Tradition and Culture

How often have you been channel surfing only to end up spending the next several hours watching some documentary on the Discovery or History channel? Of these documentaries, how many contained insight into ritualistic practices from worldly tribes? We have all watched a program where individuals had various body parts altered in some fashion. Most of the time, these alterations were done in the name of beauty. Recently I came across a practice of body alteration that was not only interesting, but is also related to the field of Podiatry. This practice is that of foot binding.

Foot Binding is an ancient Chinese tradition that is said to have begun during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD). The story is as such:

The Emperor, Li Yu, had become quite enchanted with one of his concubines who happened to by chance to bind her feet. This concubine, Yao Niang, was a dancer who is said to have bound her feet to suggest the shape of a new moon. She also performed the Lotus Dance. The combination of foot binding and dancing on the lotus became the new fad. Other concubines started the same practice in order to gain the favor of the Emperor as well. Foot binding became so popular that girls thought it was necessary to bind their feet in order to marry.

The Physical Process:

  • Began at the ripe young of 6 and carried out during the winter months when the cold weather would sufficiently numb their feet
  • The feet were then soaked in a mixture of herbs and blood
  • After a thorough soaking, the toes were bent backwards and then flexed into the sole of the foot
  • The toes were pressed into the sole to the point of breaking the toes AND the arch
  • The feet were then tightly bandaged
  • The next day, the feet were unbound, washed, and then bandaged even tighter.

The tradition of foot binding lasted until the early 20th century and was banned in 1911. Rural communities still practiced this art until 1939. Now, there are very few women alive who have been through the process of foot binding.

Obviously this is not a blog with the newest and greatest treatment for foot/ankle pathology. My only aim was to provide a little diversity into your knowledge. There are many cultures with various traditions that we might find odd. In my personal opinion, it is these differences that make this world a beautiful and amazing place to live in. I would imagine that practices and traditions we hold so dear are viewed as odd in other areas of the world.

If you are in need of foot/ankle care, please contact Dr. Bowman at 713-467-8886 or visit

Photo Credit: Sura Nualpradid via

Category: General

Tags: foot binding