but saw their creations as unoriginal copies (Footbinding in Fashion Theory 9). Westerners did not believe Chinese fashion was modern there were not as many visible changes in the cut or style of garments as there were in Europe. However, they acknowledged the extent to which fashion was meant to maintain political order and national identity (Footbinding in Fashion Theory 11). Lastly, westerners were perplexed by the idea of wen civility. In attempting to study and observe Chinese people, they were unable to examine unbound feet and rarely saw Chinese women without their makeup and hair done. The inability to fully understand the effects of foot-binding on the physical condition and psyche of Chinese women led to the exoticism of Chinese women as “mysterious” or “unseen”.

Ultimately, Dorothy Ko’s analysis of foot-binding is intended to change the ways in which scholars approach the subject of foot-binding. One has to examine Chinese history and understand how western perceptions of foot-binding have limited our understanding of the complexities of the practice and ways in which it shaped Chinese identity. The goal is not to compare foot-binding with western fashion culture, but view each interpretation of foot-binding as a unique and valid expression of cultural pride and identity formation.


This image, found in Professor Tsui’s foot binding presentation, embodies the social-cultural aspects that resulted in the start and continuation of the foot binding process in china. Foot binding originated in the Song dynasty (960-1279) with the dancer Yao Niang who would preform for the prince a top a “golden lotus pedestal”. She would bind her feet in silk. The prince enjoyed her performances so much he ordered others to start mimicking her. This was the start of the term “Golden Lotus” in reverence to the tightly bound feet. Foot binding originated in order to please Chinese men who saw tiny feet as the ultimate sexual attractor a women could have. This begs the question, why would women endure such pain and continue the tradition on to their daughters just to please a male sexual foot fetish? To put it simply, having bound feet would result in higher social status by being able to marry wealthy men who desired bound feet. In this picture we see a young girl dressed in ornate silk clothing. She is also relaxing next to some tea being served in fine china. The photo shows a lot, beginning with the young girl, we see the early commitment needed to begin the foot binding process and the progression of the tradition from mother to daughter. Next, we should focus on her attire and surroundings. She is wearing a beautiful ornate silk dress, has her hair done and is holding a fan, all these contribute to her high-class appeal. Furthermore, she is just sitting enjoying tea, not having to work like lower class citizens. This photograph displays the tradition and increased social standing that went along with having bound feet. On another note, we can also talk about how this picture is a picture inning of itself. When westerners started arriving in china they were unpleased with the boot binding tradition, thinking of the Chinese as barbaric for allowing this act upon women. For this reason, Chinese women would often keep their feet and their continuation of the practice to their daughters hidden. From the start, not many photographs were taken or shared by westerners to other westerners of this foot binding practice. This image is important because it signifies the start of the spread of knowledge about foot binding to the western world. Again, when westerners found out about this practice they were shocked, asking the question I raised before, why would women misshape their bodies in lure of men? Now let me ask, why would western women crack their rib cages with corsets to achieve the hourglass shape their men desired? These two processes are one in the same. In both cases women morph their bodies in order to please men and to fit into socially constructed views on female beauty. I choose this photograph because I believe it not only gives us insight on the traditions of the Chinese foot binding process but also makes us reflect on ourselves, how we subject women to painful beauty standards.

The Concealed Truth

The most exotic aspects of a foreign culture captivate observers, especially those that are intended for the private sphere; foot binding exemplifies this truth. It is a tradition that endured for centuries and whose practitioners could not precisely define how or where it began, which added to the foreigner’s confusion.

As an analysis of the image above will demonstrate, fully understanding the Chinese tradition of foot binding demands thorough knowledge of Chinese history and philosophy.

the thesis claim is too general to tackle

The central organizing principle of Chinese civilization is the Confucian philosophical school, which places harmony and order as the highest goal of civilization. His teachings came to the forefront during the Warring States Period during which time dukes violently contested for supremacy as Zhou authority foundered. He argued for renewed faith in authority by respecting one’s allotted station in life: ministerial and aristocratic loyalty to the throne. The same extended to a father’s authority over his children and the husband’s authority over his wife. To defy what Confucius considered to be the natural and proper order of affairs was tantamount to barbarism. “True” Chinese in his eyes not only exemplified civility and order in their personal affairs, but extended it to the public sphere as well.

