Foot-binding, corsets and tattoos
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Foot-binding & Tattoos

Chinese shoe
Chinese shoe

When we think about Chinese clothing, it strikes us as really weird that women bound little girls' feet so they couldn't grow, and made them grow up with little tiny broken feet that they could hardly walk on. (More on foot-binding)

You might have a discussion about whether this is really so unusual though; isn't it just another instance of women making themselves beautiful through pain?

Is this comparable to tattooing, for instance? Or piercings? Is foot-binding more like braces? What if the braces are entirely cosmetic? Or is it more like getting a nose job?

Tattoo
Lip ring
Corset

Is Chinese foot-binding comparable to European and American women wearing corsets? Or high heels? How about ballet dancers wearing pointe shoes? Do men have similar things? maybe wearing ties, or shaving? Or getting piercings? Why or why not?

Shaving
Piercing
Tie

If Chinese foot-binding is like getting piercings, does that mean that it's perfectly normal to get piercings to make yourself beautiful, and everyone should do it? Or does it mean that it's barbaric and awful, and nobody should do it?

Foot-binding

Other activities:

Bibliography and further reading about ancient Chinese clothing:

China and Japan (Cultures and Costumes), by Paula Hammond (2003). For teens.

Moonbeams, Dumplings & Dragon Boats: A Treasury of Chinese Holiday Tales, Activities & Recipes, by Nina Simonds and others (Children's Museum of Boston, 2002).

Chinese Clothing: An Illustrated Guide, by Valery Garrett (1994). Expensive, but there's a lot of pictures. Some of it deals with a time period later than this site.

5000 Years of Chinese Costumes, by Zhou Xun and Gao Chunming (1987). This is for theater costumers and historians, and really goes into detail, with great pictures - but it's not cheap. Get it through your library.

Bound, by Donna Jo Napoli (2004). A novel for young adults about footbinding in medieval China.

More ancient China projects
More about ancient China
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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