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Posted on April 16th, 2014, by

The tradition of footbinding existed in China for centuries. In this regard, the 17th century became an important point in the development of the footbidning tradition because the footbidning has reached the high level of its development turning in a sort of art. At the same time, the physical impact of footbinding on female health remained unquestionable at the time. Nevertheless, footbinding progressed and became an integral part of Chinese culture. Moreover, footbinding opened larger opportunities for women to successful marriage, although this tradition was not just extremely painful and dangerous to female health but also manifested the full subordination of women to men in Chinese society. In this respect, it is possible to refer to the article “The Body as Attire: The Shifting Meanings of Footbinding in Seventeenth-Century China”ť by Dorothy Ko, where the author explores the tradition of footbinding and attempts to provide plausible explanations for this tradition. In fact, the author points out that the tradition of footbinding was the ultimate manifestation of male domination in Chinese society and inferiority of women, while aesthetic beauty and female beauty was apparently secondary, although they were often position as primary reasons for footbinding.

In fact, the tradition of footbinding seems to be absolutely incomprehensible to the contemporary western society. Moreover, this tradition may look bizarre even for Chinese people living in contemporary China. In this regard, the primary concern in regard to  the footbinding tradition that arises is the health concern since footbinding has a destructive impact on female health. Nevertheless, many women underwent this ritual and suffered footbinding willingly. On the other hand, footbinding started in the early age and girls had little options to choose but they had to obey to their parents. However, the paradox of footbinding was obvious. On the one hand, the footbinding was extremely painful and dangerous for health of women, who underwent this procedure, while, on the other hand, footbinding was widely-practiced in China in the 17th century for instance. In such context, Dorothy Ko attempts to find plausible answers to the question concerning reasons why Chinese women underwent this tradition and suffered fotbinding and related health problems.

One of the major reasons that encouraged the wide-spread of footbinding among Chinese women in the 17th century was the dominating concept of sexual attractiveness of women with footbinding (Ko, 1997). Ko (1997) argues  that Chinese men viewed women, whose feet were bound sexually attractive. At the same time, women, who undergone footbinding, had never shown their feet to men and it was a well-known fact that their feet were not worth uncovering. In fact, bound feet were a subject to the admiration and sexual appeal for men but men were discouraged to see bound feet uncovered. Their admiration should be in secret expectation of seeing those feet as well as in the walk of women with bound feet. Therefore, Chinese people were aware of consequences of footbinding and its impact on health of women. This is why men were discouraged from seeing bound feet.

In such a situation, there should be some other reasons for footbinding in China. In this regard, Ko (1997) argues that women with footbinding have better marriage prospects. In fact, such women were considered to be exceptional and their beauty and difference from other women put them into a superior position and representatives of the upper-class were willing to marry foot bound women. Taking a better social standing and successful marriage could be strong motivators for women in China to undergo the procedure of footbinding. However, Ko (1997) probably underestimates pragmatism of Chinese women of the 17th century since footbinding started at the early age, when women could hardly think of their marriage prospects. Moreover, girls, who undergo the procedure of footbinding, were entirely dependent on their families, especially fathers. This is why they could not make a conscious choice in favor of footbinding for the sake of a successful marriage.

On the other hand, footbinding was the ultimate manifestation of the male domination in Chinese society since women with bound feet could not lead active social, political or economic life and were entirely dependent on men. Therefore, the inferior position of women and the male superiority in Chinese society could have been the major reason for footbinding. In fact, male dominated society could naturally accepted any tradition that men believed to be good. In addition, girls could not challenge the decision of their parents, while footbidning was normally the decision taken by parents. In this regard, both men and women could support this decision but this decision was taken for the sake of men rather than women. Girls, who underwent the footbinding procedure, had no other prospects but a successful marriage which was the ultimate goal of their life. They could not make a successful professional or political career. Their gender turned out to be a secondary factor in their inability to become successful in any field but family life. Instead, their physical inability was the primary reason why they could not work and, thus, they could not make a career in any field. Instead, women, who underwent footbinding, were viewed as beautiful and special and could count on a successful marriage with representatives of the upper-class.

In such a context, the male dominated society promoted the idea of footbinding because footbinding clearly indicated women to their place in Chinese society of the 17th century. Ko (1997) traces the evolution of footbinding from a mere ritual that aimed at making women more beautiful to a socially significant act of the transformation of women’s physical appearance to demonstrate their inferiority and full subordination to men. Women could not challenge dominating social norms and standards. This is why they accepted footbinding forcing girls to bind their feet from the early age, while the main concern of women, in such a situation, was the successful marriage as the main goal of any woman’s life in the 17th century China.

Thus, the footbinding tradition was extremely dangerous for health of women. Nevertheless, they underwent this procedure to increase their sexual appeal and to become more beautiful and attractive for men. However, the beauty was not the main reason for the promotion of footbinding. In fact, the main reason was the male domination in Chinese society since footbinding was made for the sake of men above all. The idea of exceptional beauty of women, who underwent footbinding, was a mere justification of the male tyranny in Chinese society.


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