'If I didn't make my feet small, no boy would want me'

One 96-year-old lady talks bound feet, happiness and bombings

All images: Cameron Hack/Humans of China
I was born in 1922, so this year I am 96 years old. I live and have always lived in the countryside in Beijing. I've only visited the city centre once, for a wedding. At 17 years old, I married my husband in an arranged marriage. I met him the day we married and because I had bound feet and my feet were small he and his family agreed that we could be husband and wife: nothing else really mattered, only small feet.

My mother was very traditional and started binding my feet when I was 10 years old. She broke the toes and bandaged them up, tucking them under. In the day time, I'd wear tight bandages which gradually got tighter and tighter, stopping my feet from growing. I only bound my feet during the day and it was so, so painful. At night we took them off. My feet are not really small, but not the size they should be – they are deformed.

Bound Feet 1

After about two years the binding process was over. I didn't want to bind my feet but I had no choice. These days I wear shoes designed for kids as I can't find adults shoes to fit. My mum always told me that if I didn't bind my feet and make them small, no boy would want me.

I had two brothers but they both died at a very young age. They were outside near our house when a plane dropped a bomb and unfortunately it killed them both. We found out after that the bomb was supposed to be dropped on a village close by where Chinese soldiers were working and living.

Bound Feet 12

My husband died in 1948. He was sick and we had no money to see a doctor or buy any medicine. He was a soldier. We had seven children – two girls and five boys. I remember the happiest time was before I was married; after marriage, life was hard. In 1959, there were about 40 people all living together in one big place – the ladies used to have to cook and clean, look after the children and grow vegetables and corn.

Eggs and meat were hardly ever eaten as we didn't have the money to buy them. We used to eat a lot of radishes as that was easy to grow. I have never really eaten meat and I would say that is one of the reasons I’m still alive today. Apart from my eyes, everything else works fine. My hearing is still very good too.

Interview by Cameron Hack

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