'I am 102 years old, and I have seen a lot'

The oldest lady in Beijing with bound feet tells her remarkable stories

All images: Cameron Hack/Humans of China
I am one of the last remaining ladies in Beijing with bound feet, and probably the oldest. My mum started to bind my feet at the age of six. The bones in the feet are still soft then, so it's a good time to start the process. I didn't really know what was happening, but I trusted and listened to my mother. Back then, all women had bound feet so it was a pretty normal thing. I used white cloth to bind them from the age of six up to the liberation of China in 1949, when I released them. My feet used to be smaller.

In old age, I am happy and healthy, and I have my family around to look after me. For my 100th birthday, we had a big party in our village with all my family. I'd never ever thought that I'd make it to this age as life before was tough, with no food for years and lots of hard work. At about the age of nine, the Red Army and the National Army were fighting around our village. We had to run away into the mountains, where we found a cave and hid away. That was one of the scariest times of my life.

Bound Feet 4

I never had the chance to go to school, only boys had that chance back then. If you were rich, you could have hired a private teacher to educate children but we were too poor. Girls stayed at home and had to learn to make shoes and clothes. If you couldn’t make or mend clothes or shoes it would have been hard to find a husband to marry.

I married at the age of 16. I was the youngest girl in our village to marry at that time. My family arranged it for me, and the day I married was the day I met my husband. I think he knew that I had bound feet but he didn't see them until our wedding day. After we married, my job was to look after him and his family – to cook, clean, make clothes and make shoes. I made my current shoes myself, but a while ago. I made a few pairs in advance as, nowadays, my eyes aren't good and my hands shake. But I am happy. I now have the chance to wear beautiful clothes and eat well.

Interview by Cameron Hack

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