The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Are bound feet an expression of Chinese ethnic identity during the Manchurian-ruled Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)?


Department of Paleoanthropology, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology

Saturday 11:00-11:15, Galleria North Add to calendar

Two hundred and three burials were analyzed from the Xuecun archaeological site, Henan Province, China. The burials were salvaged from a water diversion project from the Yangtze River to Beijing. The burials dated from the Han Dynasty to Qing Dynasty (206 BC- 1911 AD). This population sample provided a unique opportunity to analyze the practice of foot binding in central China. Length and width metatarsal measurements were taken from 11 individuals with bound and 9 individuals with unbound feet. T-tests showed a significant difference in the length of all metatarsals between bound and unbound feet. The largest difference was noted in the metatarsal4 and metatarsal5 length. T-tests also showed a significant difference in metatarsal width between bound and unbound feet. The most extreme reduction in width was found in metatarsal5. Individuals with bound feet consistently showed atrophy of the musculature of the legs. Several individuals also had broken arms and ribs possibly due to falls. No instances of foot binding were found from the Han Dynasty to the Song Dynasty (206 BC-1276 AD). Thirty-three percent of the women from the Chinese-ruled Ming Dynasty (1386-1644) had bound feet. By the Manchurian-ruled Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) 100% of the women had bound feet. This dramatic increase in foot binding may have been a symbol of Chinese ethnic identity and rebellion in response to the sumptuary laws of the Manchurian ruling elite.

Chinese Academy of Sciences, Fellowship for Young International Scientists, Grant #2010Y1ZA3.

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