'The groom and his family first looked at my feet, not my face'

One of the last ladies in Beijing with bound feet talks of love and loss

All images: Cameron Hack/Humans of China
I was born in 1922, so I am 96 years old. I am one of the last remaining ladies in Beijing with bound feet and I am the only one left in my village. I started to bind my feet around the age of six years old. It was a long and painful process taking a few years to complete, but I had no choice – every girl wants to marry, and when you're being told that if your feet are not bound then you won't be able to find a husband, you start to agree with the process. My feet were wrapped with bandages and the pain reached my knees. The cloth we used was very long and very smelly. My mum and sisters all had bound feet.

I married at the age of 15. The groom and his family first looked at my feet and not my face. His family told my mother that if my feet were not small then they wouldn't have allowed us to marry. They were so surprised at how small my feet were that they asked if I was born with some kind of disability. Back then, appearance wasn't important, the only thing that was important was the size of the woman’s feet.

My husband liked my feet whether they were bare or if I wore socks and shoes. He passed away when he was 54 years old. That was one of the saddest times of my life. I never wanted to marry again, as I still feel like we are married today. We've been married for around 80 years. We had five children, three girls and two boys, who are all still alive today. I gave birth to a sixth – the first child, a boy. Just after he was born, the Japanese invaded our village and we went on the run. Whilst running away from them, he died.

Bound Feet 3.

Before marrying, I didn't go to school, which was really unfair. But I was very tall, very nimble and very quick when I was younger – I could climb trees to collect fruits, dig soil, cook and clean, even though my feet were tiny. We were farmers and that's hard work. Even with bound feet I still had to work, and after a day's work, my feet were painful, again.

I lived a very tough life and when my children were young there was hardly anything to eat. I'd work hard to provide for them but when it wasn't enough, I'd have to borrow from other people. No matter how hungry I was, or how much I wanted and needed food, my children came first. I'd let them eat as much as they needed and if there was anything food left over then I would be able to eat but if not then I would go hungry.

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Even though I am old, I think I am healthy. I go to sleep early and wake up at around five in the morning. I'll put on my shoes, pick up my walking stick and take a walk around the courtyard. Each day, my daughter will help me carefully wash my feet with clean warm water, and when I need new shoes she will help me order them from the internet. They are custom-made and cost us around 300 yuan.

I have grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and hearing the news of them being born were some of the happiest times of my life. Festivals are very important to me, and at these times, we all gather together to eat and drink. It's lovely to see my huge family of five generations in one place.

I have had many journalists visit me, but I sometimes find this annoying. They just come to take a lot of photos of me and don't talk, but I have never been interviewed by a foreigner before. Today I am happy.

Interview by Cameron Hack

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