Tuesday, March 7, 2017
Tiger-head shoes (Chinese: 虎头鞋) are an example of traditional Chinese folk handicraft used as footwear for children. In Chinese culture, tigers are regarded as auspicious and people believed tiger patterned shoes (cat-head shoes in the North of China) help ward off evil spirits and make children as strong as tigers. The vivid image of tiger-head pattern was thought to expel evil spirits and protect their children from diseases and disasters.
The origins of tiger-head shoes are unknown, but there are many legends. One involves a monster who stole away all the children from a village with one exception. He was a little boy wearing shoes decorated with a tiger’s head. The shoes were made by his mother who was gifted in embroidery. People began to imitate the practice. Tiger-head shoes were especially popular in North China, with several regional variations in design. The best known is from the southern part of Hebei province.
Hu Shuqing, from Qixian County, Central China’s Henan Province, started collecting them after she was given a pair of shoes from others as a gift. Over 17 years, she has amassed hundreds of thousands of tiger-head shoes which is valued over one million yuan ($145,000).
Making tiger-head shoes requires high level embroidery and needlework skills. The tiger’s mouth, eye, eyebrow and nose are often given exaggerated outlines to express its power. The vamp (upper part of the shoe) is mainly coloured in red and yellow. Hu has called for protection of the traditional Chinese folk handicraft.