It is within this intellectual context that foot binding arose. In the image above, the woman’s foot delicately sits in his hand. It is significant to note that her foot is just a bit smaller than his hand. To achieve feet that small required deliberate commitment to the painful practice: even when crying out in agony as her feet grew, she must have never loosened her bandages. By extension, the smallness of her feet implied that she came from a family who prized Confucian civility, discipline and order because she is their product. This mattered because marriage bound together lineages as well as individuals, mixing their fortunes with each other. Marrying a present of equal or greater standing could enhance a lineage’s prestige, but it could also be a liability for the higher ranking lineage in the marriage. Therefore, the sheer smallness of her feet represents her commitment to achieve mastery over the natural form of the human body, to impose civility: it was a guarantor of their commitment to the Confucian ideals.

In addition to smallness, proper drapery was an essential component of the Confucian conceptualization of civility. Through simple comparison, the observer of the image above can see that the man’s clothing is far less ornate than the woman’s clothing. He wears his hair in the Manchu style and dons silk robes, but that is the extent of his outfit. The woman’s clothing is replete with many rich shades of red. Red is significant because it is used for festive, celebratory occasions in China and is associated with happiness. These rich shades of red cascade down her body in the form of exquisite silk robes and leggings. They terminate in red, silk stockings that conceal the bound foot. The stockings consist of multiple images, which could signify things such as good fortune or fertility. From the man’s gaze, we learn that it is the patterns on the stockings that hold his attention rather than the form of the bound foot itself. It would have likely been drenched in perfumes, which would have made it pleasant for the man to hold the bound foot in his hand while studying the stocking.

In conclusion, understanding the appeal of foot binding depends on understanding Confucian thought. His teachings emerged during the Warring States Period where multiple aristocrats fought for control over the dying Zhou state. Confucius believed that ending this conflict hinged on people’s accepting their natural station in life: nobles were subservient to their emperor, just as children were to their parents and husbands to their wives. Foot binding came to epitomize this commitment to order because it required incredible discipline to overcome the pain of the process. Therefore, it became a proxy for her moral capacity. Further accentuating this was her commitment to proper drapery. What aroused and enticed the man was not the mangled foot itself, but its enshrining Confucian civility and its use as a medium for expressing virtues such as fertility or good fortune through pleasant smelling silk that a man could observe from the palm of his hand as demonstrated in the image above.

see what happens if search for social-cultural or gendered connotations through the denotations of the concealed bound feet, the embodied shoes, the color red, veiled face, the relation/poison between the bride and groom

Footbinding: A Beauty or A Beast?

“A ‘lily footed woman of China (Foot Binding).” (1949) black and white photograph. Bridgeman Images. Accessed February 14, 2016.

This photograph that was taken by an unknown photographer in the year 1949 called A ‘lily footed woman of China (Foot Binding), found on the Bridgemen Education database suggests that despite the value of the appearance of bound feet in traditional Chinese culture to display beauty and civility[1], the exposure of the disfigured feet underneath represents only the consequences of this practice and disregards any of the meanings behind it.

thesis claim?

Around the start of the twentieth century, outsiders were photographing women’s bound feet without the cloth they bound their feet with and without their lotus shoes.[2] They were narrating the story of the practice for the Chinese by changing the depiction of bound feet in publications from focusing on the fashion of the lotus shoes paired with patterned attire, to the disfigured feet. An example of an illustration from the nineteenth century is from Ellen Johnston Liang’s article,“Visual Evidence for the Evolution of ‘Politically Correct’ dress for Women in Early Twentieth Century Shangai,” and this illustration shows the bound feet paired with clothing that was considered elegant at the time.[3] In comparison to this photograph that was taken in the mid-nineteenth century which includes both a bound foot and an unbound foot and the woman appears to be someone from the lower-class. The woman is wearing trousers and shirt made probably of cotton and put together with patches of material, no design or embroidery. In this same style are the lotus shoes, very simple. Also during this time footbinding was available to women of all social classes and you couldn’t distinguish who belonged to what social class, just by having their feet bound.[4] The photographer protrayed this by not including the face or upper body of the woman so the viewer couldn’t tell anything else about her social class, apart from the bound feet and some of the attire.

The background of this photograph is in a rural environment, and instead of the bounded foot being raised by a decorated foot rester that is usually used when women from a higher social class were photographed (as seen in a photograph on Professor Shu-Chin’s footbinding presentation) it is raised a bit by a piece of rock.[5] This symbolizes the women’s social status, but also how important it was for women’s feet to be bound, which at the time the photograph was taken, wasn’t.[6]This photograph is composed to draw your attention to the contrast being made by the photographer between the bound foot and the unbound foot. The bound foot looks small, perfect and pristine, but the unbound foot is dirty and disfigured.

could start analysis from this paragraph with the denotations and connotations of the background, the exposed bound foot, the faceless body, black/white photo ….

