Three-inch Golden Lotus – Han Chinese

Irv Graham

It is said, for example, that the practice of foot binding originated among court dancers in the early Song Dynasty (960-1279). Another legend dates to the thirteenth century and tells of the fame of the dancing girls with tiny feet and beautiful bow (bound) shoes at the tenth century court of the Southern Tang kingdom (937-975) in South Central China. It has been estimated that by the early nineteenth century up to 40%, and possibly more, of Han Chinese women had their feet bound. In 1644 the Qing Dynasty came to power in China. The new Qing rulers belonged to an ethnic group known as Manchu. Manchu women, contrary to the Han, were officially forbidden to bind their feet.

“Three-inch golden lotus (三寸金莲)”, “lotus” is a metaphor, but the “three-inch” is not. In ancient times, women had their feet tightly bound at the age of four or five to control further growth. Depending on their sizes, feet were granted different titles: All bound feet were called “lotus”, but those bigger than four inches were “iron lotuses”, four inches were “silver lotuses”, and the three-inch ones were called “golden lotuses”(about eight centimeters), which was apparently the highest ranking.

Smaller feet helped women to gain a better prestige and marriage. As an old Chinese saying says, women conquer the world by conquering men, and men conquer women by conquering the world.

The walking posture of small-foot women was considered graceful and noble. The Chinese believe that the most beautiful walking is wonky willow-like, which displays the feminine charm. Therefore, tottering of foot-bound woman is attractive and elegant.

Further Reading

Photograph of Zhou Guizhen, a Chinese woman with bound feet (2007).

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