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The Ties That Bind Must Break

I read this article recently, which practically brought me to tears, especially with this picture (click here for slideshow):

bound feet

This practice of binding the feet of women was around for almost 1,000 years in China. And to my utter fright, the reasons for such a practice were aesthetic?!

Years of suffering were required to finally achieve the ideal three-inch long foot and the diminuitive shape of a crescent moon so lyrically described by Chinese poets as the quintessence of a refined female form, much like the western image of a perfectly proportioned 36-24-36 inch figure. Many women found themselves under enormous pressure to rriatch this idealized form, particularly those with positions of wealth or status. This was true of women we spoke to in both urban and rural areas, where even today women over the age of sixty with feet longer than four inches are rare.

And from a different source, we find that this binding had deeper social significance:

In a society with a cult of female chastity, one primary purpose of footbinding was to limit mobility, radically modifying the means by which females were permitted to become a part of the world at large. Painfully and forcibly reducing a little girl’s foot at the precise point in her life when she was expected to begin understanding the Confucian discipline of maintaining a “mindful body” reinforced her acceptance of the practice.[21] A woman’s dependency on her family was made utterly manifest in her disabled feet, and she was fully expected to acquire considerable control over her pain, reflecting the ideals of civility, a mindful body and concealment. One of the primary allures of footbinding lay in its concealment, and to be acceptable a pair of small feet had to be covered by binder, socks and shoes, doused in perfurne and scented powder, and then hidden under layers of leggings and skirts.[22] Women also attended to their feet in the strictest privacy, often washing their feet separately from the rest of their body to shield themselves and others from contamination.[23] Only those privileged to the utmost intimacy were allowed to view the processes of cleansing and care, and women wore special bed slippers even if otherwise nude.[24] Much of footbinding’s aura derived from this concealment of the physicality of the foot, mirroring the privacy requirements society and family placed on the individual.

Why bring this up now if the practice was banned in 1911? We’re not barbaric anymore now, are we? This was oh so long ago, right?

You’d be dead wrong. For starters, there are few things as trans-national or transcultural as the oppression of women. You can make a historical argument or a socio-econonimc argument for it, but I believe that it is largely a spiritual issue, namely Satan’s hatred of women. Think about it, if human beings are made in the image of God, and it is through women that humans are brought into the world, I think that the enemy does everything he can in order to subvert, distort, wound, and pervert the woman. It manifests itself in so many ways across so many cultures I can hardly list them here.

Our twisted notions of beauty at all costs are pushing Asian women to the cosmetic brink of extinction, read the following link: (h/t — the Metropolitician). Whether we have conflicting notions about women in ministry or not (an excellent and honest post by elderj, btw), Asian American Christian men must break the silence of Adam.

God calls on men to speak into darkness that sometimes stays dark, even after we speak….Lighting our own fires is a natural tendency in every fallen man. And that tendency is clearly visible, not only in the relational crises of life but also in our everyday style of relating. Men who routinely light fires rather than trust God reveal their lack of manliness most significantly in the way they engage other people, particularly women.

As an Asian American man who is and will one day bear the image of Christ then, this premise that the form of woman must be made lesser or distorted must be expelled from my thinking, because we should be ready to lay down our lives for her — she is that valuable and precious. Feminity does not bestow masculinity upon me, but neither is my masculinity added to in my subversion or control of her. She must be able to say of me, “His banner over me is love.” In short, the ties that bind must break and be broken with love.

Recently, thecuttingtruth cited the unmanliness of Asian men, and I assert that our “manliness” is derived not out our neediness or control, but our ability to stop binding the feet of our women and speak up for them.

The campaign against bound feet initiated by Sun Yat-sen one century ago set free Chinese women from binding cloth. However, China needs a new campaign to set women free from conservative concepts in the new century and let them enjoy complete equality with men, said Li Huiying, another expert on women studies.

A key piece to the above quote is this: Sun Yat-sen was a Christian. That is an Asian man that I admire deeply out of our common Lord and Savior. And I am confident that what was loosened on earth will be loosened in heaven as well. To my sisters in Christ and in race, do not chase the standards of beauty of this world nor conform yourselves to those idols — but do run and chase after God because your feet will never be bound by me.

About David Park

Christian 2nd-generation Korean American; Atlanta Georgia; more details to come.

9 responses to “The Ties That Bind Must Break

  1. elderj

    This is a good post and reading brings to mind the true importance of the passage in 1 Peter 3. 3 – 4 that admonishes women about not letting their beauty be from outward appearance but that of a gentle and quiet spirit. Truly these scriptures too have been misused, but in the original intent I believe they point the way to a different model of affirmation for what is of true value and worth.

  2. e cho

    Wow. You and elderj are pumping out these must read posts. thanks for this…

  3. Pingback: Samshua » Blog Archive » Bound Feet, Bound Bodies

  4. Pingback: women - created in His image « Beauty and Depravity | Eugene Cho’s Blog

  5. Cho ⋅

    i wonder if ‘beauty’ is tied to more than what we think looks pretty…
    You mentioned that majority of women who bind their feet were higher in class…so…what is the source of trying to be beautiful? (the ultimate source is Satan but what is he using to distort our perception of beauty?
    i feel like for Asian women, its stability
    because we’ve been placed in a role where we need to be dependent on our family or husband, the “man of the house”, we need to make sure whoever we’re depending on, is secured enough to be dependent on.
    now the question becomes…if we take that dependency out, what’s the driving force of distorting ‘beauty’?

  6. Cho, this is great insight and I’ve witnessed this sense of economic security that gets tied to beauty, whether it means a woman must be attractive to be married or get a better job or whatever. It’s a terrible form of oppression that women have had to endure at the hands of men. This one is particularly cruel because it literally and figuratively immobilizes women. Now as women gain mobility…you ask what drives this notion of beauty? I think we haven’t quite removed the dependency. A good gut check for the church is to ask ourselves if we still immobilize women and/or lift up notions of beauty that are demeaning.

  7. jonolan


    The image is sad, but not unusual in any culture. Look at what women in other countries other than China go through for the sake of “beauty.” Frankly I’m not even sure that – in the long run – foot binding is the most extreme example.

  8. lillyboo cries ⋅

    wow, barbie feet!! they should make barbie dolls with toes so as not to appear as if thier feet are bound.

  9. Judy ⋅

    Thank you for posting this. This reminded me of the genital mutilation that so many women across the world have to endure.

    Divorce is never anything to be celebrated because God hates it, but I believe that one of the reasons for an increase in divorce rates in the U.S. is the relatively new economic freedom of women. Many of us do not need to stay and be abused and oppressed to survive. This is true inside and outside of the church. Somehow this doesn’t seem to come up when folks in the church bemoan divorce.

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