[1] Dorothy Ko, “The Body as Attire: The Shifting Meanings of Footbinding in Seventeenth-Century China,” Journal of Women’s History 8, no.4 (Winter 1997): 11

[2] Dorothy Ko, “Bondage in Time: Footbinding and Fashion Theory.” The Journal of Dress, Body and Culture 1. No. 1 (1997): 21

[3] Ellen Johnston Liang, “Visual Evidence for the Evolution of ‘Politically Correct’ dress for Women in Early Twentieth Century Shangai,” Nan Nu-Men, Women and Gender in Early and Imperial China 5, no.1 Edited by Leiden Brill (April 2003): 97

[4] Dorothy Ko, “Bondage in Time: Footbinding and Fashion Theory.” The Journal of Dress, Body and Culture 1. No. 1 (1997): 21

[5] Professor Shu Chin, “Footbinding Presentation” slide 9, January 31, 2016

[6] Dorothy Ko, “Bondage in Time: Footbinding and Fashion Theory.” The Journal of Dress, Body and Culture 1. No. 1 (1997): 21

Footbinding: The Dream vs The Reality

Chinese footbinding has existed for upwards of a thousand years. Since its inception among the upperclass and nobility, it gradually spread to working class Chinese as well. The process of footbinding involves the breaking of multiple bones in the foot and wrapping of the injured area and lower leg. This painful process leaves the woman in a state of discomfort for years and subsequently, makes walking and independent movement very difficult, if not impossible. Because of this, it was a sacrifice to the family of working class women to bind the feet of their daughters who would not longer be able to provide labor the family might desperately need.

may start from here: In the four images in this post, we see two very distinct types of golden lotus shoe. The first two, are what we might expect. They are small, dainty, and beautiful, while the other two are utilitarian and bulky. In comparing these images, I will explain how the reality versus the dream of footbinding affected working class women so much.

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 9.39.08 AM

Source: Chinese Footbinding: The Vanishing Lotus. 2004

These golden lotus shoes are intricate and delicate. We see that they are carefully hand embroidered with many important symbols. In the red shoe with a tassel, there is a delicately stitched rooster. This indicates a good marriage between the wearer and her husband. The tassel further indicates the plush and dainty lifestyle of the wearer. She is an ornament. The purple shoe shows embroidered flowers which one can interpret as the sign for wealth and success. These shoes would have been worn by a young unmarried woman.

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 9.37.59 AM

Source: Chinese Footbinding: The Vanishing Lotus. 2004

These shoes are incredibly delicate, and meant to be worn by women who would not often walk around outdoors. One can see this because of how intricate the embroidery of the silk is. Wearing these shoes outdoors in the elements would be a waste of them, they’d be ruined.

In contrast, these next two images show shoes that are much more practical for outdoor use. Both the shoes in these images are made of leather, a durable material, more appropriate to outdoor use. In the first of these shoes, we see small crafted spikes on the bottom of the shoe. The stitching and base of the shoe all indicate something created for wear and tear, or at the very least, repeated use. The shaft of the shoe goes up higher than other golden lotus slippers, possibly indicating that it is meant to protect the wearer from snow or rain, various other elements.

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 9.12.22 AM

Source: Chinese Footbinding: The Vanishing Lotus. 2004

The second pair is even more utilitarian than the first. It is also made of leather, and is meant for stability as indicated by the flat sole and sturdy front flaps with eyelets for laces. These are neutral in color, black, and meant to be worn everyday.

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 9.16.07 AM

Source: Chinese Footbinding: The Vanishing Lotus. 2004

The difference in these shoes shows the difference in the lives of rich and poor footbound women. Rich women could afford to wear the delicate embroidered silk shoes, and lounge about their home. Poor women still had to work however, and as such wore more utilitarian, practical shoes. While footbinding was the ideal of beauty for more than a thousand years, its appeal was much more for the dainty embroidered shoes. The reality of footbinding for women of a working class was not the beautiful shoes we’re accustomed to seeing in context of footbinding, but rather these plain, utilitarian shoes.

detailed comparison. the difference could mean different materials in different time

Preserving Femininity

Taken by William Charles White, called "Bounded Foot (Unbound)," (not dated).

Taken by William Charles White, called “Bounded Foot (Unbound),” (1873-1960).

