East (Chinese) Footbinding vs.
West (French) High Heels

Chinese footbinding of very young girls (between the ages of 3 and 8) was a common practice in China between 950-1912 A.D., until it was outlawed. Their feet were wrapped very tightly with cloth so that they could not grow anymore. So, these girls grew up to be women with tiny 3 to 5 inch feet.


1) Both Chinese bound feet and high heels (as well as ballet shoes on pointe) give the feet an erotic or sexy look.

2) They also make the girl/woman walk in a mincing sexy gait, with buttock sticking out more and the back arched more.

3) I never read or saw anything about bound feet shoes having heels on them, until I saw the book Splendid Slippers. (See my Book Reviews webpage for more information.) Some of the shoes (on pages 25, 74, 109, and 145) had 1 to 1 1/2 inch heels. With shoes that were only about three inches long, these heels were roughly equivalent to 3 to 5 inch heels on women size 7 (United States) shoes.


1) TIMES OF PRACTICE: Chinese footbinding lasted between 950-1912 A.D., although isolated cases were reported as late as 1949 (when Mao Tse-tung officially banned it). With an estimated 4.5 billion women in China during this period, millions had their feet bound. High heels are historically believed to have been invented in 1533 for the petite Catherine de Medicis in Paris, France.

2) PLACES OF PRACTICE: Footbinding was only done on mainland China. Wearing high heels has spread from Europe throughout the world.

3) PERMANENCY: Chinese bound feet were permanent. The feet became permanently deformed, for the remainder of the girl's life. High heels usually can be worn and taken off, as desired by the wearer. In very extreme cases, when high heels are worn too excessively, the calf muscles and Achilles tendons can become permanently shortened so that the women must always wear heels. (This problem is medically referred to as "ankle equinus". For more information, see my Problems web page.)

4) DECISION MAKING: The parents, usually the mother, decided whether or not to bind the feet of her daughter. The girl never had a choice in the decision. With high heels, the wearer decides when to wear them.

5) PAIN: The first two years of footbinding was extremely painful at all times. All toes, except for the big toe, are broken and wrapped under or over the foot. In some cases, toes actually fell off during the process. After the first two years, the amount of pain while walking varied among individuals. With high heels, the amount of pain varies among individuals, type of high heel shoes or boots worn, amount of time worn, etc..

6) DOMINANT vs. SUBMISSIVE QUALITY: Chinese bound feet were submissive. Wearing high heels can be either dominant or submissive.

7) HEIGHT: Chinese footbinding apparently did not affect the height of the individual. Wearing high heels make the individual taller.


Some girls and women go to extreme limits in the names of beauty and fashion. They will not only endure pain for very long periods of time (years or even, decades), but have physical body parts permanently altered. Furthermore, this is not limited to feet. They have worn Victorian corsets that can alter internal body organs, had breast implants, had their necks elongated or stretched, had facelifts, and eyebrows pucked.

This report was written by J.J. Leganeur, author of All About Wearing High Heels .

For further information on Chinese footbinding, there are several hundred websites on Chinese footbinding. These are 4 of them:

1) Splendid Slippers (about her book by Beverley Jackson)

2) Chinese Foot Binding - Lotus Shoes (Museum of the City of San Francisco)

3) Kowloon Traders - Tales of the Banko

I am currently writing a research paper on footbinding. After reading your article on the similarities and differences of footbinding and high heels, I was wondering what your opinion was concerning footbinding. Do you personally feel sorry for the women who had their feet bound in China back then? Or do you feel that the bound feet women should not be sympathesized because they are supporting the dominance of men? Thank you for your time for reading this email.

Jessie - 27 May 2002

Dear Jessie,

[ Do you personally feel sorry for the women who had their feet bound in China back then? ]

One can always find fault(s), feel sorrow and condemn anything that is unnatural, especially Chinese foot binding and other forms of body modification. There are many other forms of body modification, ranging from minor tattoos to major cosmetic plastic surgery.

Fortunately, there are usually some merits as well as demerits (or pro's and con's). Body modification usually makes people look better, prettier, sexier and/or unique.

There is usually also some form of "consent", so I have no or very little sorrow for the people involved. Consent usually makes body modification morally acceptable. It is also important for us to respect people's right to exercise their own free will and to allow people do whatever they wish to, as long as it is legal and not grossly offensive to others.

