In China the tradition for foot binding was started in the 10th century by a dancer called Precious Thing. She danced on her toes inside a six-foot high lotus flower made of gold and decorated with jewels, pearls and silk tassels. Precious Thing wore silk socks over which she wound long, narrow bands of silk. She was much admired by the Prince Li Yu and as a result women envied her and wanted to copy her small feet.
Chinese women wanted their feet to look like lotus buds and by the 19th century nearly all women in China had bound feet since smaller feet were thought to attract a husband, helping women to achieve higher standing.
The ideal size for feet was considered to be just 3 inches (about 7.6 centimetres). The heel needed to be full and round with the big toe coming to a thin point.
A woman skilled in foot-binding would start binding girls feet when they were between 5 and 7 years old, when the foot was well developed but still soft. She would bind her feet frequently over a period of about 2 years. The feet were wrapped in a particular way with bandages and were sewn at intervals to stop them unravelling or being unwound by the girl.
However, girls and women with bound feet often got infections and other health problems and could only walk with a stick. They could no longer play and run around freely, they could only hobble around at home. The tradition started to go out of fashion in the 19th century. There are very few Chinese women now who have bound feet and the shoes are manufactured mainly as souvenirs for tourists.