Rare Pair of Huazi-style Bound Foot Embroidered Silk Shoes
This rare pair of bound foot shoes is of finely embroidered and couched silk. They are in a rare style whereby the shoes are actually boots but the upper sections of the ‘boots’ are disguised as leggings. This style is known as the huazi style (huazi translates as ‘boot’).
They are decorated with a variety of flowers and double gourd motifs.
The upper sections are attached to the soles with small very thin sheet copper supports with dark patina.
Most available examples of foot bound shoes these days are of shoe rather than boot form and are later reproductions made for the tourist market. The examples here are of an unusual type of which reproductions are unlikely. They are show ample wear to the soles.
Foot binding in China is believed to have started during the late Tang dynasty, around AD 950. The practice spread from the court to the nobility and then throughout the rest of (Han Chinese) society over subsequent centuries. The practice was banned in 1911 by the Republican government, although it persisted in some of China’s more remote areas until about 1940. Young girls would have their feet bound tightly with strips of cloth to compress the bone structure so that the toes and upper section would be forced under the foot to essentially force the entirety to become a club foot. The ideal length of a woman’s bound foot was said to be three inches (about 7.5 centimetres) but in reality few bound foot shoes are this short. Most extant examples are four to five inches (10-12.5 centimetres) which makes the shoes/boots here at the smaller end of the scale.
The pair here are in excellent condition. There are no losses no repairs, but the soles do have the all-important wear to show that they are genuine and have been used.
Roberts, G., V. Steele, ‘The three-inch golden lotus: A collection of Chinese bound foot shoes’, Arts of Asia, March-April 1997.
UK art market
Inventory no.: 3612