Abstract for “Why Chinese Neo-Confucian Women Made a Fetish of Small Feet

This paper explores the source of the traditional practice of Chinese footbinding which first gained popularity at the end of the Tang dynasty and continued to flourish until the last half of the twentieth century.[1] Derived initially from court concubines whose feet were formed to represent an attractive “deer lady” from an Indian tale, footbinding became a wide-spread symbol among the Chinese of obedience, pecuniary reputability, and Confucianism, among other things.[2],[3] Drawing on the analyses of such scholars as Beverly Jackson, Valerie Steele and John S. Major as well as historical personal accounts, the article concludes that the underlying goal in engaging in the footbinding practice was to raise a girl’s chances of being married into a family of the highest social class possible.

[1] Valerie Steele and John S. Major, China Chic: East Meets West (Singapore: Yale University Press, 1999), 37.

[2] Wang Ping, Aching for Beauty: Footbinding in China (University of Minnesota Press, 2000), 12.

[3] Harold Koda, Extreme Beauty: The Body Transformed (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2001), 152.