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Foot binding

Foot binding (纏足, 包腳, 裹小腳, or 紮腳) is the no longer practiced Chinese custom, formerly considered aesthetic, of reducing the size of women's feet by use of tight bandage wrappings. This practice lasted from the 10th century to 1911, when it was banned by the new Republic of China.

The practice of foot binding began in the Song Dynasty (960-976 BC), reportedly to imitate an imperial concubine who was required to dance with her feet bound. By the 12th century, the practice was widespread and more severe -- girls’ feet were bound so tightly and early in life that they were unable to dance and had difficulty walking.

By the time a girl turned three-year-old, all her toes but the first were broken, and her feet were bound tightly with cloth strips to keep her feet from growing larger than 10 cm, about 3.9 inches. The practice would cause the soles of feet to bend in extreme concavity.

Foot binding ceased in the 20th century with the end of imperial dynasties and increasing influence of western fashion, according to the UCSF study. "As the practice waned, some girls’ feet were released after initial binding, leaving less severe deformities," Cummings says. However, the deformities of foot binding linger on as a common cause of disability in elderly Chinese women.

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