Photograph, Foot Binding

This photograph presents a very different vision of foot binding from that depicted by Western observers in the 19th century. Whereas Western visitors to China seemed most interested in the bound foot unbound, as deformity or fetish, this photo shows the bound foot as it had meaning in Chinese culture: as part of clothing or fashion. In this image, “small feet” are put into their proper cultural context as a form of female adornment. The emphasis here is on the apparel: shoes, sashes, and leggings. The photograph may be fruitfully compared to the concluding description in J. Dudgeon, M.D., “The Small Feet of Chinese Women,” The Chinese Recorder and Missionary Journal 2 (1869): 93-96, where he focuses on the physical and anatomical effects of the practice; the impressions created by the two depictions are entirely different.

Source: Photograph of Northern Chinese woman, late Qing period. In Every Step a Lotus: Shoes for Bound Feet, Dorothy Ko. Berkeley: University of California Press; The Bata Shoe Museum Foundation, 2001.