Chinese Footbinding Essay

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Chinese Footbinding

In addressing the subject of footbinding, one primary difficulty becomes apparent - that much remains within the realm of the unknowable. Any factual knowledge about the practice may only be drawn from 19th- and 20th-century writings, drawings or photographs. In addition, many of these documents represent a distinctly Western point of view, as they are primarily composed of missionary accounts and the literature of the various anti -footbinding societies.[1] The historical origins of footbinding are frustratingly vague, although brief textual references suggest that small feet for women were preferred as early as the Han dynasty. The first documented reference to the actual binding of a foot is from the court of
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It gradually became the prevailing style and "golden lotus" became a synonym for bound feet.[5]

One notable personality who aided in the spread of footbinding was the famed writer and scholar Zhu Xi (1130-1200 A.D.), whose commentaries on the Confucian classics would form the canon of Neo-Confucianism that would dominate Chinese intellectual and philosophical life for six subsequent centuries. An ardent advocate of footbinding, he introduced the practice into southern Fuijan in order to spread Chinese culture and teach proper relations between men and women, greatly influencing other writers who mention the practice as if it were normal.[6]

Another factor contributing to the difficulty in assigning a point of time and origin to the practice is that the spread of footbinding was neither standardized in style nor universal in practice.[7] With local variations in method of binding, desired contours, age of initiation, paraphernalia, rituals (both public and private), shoe patterns and terminologies, it became impossible for a "master narrative" to emerge. Although some girls had their feet bound in the extreme and painful golden lotus style, others had their feet bound in less contorted manners that "merely" kept the toes compressed or limited the growth of the foot without breaking any bones.[8] In some areas and among some social groups, such as the Hakka in southern China, women's' feet were generally not bound and even among the imperial courts of
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