Last Golden Lotus – The Secret of Chinese Foot Binding

Article by William Kustiono
Edited By Yvonne Lo

On June 17, 2013, New York City International Film Festival presents Last Golden Lotus – The Secret of Chinese Foot Binding at Tribeca Cinemas. The movie director is Shirley Yi Hong Zhao. She is a Chinese movie director from Shanghai. This documentary shares her journey searching for her childhood mystery, the “Lotus Feet,” which becomes a Chinese tales in the modern period. The film also tells about the tension between current and historical notions of beauty and attractiveness, erotic ideals, the ideal of marriage and women’s role in society.

For more than a millennium, Chinese foot binding serves as a symbol of beauty in the Chinese Kingdom that affects millions of women. The legend of foot binding originates back to the Shang Dynasty where the Shang empress had a clubfoot. She demanded foot binding practice be made essential in the imperial court. The history also dates back to the Song dynasty between 961 and 975 during the reign of Li Yu. He was attracted to a dancer who bounded her feet to imitate the shape of a new moon to perform a “lotus dance.” This became the reason that bounded feet were named “3 inch lotuses”. The practice was outlawed in 1912 and in 1915 the government imposed fine to those who continued to practice foot binding.

Shirley’s journey in the film, started from Shanghai to the countryside. She got the idea when she met a photographer that showed her the photos of “Lotus Feet”. When she was young, she had a grandmother that had her feet bound and called them “Lotus Feet.” Shirley wanted to embark on a journey to find out why binding feet were a great deal during that period. It took her one-year to complete her journey and discover the reason that foot binding made such a great impact to the society at the time.

According to most of her interviews, the “Lotus Feet” posed as great beauty and indicated the attractiveness of women. Women with “Lotus Feet,” would have more chances of men marrying them due to the attractiveness. Most of the women were subjected to “lotus feet’ because of their social status. If the woman was found having unbound feet, she would be laughed at by society and the chances of getting married were slim. Therefore, to avoid these problems, most of them practiced “Lotus Feet” and passed it to their daughters. At the time, daughters did not know anything about the “Lotus Feet.” Most of them just followed their mothers and did what they said to them. The foot binding process required women to have rigorous pain endurance because when the feet were bound, the practitioners would feel an enormous amount of pain throughout day and night. Some of them were unable to walk properly due to the pain. Shirley’s journey came to an end at the last stop that brought her childhood memories back.

Overall, the movie gives the audience some background knowledge about the Chinese traditional society with the focus towards the beauty of women and tiny feet. In today’s society, we might refer to this practice as ridiculous and absurd. Women do not need to bind their feet to make be prettier. In the 21st century, the high heels replace the “Lotus Feet”. Women tend to wear high heels to look stunning and to show their long legs in public. Even though it comes with a little pain, but honestly, which would you prefer? Naturally born feet that tolerate a little bit of pain from the heels or would you rather deform your feet as tiny as possible with a side of pain and inhumane? You tell me.

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