2 Beaded Slippers for Bound Feet

Object Name: 
2 Beaded Slippers for Bound Feet

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Object Name: 
2 Beaded Slippers for Bound Feet
Place Made: 
Accession Number: 
95.6.1
Dimensions: 
Slipper Average H: 4 cm, W: 5.9 cm, L: 16 cm
Location: 
Not on Display
Date: 
1875-1899
Web Description: 
The binding of feet was a unique cultural phenomenon practiced by women in China. It probably began during the latter part of the Tang dynasty, which ended in 906, or just before the Song dynasty around 950, and it spread from the upper classes to all levels of society. The ideal shape for a bound foot was the lotus, with an optimal length of three inches. According to tradition, girls had their feet bound between the ages of five and seven. This excruciating process curled four toes inward and often broke the arches, greatly limiting mobility for life. The practice was perpetuated by the cultural belief that tiny feet were an important aspect of physical beauty and that, without bound feet, a woman was “unmarriageable.” Foot binding continued until modern times, when it began to be viewed by younger generations as a passé custom. It was outlawed in 1911, following the fall of the Qing dynasty. Shoes specially made for bound feet were also considered to be a source of beauty. There were variations in style, form, and decoration among the provinces and even among the villages. They included everyday shoes, special wedding shoes (usually red), and fancy shoes. The decoration of fancy shoes ranged from extensive embroidery to the inclusion of sequins and beads. The pair shown here are completely covered with glass beads, including the bottoms, so they were probably intended for decoration or perhaps for burial. The flower depicted is a lotus blossom, a traditional symbol of purity to Buddhists and Taoists. However, the lotus was also associated with fertility, making it an appropriate motif for an item that was thought to heighten a woman’s beauty.
Department: 
Provenance: 
Oriental Art & Antiques, Former Collection
Category: 
Primary Description: 
Pair of slippers for bound feet. Glass beads, leather, linen; multicolored. Pair of beaded slippers fabricated of layers of brown, natural and cream linen, with a brown leather lining. The beaded decoration covering the entire exterior, including the bottom of the soles, is embroidered onto a natural beige linen ground. The opening of the shoes is framed by a band dominated by a zigzag pattern of black opaque seed beads on a white and pink ground. The surface of the shoes is dominated by lotus blossoms with black stems on a ground of green transparent seed beads.
19th Century Beaded Work From China
Venue(s)
Michelle Liao Collection 1995-12-02 through 1995-12-15