Unbound Feet

On Monday, I was privileged enough to visit a kindly old woman who lives across the street from Zoe’s grandmother in rural Hunan. This is her story.

I was born in 1924. I don’t remember how old I was when my mother first bound my feet, all I remember was the pain. My mother would force me to walk until all the bones in my feet were broken. When the process was over my feet were only four inches long, the smallest in my family (I had two younger sisters). Even after my feet had their new shape, I had to wear the bindings to keep them that way. They hurt all the time.

Why did I do it? Because my parents told me to. There was no questioning this. Besides, big feet are ugly. The smaller my feet were, the easier it would be to hide them under my clothes.

A laotong? I never had such a thing. I was not allowed to leave my house, how would I ever make a friend? I only stayed in my house and would sew beautiful shoes for myself. 

I was married when I was 21…no 23? I can’t remember exactly. Back then, a man would look only at your feet, never your face. I had 3 boys, no girls. I never had to bind anyone’s feet.

In 1949, old China became new China. We were ordered to remove our bindings. For the first time in 25 years, I unwrapped my feet and never wrapped them again. It didn’t hurt; I only felt relief. Over time, my changed their shape again. My arch had been completely broken, so now the sole of my foot is flat. But my toes never straightened out. 64 years after unbinding my feet, my toes are still curled under.