For about a thousand years in China, ending officially in 1911 through government enforcement (though unofficially the practice continued in some areas for some time), the feet of young girls were bound tightly in bandages in order to make them smaller. The ideal size was 3-inches and a foot that achieved this size was known as a Gold Lotus.
There are diverse opinions on the origins of this brutal practice. You can read about some of them at the Wikipedia entry or this research paper. Another useful reference is this NPR radio report, Painful Memories for China's Footbinding Survivors.
The process was pretty gruesome. It involved breaking toes and folding them down towards the heel. The toes were secured tightly with wet bandages which were replaced every two days, at which time the replacement bandages would be pulled even tighter. Women with bound feet were not able to carry out physical work and often could only hobble, not walk. This guaranteed their fidelity to their husbands and also ensured their inability to participate in politics and other worldly business.
All images licensed under Creative Commons. Images 1, 2 and 4 by johnbullas. Image 3 by plassen.
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