What was it like to walk with bound feet?

This is the question that I am thinking about at the moment during the development of my performance for Bound Feet Blues. How would having bound feet have affected the way you would walk? How would it have affected your outlook on life, going through the process of the brutal procedure over a number of years and then having to live the rest of your life crippled in this way?

You will have seen my earlier blog post about the film Snow Flower and The Secret Fan and also the clip which I posted showing the footbinding scene from that movie.

That film has been a useful resource in depicting the way that women with bound feet would have walked.

The movie seems quite careful and meticulous about depicting bound feet – after all the whole premise of the story is founded on the women having bound feet. They show what bound feet would have looked like in their little socks and slippers. In long shots, we can see the tiny feet under the women’s gowns (I’d love to know what special effects they used to make the women’s feet seem so small). It looks like in the performances as well, care was taken to depict how women would have moved with bound feet.

I watched those sequences carefully where the bound feet protagonists Snow Flower and her friend Lily are in movement and here are my impressions:

# They move faster than I thought they would. It’s not an old woman’s walk as I imagined they would have ie doddery and frail. There is young women’s energy in their movement and it is not too different from a slow-ish walking pace.

# They are unsteady on their feet and there is a wobble as they walk. Towards the end, as Lily approaches Snow Flower’s sickbed and bends down to sit, she is distinctly unsteady.

# The wealthy one of the friends has a hand maiden who accompanies her wherever she goes so that the bound foot lady can lean on her and be helped to move along.

# The maids and servant women are shown running and moving quickly whereas the bound feet women move more slowly.

# In one section, the bound feet women have to escape from rebels attacking the village and have to walk for miles along country tracks when their ox cart breaks down. That night, they have to huddle together around a makeshift camp in the forest. My book based research tells me that it would have been very difficult for them to get down onto the ground and also get back up to a standing position with bound feet because of the leverage and pressure needed on your feet in those situations. I’ve got down to the floor and stood up to observe the mechanics needed – you need to use the balls of your feet and toes as well as numerous muscle movements in your feet to do these two actions. Trying to do either without those actions ie simply on my heels was virtually impossible!

So now – having watched and analysed the movie portrayal of how women would have walked with bound feet, it’s my turn to develop that walk for my performance. Wish me luck…



Yang-May Ooi is an award-winning TEDx speaker, bestselling author, story performer and coach. Her work uses the power of personal narrative to help creatives and others grow into confident, collaborative leaders. She is currently rehearsing a one woman story performance, Bound Feet Blues, which will be showcased in London’s West End in Oct 2014.

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