Chinese Bound Feet(7)

Image by DrJohnBullas via Flickr

Utmost appeal
These delicate feet,
Petite and slight
The tinier the best.
Rituals of beauty
By dictated traditions
Performing a practice
Of barbaric custom.
Ancient Chinese
Believed in this way,
Girls had no choice
When only two or three.
Feet broken in two
Then tightly bound,
Toes forced under
Now trussed even tighter.
A “lotus flower”
Is what they became,
The deformity causing
A sexy swagger.
Three inches were optimal
For exquisiteness,
The pain endured
Remained in silence.

No marriage for those
Who did not comply.

Delicate embroidered
Silk shoes were worn,
The elegant finest
Most pleasing of all.
Over a thousand years
Women bore this rite,
By men who deemed
This look enticing.

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  1. Great poem – the lotus feet were a true obscenity – I love the way you have written about it so minimally


    • I agree–completely obscene. I watched a documentary on this not too long ago–just astounding…

      Thanks for the kind comment–I appreciate it.


  2. I actually have a draft post about this in nonet form but your poem delivered the message quite nicely. During those times, it wasn’t considered barbaric though..much like a fashion rule, an idea of “perfect feet”. Beauty as you say, depends on the beholder.

    I like the title…bound ~


    • That’s very interesting that you had written on the same topic.

      The process was started on children as young as two or three years of age–they did not take it well…

      Thank you for your kind comment and thoughts.


  3. This is one of the saddest cultural things in Asia.


  4. Powerful poem. Well done. Like how the short lines mirror the shortened feet. I have always heard and I hope this practice is largely in the past.


    • It was finally outlawed around 1912 in China but many continued the practice well into the 1940s–hard to believe.

      Thanks for your visit and shared thoughts.


  5. It is so hard to imagine this happening. I can’t even begin to picture my daughter forced into such a barbaric custom. It’s amazing what people the world over do for beauty when the definition is different in every culture.


    • What is especially nasty is that it was begun by men–they preferred dainty, small feet on their women and so the practice began. Men would ridicule women with “large” feet and would not marry them. I’d say “good riddance buster!”


  6. ugh…it makes me shiver just to think, not that we are much different the things we put ourselves through for perceived beauty…it saddens me…


  7. words are so important…your words are for those who could not speak for themselves
    xoxo hugs


    • It took women all those years for something to finally be done about it. Atrocious and painful mutilation–for “beauty”.

      And thank you, Jaye, for your words–they mean a lot.

      Hugs… xoxo


  8. Beauty mixed with ugly… great poem.


  9. I’m sure you’ve read “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,” right. Probably the most descriptive write I’ve read on this horrible custom. Glad that you addressed it in this prompt, Gayle.


    • No, I haven’t but now I want to. I’m going to see if my library has it and I see that there is a movie too.

      I had watched a documentary a couple of years ago where some of the few, elderly Chinese women survivors of foot binding were interviewed. A fascinating story with graphic details of the practice. It just popped into my head when I saw the prompt!


  10. Doveonfire

     /  July 24, 2011

    AKA Tom Eliot

    The tone of this poem is just right for the subject matter – objective without concealment

    I was unaware of this practice – you opened my eyes and made me think.


    • I appreciate your comments here, Tom. I’m also happy that you were made aware of this–pretty horrible to imagine isn’t it.


  11. It’s hard to believe….

    Each clipped line is like a tiny step….


  12. Just another way to subjugate women. Difficult to run away when you can hardly even walk. Wonderful poem – you expose this horrid practice but without being overly sentimental. Well done.


  13. Gayle – you did an excellent job in presenting this topic in the manner in which you chose. These customs have fascinated me for years … I am happy to hear this custom is no longer allowed.


    • I too am fascinated by this practice. I saw a documentary on this a couple of years ago–it just amazed me. I’m glad it was finally banned too.

      And thank you for such generous praise for me, Becca–you’re very kind.


  14. Wow. I read a book about how this was done and was shocked by the agony these girls went through at such a young life and then had to try and walk through the rest of their life, crippled. I can’t remember the title. Your short poem says it all so simply. How thankful I am to have been raised by loving and kind parents without many of the customs that other cultures practice, especially on women. Well written, Gayle, allowing your viewer to decide how they felt about this.


    • It isn’t the book that Victoria mentioned above is it?

      We are fortunate indeed to have been born and raised where we were and escaped some horrific practices. Many are still going on–maybe I’ll have to write about those too.

      Thank you for sharing Leslie and for your compliments for me.


  15. More barbaric than any corset ever donned by a Victorian woman. This practice… I’ve seen pictures of unbound feet that are horrifying. Even now, many cultures practice removal of the clitoris so young girls will never experience sexual pleasure. Other cultures beat breasts down with hard sticks to “prolong” adolescence. And it’s always men’s idea and women’s burden.

    Even the modern heels and pointed toes of today are designed to hobble us from running away, plus deforming our feet. But that pales in comparison to the plight of Chinese women of old. Wonderful piece, one that needed to be said. Thank you, Gayle, and peace, Amy


    • Oh, you’re so right. There’s no comparison to the corset. I’ve seen photos of the deformed feet (the feet are actually broken in two) too and watched a documentary where elderly survivors of the practice were interviewed. Some were completely crippled and couldn’t walk at all–some deeply regretted having done this. But the pressure was too great to go against society’s “rules” at that time. Yes, it was created by men–apparently, a lot of insecurity there. So sad.

      I always want to be able to run away if I need to–no stilettos for me!

      Thank you, Amy, for sharing your thoughts here–I really appreciate that.



  16. An obsene practice and totally about subjugation. Good that you remind us of terrible things that happened and could happen again in one form or another if we don’t take care.

    Hope all is well with you and yours, Gayle!


    • It’s just so hard to believe. So tragically horrifying–and totally obscene. There are other nasty practices going on around the world too–poor, poor girls and women–so much suffering. Men, wanting control.

      Everything’s pretty good, Jamie! Thanks!


  17. Good poem and good social commentary!


  18. My husband and I saw went to a museum where they had these shoes on display. They are oh so teeny tiny. I can’t even imagine the painful suffering they endure.

    Wonderful description of a very odd tradition and arcahic tradition.

    Izzy xoxo

    P.S. Have you noticed that it’s always men behind these weird and abusive traditions????


    • I can’t imagine the suffering either, Izzy. My foot hurts if I get a splinter in it! Yes, I have noticed that men are behind a lot of abuse to us women–I think they have a lot of fear regarding our innate power.



  19. poor creatures. i have read about a tribe in which they elongate the necks of women.


    • I have seen that practice too–they start when girls are young–they think it looks beautiful! Saw a documentary on that too.



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