This photo shows a woman with her bounded foot exposed. She is being taken care of by two other women, who could be her maids. She is clearly looking straight at the camera, knowing the picture is being taken of her exposed feet. Foot binding was a practice common in China for centuries. The earliest piece of evidence found from this practice is dated from around the twelfth or thirteenth century. It was an indication of civility, grace, and ethnic superiority for Chinese women, practiced from a young age. It was a desirable trait to have one’s feet bound because it was attractive in society and elevated one’s status. Foot binding was widespread, and often had a mysterious reputation that caused fetishization. Women kept their feet bound in finely decorated shoes, and did not allow men to see the naked shapes of their feet. This was a tradition between mothers and daughters. Due to this mysterious female secret, it is assumed that this also caused erotic imagination. I believe that this was a picture taken during the later years of the foot binding practice, perhaps when it was about to end, because this woman would not have allowed this picture to be taken otherwise. Her embodiment of the image of her bound foot indicates her acceptance or compliance of revealing her feminine secret.

The history of foot binding has largely been lost, but it was a tradition that lasted many years and dynasties. European and other Western civilizations observed Chinese culture and misunderstood their fashion and traditional practices, which often lead to devaluing their societies as a whole. In fact, the practice became unpopular in China because of outside influence claiming it was “shameful.” Foreigners invaded their space in order to criticize and expose the critical part of foot binding– the concealment. Chinese women allowed the exposure of their deep secret in order to gain a pension from the curious Europeans who wanted to take pictures of the unfamiliar practice.

find a focus and make an argument

analysis could begin from here: The woman in the picture is looking straight at the camera, focused and prepared for the photograph. Only one foot is exposed, but the audience is able to see the entire bend of the bound foot. Underneath the bench is her other foot, still in its intricate shoe. She is a well-dressed woman who is clearly wealthy enough to have other women tend to her feet. Due to these signs, I believe I can assume that this was probably one of the women who was paid to show her bound foot. She may or may not have had the choice in doing so, but we may never know because this practice was only historically recorded by men. The women are outside, perhaps cleaning the exposed bound foot, which seems to be unlikely at a time when the binding was still supposed to be concealed. The photographer has a Western name, which could further indicate that a foreigner photographed this revealing scene.

In conclusion, I believe that this woman exposed her bound foot unwillingly. (make the claim at the beginning of the entry) Based on the time period of when the world saw photos of the practice and discredited the tradition, I can imagine that the foot binding practice was on its decline in prevalence in society. The photograph exposes an integral issue in Chinese history of maintaining civility, feminine elegance, and high standards of beauty for women.

how about the significance of the unknown photographer as the subject and the woman with bound feet the object of being photographed?


Dorothy Ko, “Bondage in Time: Footbinding and Fashion Theory,” Fashion Theory Volume 1, Issue 1, 1997: 3-28.

Dorothy Ko. “The Body as Attire: the Shifting Meaning of Foot binding in Seventeenth-Century China.” Journal of Women’s History 8-4 (Winter 1997): 8-27.

Foot Binding Represented in Scene from Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Screen Shot 2016-02-13 at 4.06.04 PM

source: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (2011)

During the Neo-Confucian ages in China, foot binding was a prevalent and deep-rooted cultural tradition. This multifaceted act of physical mutilation and ornamental embellishment was also, depending on time and perspective, dynamically symbolic of wen civility, the familial system, sexuality, femininity, character, and nationalism. This snapshot image of an intimate moment of a newly wedded husband delicately holding and examining his new wife’s bound feet in the foreground while the wife blends into the background is representative of the fetishization and disproportional importance of bound feet, the small foot as the epitome of the beauty aesthetic, and the paradox of concealment and modest exposure that contributes to sensuality. your argument?

Through a purely aesthetic lens, the viewer of the image is first struck by the obvious color scheme of the scene. With bold reds, blacks, and browns in varying shades and lighting, the color subconsciously guides our eyes and thus our focus. For instance, the two subjects of the image have wardrobes of dark color, both the female and male wearing a predominantly brown wardrobe. However, the female’s lower leg and foot are clothed in a vibrant red, contrasting with its surroundings and bringing the viewer’s attention to the bound foot, (the bound foot could be the first point of attraction) conveying that the foot is actually the true subject of the image, and subject of the man’s desires. Furthermore, the woman is on the edge of the image basically blending into the background while the man is placed in the foreground but half-cloaked in shadow. The image shows that the foot itself is of more concern and importance than the person it belongs to. Instead of the two human characters in the scene, the foot is given the complete spotlight. This emphasis that is placed on the foot through lighting and color in this context demonstrates that the bound foot transcends the visible and physical and signifies the disproportional importance of a small foot in marriage and its general importance in the lives of wives, husbands, and the Chinese.

