‘It was extremely painful, night and day’

One of the last ladies with bound feet in Beijing tells of marriage and Mao

All images: Cameron Hack/Humans of China
I am 96 years old. I started to bind my feet at the age of seven, with the help of my mother. It took about two years, and it was extremely painful both night and day. I started so that I could find a husband, and she always told me that if I had big feet no one would want to marry me. I married at the age of 17. I didn't know him – it was arranged, and when his family met me, they first looked at my feet. They didn't care about much else. These days I can't buy shoes that fit me, so I buy small shoes for kids. I used to be able to make them myself but I am no longer able.

My husband passed away about ten years ago. We were farmers and we worked hard. I never had the chance to study, and have always thought that this was unfair, so farming was all I could really do. We were poor and we struggled with four children. The government used to give us tickets that we could use to buy things like food and cloth, and then the food we grew we could eat for ourselves.

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After the death of Chairman Mao in 1976, our local government chose some ladies to make a trip to Tiananmen Square to mourn his death. I was confused and didn't know what I was supposed to do. I remember many people around me crying, they were all very sad but I didn't really feel sad myself. I have seen big changes and I think China is a lot stronger than before. When I was younger, I saw the Japanese and, as soon as I saw them I'd run away as fast as I could. They were scary and we were all scared of them.

Now I am the happiest I've ever been, although I can't really remember many sad times. I live with my son and his wife who take good care of me. I can still cook, but they worry about me so they don't let me. When I feel bored at home, I'll take a walk outside with my walking stick and chat with my neighbours, or sit and watch the world go by. In four more years, I'll be 100 years old – I hope I make it!

Interview by Cameron Hack

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