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Chinese Foot Binding: Unboxing Lily Slippers

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For today's unboxing, we are showing you something quintessential Ripley’s: Chinese Lily Slippers, also known as Lotus Shoes.

For more show notes on Chinese foot binding, read our blog:

Come back next week for an all-new Unboxing Ripley's Believe It or Not! and give us a thumbs up if you want to see more unboxing videos like this one.

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Lily slippers are quintessential Ripley’s…These are more than just shoes! These are a means to an ancient and very serious body modification—foot binding. Binding became a popular means of displaying status in China. The first recorded foot binding occurred in the 10th century. According to lore, Emperor Li Yu built a gilded stage in the shape of a lotus flower for his favorite concubine to dance upon. Dancing on her toes, her feet were bound in a hoof-like shape and adorned with precious stones and ribbons.

As this young woman was the emperor’s favorite, women attempted to imitate her to gain the emperor’s favor—making the practice fashionable. So, from the royal court, foot binding spread throughout China, beginning in the south of the country and soon reaching the north.

In the 12th century, the practice had become much more widespread, and by the mid-17th century, every girl who wished to marry—and marry rich—had her feet bound.  

The most desirable bride possessed a 3-inch foot! That perfect 3-inch foot would fit perfectly into these shoes! As you can see, these lily slippers are made of fabric, often silk, but have a very firm heel. The colorful nature of these shoes, and the curled tips found on some, were meant to evoke the image of the Lotus Flower.

The Lotus feet binding process began in childhood, when a girl was about 5 or 6, and was typically carried out by an elder female—just not the girl’s mother as she would possibly be too sympathetic to her child’s pain.

First, her feet were plunged into either hot water or a mixture of animal blood and herbs, followed by her toenails being clipped very short and the being massaged and oiled.

All of the toes except the big toes would be broken and bound flat against the sole of the foot, making a triangle shape. The foot we be bent double, staining the arch. To secure this position, the feet were bound with silk strips measuring ten feet long and two inches wide. These wrappings would be briefly removed every two days to prevent infection (the tight binding meant circulation was cut off and any injury wouldn’t heal properly).

Sometimes, excess flesh would be cut away or even encouraged to rot. Over time, the wrappings became tighter, and the shoes smaller as the heel and sole were slowly crushed together.

Throughout this process, which took two years to complete, the girls were encouraged to walk long distances to hasten the breaking of their arches.

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