My great grandmother (on my father side) passed away when I was only 12 years old. In that time she was 91 years old.
She had “three-inch golden lotuses” feet that bound since she was a kid. Thus, even at 91 years old her feet were only three-inch long.
She was a very traditional, strict and serious Chinese woman but with a very kind heart.
I remembered when I was a little kid, she always brought me to the market near our house and bought food for me and the entire family. Because of her age and her three-inch feet, when she walked, she needed a walker to steady herself and keep her body balanced. She couldn’t walk that far, especially long distances for extended times.
My grandmother, however, also had bound feet, but hers were a bit bigger, maybe about four-inches. She told me it was because her mother didn’t bind her feet that long.
Later I learned that her mother started to bind her feet when she was four years old, while my great-grandmother’s feet bound when she was only two years old! So probably that explains why her feet were smaller than my grandmother’s.
In that time, my grandmother (on my father’s side) lives with my parents. Both of my great- grandmother and my grandmother didn’t go to school because their father did not allow, thus, they were never able to read or write their own name.
Beside other house-work they did, they also made their own beautiful three-inch golden lotus shoes.
I remembered every year, in the spring and summer when the weather started to become warmer, in the early evening, they would sit outside the house and make their own shoes and clothes while chatting with our neighbors.
They spent their “leisure” time making elaborate shoes for themselves. I was so small in that time, what I did was sat beside them and help them ready the material, such as prepared the glue into the bowl for them to use. The glue was homemade from starch powder.
Because my parents were young and busy with their work, they sent me to live with my grandparents (my father side) since one year old (I live with them until 17 years old, then back to live with my parents). That’s why I got chance to spend my childhood and teen time with my great-grandmother and had lot of conversation with her.
She told me that I am a very lucky girl because in my time – I don’t have to binding my feet and face all the pain.
She said she cried a lot when her mother binding her feet, my grandmother told the same thing to me.
Their mothers were using strip of bandage ten feet long and two inches wide wrapped tightly around their feet to stop it from developing properly. The four small toes were broken and bent under the sole. The arch of the feet was bowed to make the feet shorter. The bandage was tightened each day and the feet was put into smaller and smaller shoes.
The process took two years to finish. By then, their feet was useless for walking far.
The entire binding process was very painful! But they have no choices and they couldn’t do anything since they were born in to a big family.
They told me, in that time, a girl with a three-inch feet will be considered as perfect and beautiful.
Girls from a poor family could never afford to have bound feet because they need a pair of strong broad feet for hard work.
Three-inch feet are a symbol of women’s status and identity in the old China. It was a symbol of wealthy. For the wealthy it was status and proof of a girl’s worth.
Both of my great-grandmother and my grandmother’s feet are just slightly larger than cigarette box.
In the old China, foot binding was designed to literally keep women in their place, it regarded as property. Without someone hold or support them, they couldn’t walk more than a few steps, this guaranteed they weren’t going to get anywhere unless they were willing to crawl.
This tradition painful art practice has been last one thousand years in China.
The practice of foot binding finally declared illegal during the formation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.
I missed my great-grandmother and my grandmother very much, missed the nice time that we spent together. When I live with them, I like to watch their feet because their feet so small and so cute (even smaller than my childhood feet).
Until 4 years ago (before she passed away), every time I went back to visit my grandmother, I still watch & touch her feet .
When every time when I think of them, I was wondering if the practices of foot binding still exist today. Where am I then? What my feet will look like – maybe I get two-inch feet instead of three, huh!