In regards to Chinese foot binding, there was consent. Unfortunately, it was flawed as it was the parents who usually decided whether or not to bind their daughter's feet. The daughter was usually told only that she had to have her feet bound in order to get a good husband.

It would have been better if the daughter was fully involved in the decision making process. Parents who decided to bind their daughter's feet should have fully educated their daughter about foot binding (told and showed the daughter everything that was involved) beforehand. Then, allow the daughter to make the final decision on whether or not to have her own feet bound.

In regards to the pain and suffering, it is unfortunate that there is usually some pain, suffering and the risk of medical complications or problems with any form of body modification. Some forms of body modification are even worse than Chinese foot binding. For example, breast implants have caused many serious problems, including some that were life-threatening.

First, scar tissue normally forms around breast implants, causing the implants to feel and look like grotesque rocks and disfiguring women's chests. Second, there have been many cases of breast implants rupturing and leaking silicone or saline solution. Silicone usually disperses and migrates throughout the body and scar tissue forms around every lump of it, while saline solution often contains mold that causes allergic reactions. Third, some breast implant casings were reported to leak cancerous chemicals into the body because of the inner body's high temperature.

Hundreds of thousands of women who have gotten breast implants have suffered with these problems. However, if you were to ask me whether I felt sorry for these women, I would also answer "no" because the women gave their consent. Although most women may not have known about these specific problems, it is common sense that there were potential risks involved.

People also do things that involve greater consequences than Chinese foot binding had. For example, mountain climbers sometimes fall to their deaths and race car drivers sometimes crash and die.

While Chinese foot binding and other forms of body modification are not necessarily good or right to do, they usually add color to the lives of the human beings involved. It adds another dimension of surprise to humanity.

[ Or do you feel that the bound feet women should not be sympathesized because they are supporting the dominance of men? ]

Chinese foot binding was not a matter of male domination at all. It was practiced by women. The mothers usually bound their daughters' feet. Some mothers even had bound feet themselves.

Chinese foot binding also has all of the signs of a woman behind it. The process of foot binding is so horrifying and unwrapped bound feet are so grotesque that it would have frightened the hell out of any man. Foot binding was most likely invented or developed by a mother, who hoped that her daughter would marry an emperor or wealthy man.

Most other forms of body modification that are normally visible to people in public also have nothing to do with male (or female) domination. For example, men do not usually force women to pierce their ears for ear rings or get breasts implants.

Also, there are some forms of body modification being practiced by men and women today that Chinese foot binding is mild in comparison to. Click here for more information on Extreme Body Modification .

Furthermore, there are other practices or rituals that people have done involving more torture, especially self-torture. For example, in the early Christian Church, there was eremetic monasticism in which monks underwent self-inflicted torturous ordeals in search of "enlightenment". Click here for more information on Stylites Monks , who lived on top of pillars that were 20 meters high by 1 meter in diameter for many years.

J.J. - June 20, 2002

P.S. - Please do NOT interpret my answers above as me being in favor of Chinese footbinding. In the book Splendid Slippers, Beverly Jackson remains neutral and that is the same position that I take. Chinese footbinding occurred in a time and place unlike ours.

I do NOT approve, condone, recommend nor support Chinese footbinding as it happened in China. Again, the consent was flawed.

Also, I personally prefer the high heel look rather than Chinese bound feet. Nowadays, with high heels, there is no need for Chinese footbinding.

while in Beijing this spring i met an 84 year old lady with the tiny bound feet. she (Liao) and i hit it right off, neither speaking the other's language. she told me (by translator) that if i should come to visit her in southwestern China, she would give me a pair of the tiny shoes. she has to make the shoes herself as apparently they are not made anywhere nearby, if at all. we have written and i have sent her photographs. about a month after our return home, i received a box from China. this dear lady sent me a pair of the tiny shoes. !! how honored i feel to have been bestowed such a gift. because of this we are returning to China in the spring of 2003 to visit with Liao and her family. just wanted to share this story with you. lynn

L.M. - 8 Spetmenber 2002

Dear Lynn,

If Liao is 84 years old now, then she was born around 1918. Foot binding in China was outlawed in 1912, but there were isolated cases of foot binding done as late as 1949. So, I wonder whether Liao considers herself unlucky or lucky? Also, how does Liao feel about foot binding and her bound feet? Is she happy or unhappy with the life that she has lived with bound feet? (Perhaps, you can ask her.)

