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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’).
The pair here has a green silk ‘legging’ section. The ‘shoe’ component is in red, black, blue, yellow and green and embroidered with geometric bands. The toe delicately curls up at the end
The pair has come from an English collection which seems to date to the 19th century.
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 available examples of foot bound shoes these days are of shoe rather than boot form, and most are reproductions made for the tourist market. The examples here are of an unusual type of which reproductions tend not to be made. In any event, the age of this pair is readily apparent.
The pair here is in fine condition. They are structurally robust. There is minor water staining to the green silk ‘legging’ component.
Roberts, G., V. Steele, ‘The three-inch golden lotus: A collection of Chinese bound foot shoes’, Arts of Asia, March-April 1997.