Saturday, December 27, 2008

Foot torture and foot binding

Throughout the ages the Chinese have acquired a reputation for torture. Historically it is more than likely the authorised use of torture in China for purposes of confession, or forms of punishment, and execution, were no more than most other civilised countries of the time. Seventeenth century author, Semedo (cited in Scott, 1995) wrote of a foot torment called Kia Quen where three pieces of wood were connected by a rope. The foot of the victim was placed between the bamboos then systematically squeezed until the heel was compressed into the foot. This form of punishment was reserved for male culprits, whereas females would have their fingers crushed in a torture called Tean Zu. Bastinado or beating the sole of the foot was meted out to both genders as a punishment and often inflicted with sufficient vigour as to cause death to the victim. The origins of foot binding remain vague but most authorities believe it was part of Chinese custom since the 11th century. Some hold the opinion foot binding was in existence for a millennium before. The most popular belief, promulgated by early Christian missionaries, was the Empress Taki (11th century) was born with clubfeet, to avoid her humiliation, her father made an edict that all highborn women of China would have their feet bound. Another reason often cited by contemporary Chinese, who have grown up through the Cultural Revolution, was foot binding was a physical means of preventing married women from infidelity by physically restricting their movements. This would seem unlikely since there is no evidence to support restriction of the female gender in higher Chinese culture prior to modern times. It appears historic record would support the father of Empress Taki kept a troupe of erotic dancers with small feet. They used to dance on a floor of lotus leaves (a symbol of the vulva) for his sensual pleasure. This form of erotica became very popular but not all middle class men could afford the upkeep of a dance troupe. Foot binding of family members became established in the middle classes by way of paying respect to the Emperor. The habit plunged hundreds of millions of Chinese men, from highbrow mandarins to lowly peasants into ecstasies of sexual passion for nearly one thousand years. According to Rossi (1993) for genteel lovers the tiny foot provided endless amusement, with often the smell of the unwashed foot having charms for some, who referred to it as a fragrant bed aroma. Dr Chang Hui Shang considered that the alteration in walking due to the smaller foot caused changes in the female genitalia with sensitive folds developing in the labia. Further heightened sensuousness was experienced by the increased curvature of the sole of the foot, which was referred to as a second vagina. The big toe was proportionately large and tactile. A useful extension. Foot kissing and sucking was a common practice with the whole foot being placed in the mouth. Bound or lotus feet were considered the source of magical eroticism. Without doubt the practice of foot binding was as abhorrent to modern society as any ritualistic abuse. However when it was practised it was not as a punishment, albeit it was extremely painful, but instead as a coming of age, right of passage. To not have bound feet was a disgrace for a woman and social suicide. It is not always appreciated but some men had their feet bound. It is well reported within studies of anthropology that primitive tribes used painful rituals for entering adulthood. The ability to endure pain as a prerequisite for marriage was admired. The proof of pain may by itself have been the ultimate display that decoration was an unselfish act and that it was done to give pleasure to others (Bohannan P, cited in Love, 1997) Some tribes used the pain of scarifications to induce passion and thus fertility. Foot binding may have originally served a similar purpose.

Love B. 1995 The encyclopaedia of unusual sex practices London: Greenwich Editions.
Rossi WA. 1993 The sexlife of the foot and shoe Florida:Krieger Publishing Co.
Scott GR. 1995 A history of torture London: Senate.

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