structure of foot then color and light

the bound foot and veiled face indicate that …. Also, a veil covers the woman’s face, her body is draped in layers, and her husband’s gaze is solely focused on her lower leg and foot. This intense combination of admiration and analysis, even celestial reverence, that the husband shows for the singular foot highlights the lack of those same feelings towards his wife as a whole. Even more, upon first glance, the woman’s presence is unnoticeable, minimal at best, unlike her center-displayed foot. Ultimately, this strategic placement of the wife and the purposeful tunnel-vision of the husband portrays the ideology that the foot holds the most beauty and deserves to be admired, while the face and body of a wife is of little concern to the husband. The small foot was the only physical trait that assigned beauty value to a woman and set a beauty standard for a man.

The fetishization of the foot against the spatial setting of the wedding chamber suggests that …. Lastly, this scene seems to be set in an intimate environment with the woman sitting on a bed and many curtains and drapes around the two characters. The fetishization and focus placed on the foot provides a sexual undercurrent to the image while the setting casts a sensual and intimate light onto the subjects. Though the woman’s body is very concealed (even her face is covered), the foot peeks out of her long robe, modestly titillating the audience and husband. Thus, I would argue that the paradox of concealment and modest exposure contributes to the subdued but present sensuality expressed in this image and many romantic relationships during neo-Confucian China. Through careful examination, we observe that the symbolic image delivers many messages about the act and meaning of footbinding in China. This one image embodies the traditional importance and obsession with ‘golden lotuses’ as an extreme form of beauty and sensuality, and simultaneously offers a visual representation and therefore a more realistic understanding of footbinding from a less biased Chinese cultural perspective.

focus on one idea in one paragraph and start the paragraph with a topic sentence

Foot Binding in China

In early Chinese culture, Foot Binding was a sign of beauty and elegance. Foot Binding (or Golden Lotus) is rumored to have been started by a Chinese Prince’s sexual interest in one of his concubines small feet. He was said to have watched her dance on a pedestal of golden lotus. This story is where Golden Lotus gets it’s beauty and elegance connotation. After many years of this practice being a part of Chinese culture, Golden Lotus became a sort of right of passage for young Chinese girls into becoming a woman. Women bound their feet because it had connotation of high class, luxury, and grace. Men were sexually driven by the bound foot’s concealment. However, although to Chinese culture foot binding was a beautiful practice, westerners saw it to be ugly and shameful. After being confronted about the ugliness of the practice, many Chinese families discontinued the practice. Westerners only saw the ugly denotation of foot binding, instead of looking at the beauty connotation of the practice.

start from here: The image below is of a group of Chinese women with bound feet. Although bound feet were a sign for social class, clothing was also a sign of social class. In the photo the woman sitting in the middle is wearing a very fancy dress that is probably made of high quality fabric. She also has a flower or head accessory on her head, which shows that she is of middle or high class. Comparing this woman to the woman to her right, you can see that the woman on  the right has a dress that is probably of less quality fabric and is wearing pants instead of full dresses like the other women. Many times women of this dress were workers, prostitutes, or low class women. The shoes all the women are wearing however are small slippers of nice designs and patterns. In many photo of women with bound feet, they are seen sitting down. This is so that their feet can be seen because that’s how important the Golden Lotus was. The women’s dresses also are long enough to hide the small slippers, which goes back to the bound foot’s concealment aspect.

Overall, Foot Binding was a practice misinterpreted by western views. However, within Chinese culture it had a beautiful connotation that was elegance, luxury, and grace for Chinese women. Foot binding was a fashion for Chinese women.

make an critical argument first, then organize the analysis with denotation-connotation structure: dress indicates social class, for instance.

Chinese Women Foot Binding, Photo, 1080 x 1134

Jo Farrell’s Foot Binding Project, Semiotic Analysis

Foot Binding

Source: Farrell, Jo: “Su Xi Rong (i),” 2014.

The image above, taken by Jo Farrell, depicts one of the last remaining women with bound feet, named Su Xi Rong. The black and white photography is clearly focused on the woman’s unbound, bare feet, while the rest of her body and face are blurred out. The image is a part of Jo Farrell’s collection, called the “Living History Project,” where she is documenting the lives of Chinese women who bound their feet and are still alive to tell their stories. She has been working on this personal project for a few years and many of the women she has photographed have died. This leads her to believe that it is imperative to celebrate and photograph the last remaining women because of their historical significance.