In any case, it is good to know that some women with bound feet are still alive and can live long lives. Note that there are some pictures of old women with bound feet in Beverley Jackson's book, Splendid Slippers.

J.J. - September 16, 2002

Subject: footbinding and the alphabet...yes, that's what I said

I'm writing a paper for a "History in Communications" class. As part of the class, we are reading "The Alphabet Versus The Goddess" a book based on the "competitive plausibility" that the development of writing and specifically the alphabet led to a patriarchal and misogynistic society.

In one chapter of the book on Confucianism/Taoism, the author Leonard Shlain posits that Confucian attitudes towards women led to the subjugative custom of footbinding, and also correlates that the development of block printing in China (970 A.D.) supports his claim that a male dominated society created the linear, sequential, abstract alphabet and created a masculine environment .

You state in an email response that footbinding was a conscious choice made by mothers on their daughters behalf, removed from any male coercion. Also, you state that most footbound women were not crippled for life as most people believe. Is this a semantic discussion over the definition of the word "crippled"? or were these women able to "get around" on their own. I believe in Beverly's "Splendid Slippers" book, I see men carrying around women unable to walk.

I am interested to hear your opinion. thanks--joef

J.F. - 2 June 2003


There are no photographs of men carrying around women unable to walk in Beverly Jackson's book Splendid Slippers . In matter fact, there are several photographs (on pages 16, 129, 148, 173, 175 and 181) of women with bound feet walking around outdoors unassisted.

However, there is a painting of someone in a wedding procession carriage being carried by servants. This reminds me of something that I wrote in my book, that needs to be clarified.

In All About Wearing High Heels (published in October 2000) on page 118, it states:
"Interestingly, this is very similar to what Chinese women with bound feet did. They always stayed in their houses or courtyards (large patios) and were carried around by men everywhere else."

This was based on bits and pieces of information about bound feet that I read earlier and before discovering Beverly Jackson's book Splendid Slippers (Ten Speed Press 1997 & 2000). Apparently, that information was limited in scope or point of view.

Specifically, the statement about being carried around by men was only in regards to women of nobility or upper class status. They lived in large houses of luxury that had courtyards. In her book Splendid Slippers , Beverly Jackson also notes several times (on pages 20-21) that the women with bound feet sit in the "sedan chair" of carriages.

However, foot binding was not limited to girls living in wealthy households. It was done to girls, who were selected by their parents of all social classes including poor peasants.

So, the quoted sentences on page 118 should read (for clarity):
"Interestingly, this is very similar to what some Chinese women with bound feet did. Those who lived in noble and wealthy households usually stayed in their houses or courtyards (large patios) and were carried around (sitting in the "sedan chair" of carriages) on top of men everywhere else.

Also, Chinese women with bound feet living in households of lower class status traveled long distances sitting on top of wheelbarrows (a common means of travel in China), that were pushed around by men. However, note that most Chinese women with bound feet were able to walk outdoors unassisted. There are pictures of some in Beverly Jackson's book Splendid Slippers ."

Thank you very much for your email.

J.J. - August 3, 2003

In Western literature, it has been commonly stated that Chinese women with bound feet became crippled. Yet Beverley Jackson's book, Splendid Slippers never mentioned it.

Now, there is also a Chinese documentary titled "Chinese Footbinding: The Vanishing Lotus" produced circa 2001. In this film, there are the last remaining Chinese women with bound feet, who are mostly over 80 years old. Lo and behold, these old Chinese women with bound feet can still walk. One of them even walks down a staircase unaided and without any handrails. Another one walks outdoors at a fast pace carrying a yolk over her shoulders with two wooden buckets.

This provides the evidence that Chinese women with bound feet were not usually crippled. In fact, Chinese women with bound feet in the United States of America became crippled because they were unbound by arrogant American doctors and bound feet are too fragile to be unbound and walked on.

J.J. - August 31, 2007

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This page was last edited on August 31, 2007.
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