Survivors of China's brutal foot binding tradition recall decades of suffering over 60 years on

  • Video report by ITV News Asia Correspondent Debi Edward

Foot binding, the brutal tradition of breaking young girl's toes and reshaping the feet into a point, was stamped out in China over 60 years ago - but some of the counrty's oldest women still suffer today.

The practice dates back to the 10th century in China, when tiny feet were deemed a sign of beauty.

Those who did not have their feet bound were told they would never marry.

While many modern day women are familiar with sacrificing comfort for beauty, millions of Chinese women went much further, tightly binding their feet daily to attain the desired "three inch golden lotus" foot.

From the 10 century women in China tried to attain the desired 'three inch lotus foot'. Credit: ITV News

By the start of the 19th century, almost all women in China had bound feet and in rural villages the practice continued right up until the 1950s, at which point the Chinese government made a final push to eradicate the practice.

It was outlawed in 1912 and thereafter the practice became taboo, only being carried out in secret. Midway through the 20th century anti foot-binding inspectors ordered women to unbind.

Pi Shi, 91, was forced from the age of seven to bind her feet or face a beating from her parents.

She explained the process, which has left her with no feeling in her feet, to ITV News. It involves breaking each toe other than the big one and wrapping them tightly underneath the foot to create a single point.

She said: "All my toes were broken, how could that not hurt? My feet were bound over and over until they were broken.

"It hurt so much that I could not walk, I went outside to stand in the snow because my feet were burning."

Pi Shi explained the process of breaking ones toes and tightly binding them under the foot to create a point. Credit: ITV News

Liu Su Shi says she cried all day when she had it done and the memory is still upsetting.

The 94 year old told ITV News: "I couldn't stop crying because of the pain, it was unbearable…My parents told me nobody would marry someone with big feet."

Although the tradition was originally most prevalent in the upper classes, it is in the countryside where it became most widespread and most problematic.

94-year-old Liu Su Shi's feet are badly deformed due to having them bound at a young age. Credit: ITV News

Having "lotus feet" meant most women could not get around easily on their own and those in rural villages who needed to work were forced to do so through excruciating pain.

Pi Shi, one of the few foot binding survivors alive to tell her story, was pleased to see the practice eradicated and is envious of the freedom enjoyed young women in China today.

"They can run fast and live free. Unlike in my day, young women would get beaten if they refuse to bind feet," she said.

By the start of the 19th century, almost all women in China had bound feet.

The last known case of foot binding was reported in 1957 and the last lotus shoe-making factory closed in 1999.