There are many important parts of this photograph to take into consideration regarding the construction of the image. The first is the lack of color in the photography, where Jo Farrell decided to use black and white photography. This technique is important to the composition of the photo because it is taking away any distractions that may pull the eye away from the main focus of the photo – the woman’s feet. The second important part of the construction of the photo is the focus on the bound feet, blurring out the rest of the image. These two things together create a focal point on the feet, placing an emphasis on them and their significance.  By using black and white and focusing solely on the feet, the photographer has managed to show the importance of the feet and how this connects to society.

In Chinese society, bound feet were a symbol of high class, marriageability, gender, and sexuality, however, these feet were bound and concealed. When the foot was taken out of its binding, it shows the pain and deformation that women went through in order to achieve all of these things. This image strips away the fabric and binding and focuses on the foot itself. The viewer can see that many parts of the foot are deformed and broken. This significantly impacted the way the women moved and limited their mobility, representative of dependence on her family and her husband. This may be suggestive of why she is sitting down in the photograph.

The other interesting part of this photograph is the fact that the woman’s face is blurred out of the picture. This is representative of how the appearance of the woman’s feet were more significant than her true identity. The length of the feet determined her value, rather than her intellect or personality. This emphasis on outward appearance in order to impress men and find a husband ultimately stripped away many women’s identities, placing their value solely on their feet. She would hide her real body in bindings and fabric, deforming it in order to please men.

Although many women did not feel that they were forced to alter their bodies, they grew up in a  society society dominated by males and were taught to bind their feet by their mothers. The seemingly simple nature of this photo is actually incorrect. Although the idea of foot binding seems like a simple act of fashion, it ultimately has many more meanings and truths behind it, that are not simply black and white or blurred out, just like the background of this photo.

a thoughtful analysis


A Reflection on Footbinding


Source: Passarini, Mattia: “Last foot-binding,” 2013, Yunnan-China.

This image above, titled, “Last foot-binding” portrays an elderly Chinese woman from the Yunnan province with bound feet. One of her feet is dressed in a simple yet elegant maroon cotton lotus shoe. The left foot, however, is exposed to the photographer, unbound and bare. The unbound foot rests atop a square mirror, where the audience sees the reflection of the elderly woman’s face next to the view of the bottom of her foot. The photographer explains how, when this photograph was taken in 2013, less than 10 elderly women with binding feet were still alive in China.

The image exemplifies how perceptions of Chinese women with bound feet are limited and short-sighted. When viewing “Last foot-binding,” one can observe various signs upon conducting a deep connotative analysis of the image:

1) Age: The woman is one of the last surviving Chinese women with bound feet. Considering this, the image connotes the end of a time period and the end of a cultural phenomenon as represented through foot binding. Though this form of “fashion” may no longer be regarded as “in style,” it is important to note how the age of the woman exemplifies how this feminine fashion, bound feet, forcibly transcends time. For the woman in this image, bound feet are an unchanging part of her, coercively ageless despite changing fashion trends.

2) Contrast of the left foot to the right foot: The woman’s feet are contrasted to one another, the right foot covered while the left foot is bare, to show the permanency of the trend. In considering this contrast, one can also consider themes of secrecy and openness. Dorothy Ko in her article, “A Bondage in Time,” explains how foot binding once embodied and air of mystery. The image acts to uncover the mystery, while still hinting towards the enigmatic nature of the trend.

3) Clothing: The style of clothing that the elderly women wears is comfortable, casual, and worn down. Ko explains how the meaning of foot binding changed throughout history as it was embodied by different socio-economic classes. The audience can consider the woman’s life, as image suggests that the woman did not live a life of leisure, but a possibly laborious life.

4) The mirror: The focal point of this image is the bare, exposed bound left foot. It is interesting, however, that Passerini would use a mirror to reflect the elderly woman’s face slightly to the left of the focal point. The reflection of the woman’s face causes the audience to consider the woman as a separate entity from the bound foot. Her face is one piece of the image, while her feet are a separate part of the image, unattached to one another, yet still connected.  The image acts to alter one’s perception of foot binding and perception of Chinese women as being defined physically, mentally and spiritually by foot binding.

The image ultimately causes the audience to reflect on their own conceptions, knowledge, and even apprehensions toward foot binding by adding a personal and human element to the image.

-Sarah    persuasive analysis. the photographic design/manipulation could be further addressed