Popo Zhou, 104-Year-Old Farmer

THE HUNDRED-YEAR SEARCH FOR THE “THREE-INCH GOLDEN LOTUS”

百岁老人口述裹脚风俗 | documentary photography 

In old world China, small feet epitomized feminine beauty. Foot binding was a symbol of status and refinement. Widely seen as barbaric, the practice was banned in 1912; however, some of the women who endured this tradition are still alive today.

As empires and governments collapsed, these women have fought for survival. Confronted by the tragedies of world wars, civil war, the Great Famine, and the Cultural Revolution, they struggled over more than a century for themselves and their families. Today, these living remnants of a world long gone stand witness to the rise of modern China.

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Popo Zhou, 104-Year-Old Farmer

Popo Zhou, 104-Year-Old Farmer

Popo Zhou says that only wealthy families' daughters had three-inch feet. Poor families' daughters had “big” feet. Women were all competing with each other for who had the smallest feet. The smaller feet she had, the prettier she was, and no man wanted to marry a girl who had “big” feet.

Popo Zhou, 104-Year-Old Farmer

Popo Zhou, 104-Year-Old Farmer

“Women who had ‘big’ feet were not allowed to stay at the table having dinner, for they would feel too ashamed to eat at the table. They had to hide their feet because nobody liked ‘big’ footed women, and that was the beauty standard."

 

Namei Ming, 101-Year-Old Former Midwife

Namei Ming, 101-Year-Old Former Midwife

Namei Ming is a former midwife. Ming helped women deliver more than one hundred babies, including her own sister's baby and her own grandson during a time that there was no hospital in her village. She is a fighter and survivor from the old tradition of foot binding culture. Her seven sisters and aunts all had their feet bound as Three-Inch Golden Lotuses.

 

Namei Ming, 101-Year-Old Former Midwife

Namei Ming, 101-Year-Old Former Midwife

“My mother bound my feet around and around by wrapping big long pieces of cloth and sewing the cloth up with a needle, and she wrapped my feet and stitched again and again. Then she pushed my feet into a soft layered shuixie* that made my feet smaller, and then she continued tightly wrapping with cloth, sewing with a needle again. Outside of the shuixie, I wore hard bottom shoes," Ming says, "My toes and arch were broken with force. I was crying and begging my mother stop binding my feet, but what she did was unbound and rebound tighter and repeat the process of binding feet.”

 

*shuixie: small soft bottom shoes that are not removed while sleeping)

 

 

Yuying Jia, 103-Year-Old Street Vendor

Yuying Jia, 103-Year-Old Street Vendor

You can always hear Jia bargaining with customers whenever you walk in the vegetable market in Hefeng.

“No way! It cost me more than that, 30¥!”

“I can't do that. I have to make a living. Give me 18¥and it's yours.

“Wait, wait, wait! 12¥. Final price."

“You drive a hard bargain. I'm losing money on this, but alright. I'll let you have it for 7¥."

Yuying Jia, 103-Year-Old Street Vendor

Yuying Jia, 103-Year-Old Street Vendor

"I played a very significant role in putting bread on the table in my family. Those years I worked extremely hard, and I had to work every day. My husband had to go out often to feed the donkeys. I was responsible for all domestic labor work. I can do almost all kinds of work with my bound feet except work in the rice field."

Qiusheng Qi, 100-Year-Old Great-Great-Grandmother

Qiusheng Qi, 100-Year-Old Great-Great-Grandmother

Qiusheng Qi respected and followed the foot-binding tradition. Qi believes that a Three-Inch Golden Lotus is absolutely gorgeous and stunning. She admired her peers who had tiny feet when she was little. She had her feet bound when she was four years old. As she grew bigger, she found it more comfortable to bind her feet by herself rather than letting her parents do it.

Qiusheng Qi, 100-Year-Old Great-Great-Grandmother

Qiusheng Qi, 100-Year-Old Great-Great-Grandmother

To achieve a Three-Inch Golden Lotus, girls have to start binding at a very young age so that their feet won’t grow. Most importantly, it doesn't hurt if girls start at young age. However, it's excruciating if you start when you are a teenager. Qi says that some girls in the poor family were forced to jump from table to table until the bones in their feet and toes were broken so that it could be bound small because of the social pressure of finding a better husband.

 

“Those wounded feet are not beautiful, but disabled, barbaric, and ugly. You cannot call such an injured foot the Three-Inch Golden Lotus”

 

 The foot-binding affected ability to walk. It is considered as a sign of the wealthy and high class. Girls from wealthiest part of society didn’t need walk or work in fields; they had servants to work for them.

The foot-binding affected ability to walk. It is considered as a sign of the wealthy and high class. Girls from wealthiest part of society didn’t need walk or work in fields; they had servants to work for them.

 The practice of binding feet, was not only epitomized feminine beauty, but also became a necessity for obtaining a higher class husband in a society where women did not hold much power.

The practice of binding feet, was not only epitomized feminine beauty, but also became a necessity for obtaining a higher class husband in a society where women did not hold much power.

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