Pain and agony in the name of art

Pain and agony in the name of art

Foot-binding, a Chinese tradition dating back to the 12th century, has given way to modern sensibilities and compassion. Today, the tiny footwear of this imperial practice has become a collector’s item.

When the Peranakan community emigrated to then-Malaya in the 15th to 17th centuries, they brought the practice along with them. Today one person who keeps the tradition – though not the practice – alive is Raymond Yeo. He continues to make these three-inch footwear at his old straits-theme shop on Jonker Street in Melaka.

The shoes are sold at RM90 or more a pair. Purchasers can choose to have their prized collection encased in glass.

According to Yeo, just in Melaka alone, there were as many as 1,000 women with bound feet back in the 1920s. The practice died in the late 1990s. By 1992, there were only about a dozen of these women still alive.

The practice was introduced during the Song Dynasty. Girls had their feet bound when they were about three years old. Their feet were kept small so they could fit into tiny shoes. Bound feet, a painful process, was nonetheless deemed a symbol of wealth and status.

Today, these shoes are seen as works of art. Apart from shoes for bound feet, Yeo also makes and sells hand-made beaded shoes.