Home > China Travel Stories > Chinese Bound Feet -Three-Inch Golden Lotus

Chinese Bound Feet -Three-Inch Golden Lotus

Last updated by meimeili at 2014/3/25; Destinations: Shanghai

The Chinese bound feet, also known as the Three-Inch Golden Lotus in Chinese classical literary works, results from the aesthetic standard of ancient Chinese people, in which the girls with a pair of small feet were considered physically attractive. According to Chinese ancient social customs, all the girls above five years old were supposed to bind all their toes but the big one with a long piece of cloth in ancient times, which was not done until their feet were bent into the bamboo-shoot shape, and this pair of feet were called the Three-Inch Golden Lotus. After binding their feet, the girls often wore a pair of embroderied toe-spring shoes to show they were well educated fair ladies.

Legends of Three-Inch Golden Lotus

The reason why the bound feet were praised the Three-Inch Golden Lotus is that the lotus is considerd holy in Buddhism, therefore, it’s an elegant way to call a pair of bound feet lotus. What’s more, gold symbolizes something precious and beautiful in ancient Chinese culture, therefore, it’s an adorable way to call a pair of bound feet golden lotus.

As a matter of fact, the scholars gave different names to a pair of bound feet according to their sizes in history, of which a pair within three inches were praised the Golden Lotus, a pair ranging from three inches to four inches were praised Silver Lotus and a pair of over four inches were called Iron Lotus. Those girls, who had a pair of big feet of more than four inches, often became the laughing stocks in ancient times.
Reasons for Popularity of Bound Feet

According to historical documents, there are two reasons behind the popularity of bound feet among ancient Chinese women, one of which is the advocacy of the rulers, and the other one is the praise and appreciation of scholars in their poems.

Advocacy of the Rulers

The historical documents show that the practice of foot binding started owing to the Emperor Li Yu’s (the last emperor of the Southern Tang Dynasty) preference to the concubines with small feet, as a result, the concubines vied with one another in binding their feet into bamboo- shoot shape to make it look smaller. The concubines with small feet also danced to music on the golden lotus to please Li Yu, since when the foot binding has become very popular among royal members, later, it became a custom for all the women until fall of the Qing Dynasty (1616 -1911).

Praise and Appreication of Scholars

In addition to advocacy of the rulers, the ancient scholars also played an important part in ecouraging women to bind their feet, who even wrote poems and drew paintings to praise women who bound their feet just for aesthetic purpose. What was more, the scholars even generalized standards of a perfect pair of three-inch feet, which was characterized by thinness, smallness, pointedness, softness and sweetness, therefore, womens from different backgrounds bind their feet.

Shoes for Three-Inch Golden Lotus

Evolving from the Southern Tang Dynasty (937 -975) to the Qing Dynasty (1616 -1911), the ancient shoes for the Three-Inch Golden Lotus were generally divided into high cylindrical shoes, low-cut shoes, toe-spring shoes and plain -toe shoes.

After the fall of the Qing Dynasty (1616 -1911), most women abandoned the practice of binding feet, however, some were still reluctant to abandon it owing to historical reasons, and a number of factories that specialized in producing shoes for the Three-Inch Golden Lotus emerged to meet the demands of some women. As the society develops, not a single girl bind their feet after foundation of the People’s Repblic of China in 1949, as a result, the factories specializing in producing shoes for the Three-Inch Golden Lotus die out, and you can only find them in some professional museums and curio markets in China.

Although, the foot binding was a painstaking job for girls, however, they were still forced to do so by their parents in order to find promising fulture husbands and woo the trend of the society.

Famous Museums to See Three-Inch Golden Lotus Shoes

As the Three-Inch Golden Lotus shoes have passed into history, more and more westerners who are interested in Chinese traditional culture come to Shanghai for any trace of the Three-Inch Golden Lotus shoes, revealing its mystery eventually. Shanghai Ancient Shoe Museum (also known as Shanghai Hundred-Shoe Hall) is the largest museum of its kind in China, highlighted by Three-Inch Golden Lotus shoes. Shangahi Dongtai Road Antique Market is also an ideal place to explore the mystery of the Three-Inch Golden Lotus shoes.

Shanghai Ancient Shoe Museum

Shanghai Anceint Shoe Museum specializes in the collection and exhibition of ancient shoes, feet binding implements, embroidery implements, and shoe-making tools and old photos from different corners of China, and the ancient shoes are of various shapes and sizes from the Ming Dynasty (1368- 1644) to the Republic of China (1911-1949), including the Three- Inch Golden Lotus shoes, women’s shoes, men’s shoes and children’s shoes, which shows the evolving history of Chinese shoes in a systematic way.

The Three-Inch Golden shoes exhibited in the museum are of various designs in patterns, reflecting intelligence and wisdom of ancient Chinese women, which have become works of art now.

Shanghai Anceint Shoe Museum becomes a window for culture exchange between China and the world, which has received millions of visitors from all over the world since its opening in 1990, including artists, connoisseurs, collectors and scholars, and it earns remarkable praise from visitors for its rich collections.

Location: 903C, No. 3, Aosen Flat, Hongqiao Central Road, Changning District, Shanghai
Getting there: Bus No. 20, 54 and 776; subway line No. 2 and 3
Opening hours: from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Tel: 021- 64460977

Shanghai Dongtai Road Antique Market

Shanghai Dontai Road Antique Market is about 200 meters (219 feet) long, where more than 120 antique stalls are lined exhibiting various kinds of curios and handicraft article, including the Three-Inch Golden Lotus shoes, porcelains, bronze wares, jade wares, wood sculptures, the four treasures of the study, (i.e. writing brush, ink stick, ink slab, paper), calligraphy and painting works, lighters, birdd nest, clothes of the Ming (1368- 1644) and Qing (1616 -1911) dynasties and seals. Walking in the market, visitors can see various kinds of the Three-Inch Golden Lotus shoes from the Ming Dynasty (1368- 1644) and the Qing Dynasty (1616 -1911),, and taking photos are also allowed.

Location:63, Liuhekou Road, Luwan District, Shanghai
Getting there: bus 11, 17, 18, 23, 24, 43, 109, 135, 394, 581, 715, 728, 771, 864, 920, 930, 969, 318 and 454; subway line 8, 9 and 10
Opening hours: from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.