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The origin of foot binding can be traced back to the Five Dynasties. The last Emperor of South Tang, Li Yu, allegedly ordered his concubine to dance in front of him in bound feet on top of a 'Golden Lily Platform'. The binding of feet instantly became a symbol of feminine beauty and royal approval. The practice of foot binding thus spread across the nation and soon became a custom that lasted for over a thousand year in China.
Girls of every family (except in remote areas and poor families) had their feet bound as early as four to six years old. The feet were washed, soaked in warm water with herbs and massaged, prior to be bound. A white cloth of a meter long was used. The big toe was left alone, with the rest of the toes bent downward under the sole of the foot to form a 'pointed lily bud'. The middle section of the foot was then bent to reduce the distance between the toes and the heel. This shape was kept by the binding of the foot. Bones were often broken during the process. The girl was then asked to wear a small pair of slippers (see picture above). The size of the slipper would be reduced, as the binding was wrapped progressively tighter during a course of about two years. Feet that were less than three inched in length were called 'Golden Lilies'. Feet that were four inches and five inches in length were known as 'Silver Lilies' and 'Iron Lilies' respectively.
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