Object: Shoe

Lotus shoe
ca. 1924
Materials: Cloth and leather

So called “lotus” shoes, or slippers, were developed in China as footwear for girls and women who had had their feet artificially shortened through the process of foot-binding. These shoes are generally cone shaped, sometimes with a wedge style heel, and were meant to resemble a lotus bud. Foot-binding, the process of breaking and tightly wrapping the feet of young girls, ensured that a girl would have

The drawing above illustrates how the bone structure was rearranged when a girl’s foot was bound. The toes extend below the heel, the bones in the arch of the foot are bent, and the toes are broken.

extremely small feet as an adult and also prevented her from doing most manual labor jobs. Thus small feet were were a sign of wealth and a status symbol in China for thousands of years. At the height of its popularity, women without bound feet were considered nearly un-marriageable. So much so that even Western missionaries running orphanages in China during the 19th century were forced to permit the practice. The entire process took many years to complete, in the end, foot binders sought to produce an adult foot measuring roughly 7-10 centimeters (or 3-4 inches) in length. In contrast, the average shoe size for an American woman in 2009 was a size 9, meaning that her foot was 25 centimeters (or 9.8 inches) in length. This shoe, while similar in shape to true lotus shoes, is roughly 6 inches in length and may have been meant for a child with unbound feet or produced solely as a tourist item. The practice of foot-binding was officially banned in 1911, but continued to be found in remote areas of China up until the late 1940s.

Below you will find a video showing an elderly Chinese woman who had her feet bound as a child as well as additional images of lotus shoes.

Other examples of lotus shoes can be found at the University of Missouri’s Museum of Anthropology, the Bata Shoe Museum, the Temple Shoe Museum, the Children’s Museum Indianapolis, and others.  [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

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Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.


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