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This exceptionally rare pair of lace-up leather shoes was for a woman in China who had had her feet bound – but rather than being the typical silk foot cover, they seem to date to the Republican period, after the fall of the Qing Dynasty, when foot binding had fallen from fashion. The Republic Government banned the practice in 1912, although the ban was only sporadically implemented. However, while the practice might be banned, large numbers of women, especially those in the higher classes still had bound feet (which was permanent). With changing tastes, they needed modern, more practical shoes that might actually allow them to walk in a more robust fashion. Some dispensed with their delicate silk shoes that were really intended for the woman to wear while she was seated, which often was almost the limit of what many women with bound feet could actually do, and they adopted leather shoes in an attempt to make themselves more mobile.
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).
The pair of ‘reform’ shoes here are in excellent condition for their age.
Roberts, G., V. Steele, ‘The three-inch golden lotus: A collection of Chinese bound foot shoes’, Arts of Asia, March-April 1997.