Not currently on display at the V&A

Pair of Shoes

19th century (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This pair of shoes has been handmade for a young woman's bound feet.

Foot-binding had been a tradition amongst Han Chinese women. Although the practice has a long history, it became particularly pronounced during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The practice was an 'aspirational one': as it is not easy to move around quickly in bound feet, to have them indicated that one came from a family well-to-do enough to not have to work. Bound feet were also sometimes seen to be subtly attractive to men, hence considered desirable. The practice was almost exclusively restricted to women of the Han ethnicity: footbinding was considered barbaric by the Manchu peoples (who ruled China during the Qing Dynasty). The Manchu rulers of China in fact banned the practice, however the ban was seldom enforced. It was not until the Imperial Dynasty was overthrown that footbinding was finally successfully outlawed by the Republican Government (1911-1949): this success was aided by a shift in attitudes, from approval of the traditional practice, to discarding it as feudal and 'un-modern'.

Interestingly, although this pair of shoes were made for a 'Han' girl, the embroidery pattern on it is very similar to those found on samples of shoes for Manchu women, demonstrating how easily both Manchu and Han peoples shared elements of Chinese culture.

Shoes such as this pair featured here would have been handmade by mothers, or by young women taught by their mothers. From the later nineteenth century, petite shoes for bound feet were also made as curiosities for foreigners collecting souvenirs: these normally exist in pristine conditions. This pair of shoes have signs of wear, which show that they have actually been used.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Parts
This object consists of 2 parts.

  • Shoe
  • Shoe
Materials and Techniques
Silk, cotton and wood
Brief Description
Pair of shoes, embroidered silk, cotton and wood, China, 19th century
Physical Description
Most likely Southern Anhui-styled shoes for women with bound feet in light red silk satin upper embroidered with auspicious symbolic motifs - coins, peonies and butterfly - in white and colored silk floss and edged with green silk satin. It is a low-heel pump with a blue cotton heel band connected to the uppers by two twisted-thread as secure straps. It has a slightly upturned nose that extends from its two-piece cotton-covered flat sole.
Dimensions
  • Length: 16cm
  • Width: 5cm
  • Height: 8cm
Measured by textile conservation on 12/06/08.
Marks and Inscriptions
Credit line
Given by Jill Proctor
Object history
According to Dorothy Ko, the Chinese used a variety of names to refer to shoes for bound feet - including arched shoes (gongxie), embroidered slippers (xiuxie), and gilded lilies (jinlian, which also refers to the bound feet in particular and to the customs associated with footbinding in general). In her book, she has adopted a modern English term, lotus shoes. Largely handmade at home (unless it requires metal, leather or wooden parts) the decorated motifs of these shoes often symbolised fertility, longevity, happiness, wealth and success. Shoes differed in types (indoor, outdoor, sleeping, or funerary), styles (Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Sichuan, Shanxi, Shandong, Fujian, Guangdong, and Taiwan), materials (cotton, silk, felt, bamboo, wood, etc.), artisanship and structure that could affect the body and gait of the wearer. Apart from embodying the material and bodily experiences of the makers and wearers, they are important representations of feminine beauty, sensuality, cultural identity, social status and character of the female user. They were largely worn by women of the upper class elite up till the 17th-18th century until they became truly widespread from the 19th century onwards.



Its simple construction, all-over embroidery on the upper, flat sole and slightly upturned nose indicates its interior northwest and southwest style.



Soiled and slightly worn.
Production
Embroidery on shoes is similar to the fashion of some other samples dated to 1821-1850 (reign of Daoguang Emperor)
Summary
This pair of shoes has been handmade for a young woman's bound feet.



Foot-binding had been a tradition amongst Han Chinese women. Although the practice has a long history, it became particularly pronounced during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The practice was an 'aspirational one': as it is not easy to move around quickly in bound feet, to have them indicated that one came from a family well-to-do enough to not have to work. Bound feet were also sometimes seen to be subtly attractive to men, hence considered desirable. The practice was almost exclusively restricted to women of the Han ethnicity: footbinding was considered barbaric by the Manchu peoples (who ruled China during the Qing Dynasty). The Manchu rulers of China in fact banned the practice, however the ban was seldom enforced. It was not until the Imperial Dynasty was overthrown that footbinding was finally successfully outlawed by the Republican Government (1911-1949): this success was aided by a shift in attitudes, from approval of the traditional practice, to discarding it as feudal and 'un-modern'.



Interestingly, although this pair of shoes were made for a 'Han' girl, the embroidery pattern on it is very similar to those found on samples of shoes for Manchu women, demonstrating how easily both Manchu and Han peoples shared elements of Chinese culture.



Shoes such as this pair featured here would have been handmade by mothers, or by young women taught by their mothers. From the later nineteenth century, petite shoes for bound feet were also made as curiosities for foreigners collecting souvenirs: these normally exist in pristine conditions. This pair of shoes have signs of wear, which show that they have actually been used.
Bibliographic References
  • Every Step a Lotus: Shoes for Bound Feet. By Dorothy Ko. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London, The Bata Shoe Museum/University of California Press, 2001.
  • Beverly Jackson, Splendid Slippers: A Thousand Years of an Erotic Tradition (Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 1997)
  • Glenn Roberts and Valerie Steele, 'The Three-Inch Golden Lotus: A Collection of Chinese Bound Foot Shoes,' Arts of Asia vol. 27, no.2, 69-85
Collection
Accession Number
FE.400:1, 2-2007

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record createdJuly 3, 2008
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