Chinese Lotus Shoes

Chinese lotus shoes

Lotus shoes worn by Chinese women with bound feet represent an intriguing, beautiful and yet at the same time a hideous and deforming aspect of many women’s lives for nearly 1000 years. The examples now in the TRC Collection formed part of an exhibition about the history of footwear, which was staged at the TRC Leiden in 2012.

These tiny shoes (sometimes as small as 6 cm) and related items form part of a larger study concerning dress and identity and how people (both men and women) use their bodies to stress their gender,, marital, social, economic and indeed political status. Lotus shoes encompass all of these subjects and many more.

The following titles provide a good introduction to the fascinating subject of lotus shoes and foot binding. You will find references to other publications in the titles below.

  • Beverley Jackson (1997). Splendid Slippers: A Thousand Years of an Erotic Tradition, Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.
  • Susanna Goho-Quek (2004). Kecantikan : Bengkung Kaki: The Allure of the Bound Foot, Kuala Lumpur: Department of Museum and Antiquities.
  • Dorothy Ko (2001). Every Step a Luts: Shoes for Bound Feet, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, The Bata Shoe Museum.
  • Glenn Roberts and Valerie Steele (1997). "The three-inch golden lotus: A collection of Chinese bound foot shoes", Arts of Asia, 27, no. 2, pp. 69-85.
  • Ping Wang (2000). Aching for Beauty: Footbinding in China, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Linda Wrigglesworth (1996). The Sway of the Golden Lotus: An Exhibition of Manchu and Bound Feet Shoes worn by Chinese Children and Women in Imperial China. Qing Dynasty 1644-1911, London: Linda Wrigglesworth, Ltd.

For this online exhibition:

  • Author: Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood
  • Web-design: Joost Koopman
  • Exhibition design: Willem Vogelsang
  • Publisher: TRC Leiden.
  • Year of publication: 2018
  • Copyright: All illustrations of objects housed in the TRC collection can be used free of charge, but please add to the caption: "Courtesy Textile Research Centre, Leiden" and the pertinent accession number of the object.

0. Cover page

Lotus shoes worn by Chinese women with bound feet represent an intriguing, beautiful and yet at the same time a hideous and deforming aspect of many women’s lives for nearly…

1. Introduction

Chan zu (lit. “bound feet”) is the practice of binding young girls’ feet very tightly in order to prevent further growth and normal development. The tradition prevailed in China for…

2. A brief history of foot binding

It is said that the practice of foot binding originated among court dancers in the early Song Dynasty (960-1279). The earliest relevant written records date to the 13th century and…

3. The actual process

The process of foot binding started at between the ages of 5 and 8, when the arch of the foot was still soft and not fully developed. The entire process…

4. Making lotus shoes

Because of their small decorative nature considerable attention is paid to lotus shoes worn on a daily basis and the stories behind them. But there was a also a range…

5. Colours and decoration

There are five main colour groups in China namely red (pink), yellow, blue (also green), black and white. Each colour had its designated purposes. Not surprisingly the same colour range…

6. Main forms of lotus shoes

Throughout the ages and all over the country, there were always various main types of shoes, such as day time shoes, night shoes, wedding shoes, funeral and mourning shoes, as…

7. The main regional types of lotus shoes

As a generalization, Han lotus shoes can be divided into the four main regional forms, namely northern, western, eastern and southern, with various sub-divisions. Three of these regions are represented…

8. Lotus shoe accessories

In addition to the lotus shoes themselves, there were various accessories that were regarded as essential elements in the complete ‘look.’ They were so important that many women would feel…

9. Twentieth century lotus shoes

As there was more and more Western influence in Chinese life in the early 20th century, so the shape of lotus shoes had also changed. Instead of a cotton base…

10. The end of foot binding

From the latter half of the 19th century onwards there were more and more movements to ban foot binding. Chinese groups included the Natural Feet Society and the Anti-Foot Binding…

11. Gallery of lotus shoes in the TRC collection

The image gallery below contains photographs and brief descriptions of all the lotus shoes currently in the TRC collection. The gallery also gives direct access to the online catalogue of…