SEKINCHAN, Malaysia (Reuters Life!) - Lim Guan Siew once had bound feet that were considered the height of feminine beauty in China, but the 93-year-old who now lives in Malaysia says it is a fate she wishes she had avoided.
Lim, whose family fled Fujian province in southern China in 1946 during the country’s civil war and settled in Malaysia, was born in 1917 and first had her feet bound when she was seven years old.
Foot binding was officially banned in 1912, but families continued the practice despite it being illegal, especially in remote areas.
“My family wasn’t very rich, but I bound my feet just because I wanted to get married,” the softly-spoken woman said in her home in Sekinchan, a small Malaysian town some 90 kms (56 miles) from the Malaysian capital.
Instead of the 3-inch “golden lotus” feet that many rich families aspired to when their daughters’ feet were bound, Lim’s now unbound feet have grown to 5 inches in length, but she still needs special shoes, manufactured locally to fit her.
Lim is one of a very few ethnic Chinese women who still have to live with their deformity. Many have passed away.
Aged seven, Lim’s mother started the process of breaking and binding her daughter’s feet to achieve the then-ideal of perfection and Lim recalls bathing her feet every three to five days in order to bend them the desired pointed shape.
It took Lim more than a year before she said she could walk again with feet that had been molded to conform to an ideal that pervaded some parts of China from the 10th century to the start of the 20th.
“I would never do that if I had a second chance,” Lim said with a smile as she admired her new shoes, hand-made by a Malaysian shoemaker whose business specializes in making shoes for the “golden lotus” women.
When Lim, then aged 30 arrived in Malaysia with her 10-year-old daughter, she was forced to work as an agricultural laborer according to her son, not an easy task for a woman with deformed feet.
The tiny leather shoes that Lim was so proud of came last week from “Wah Aik,” a shop in the Malaysian coastal city of Malacca, some 200 km away, that once had a lucrative business supplying the needs of the Chinese community in this mainly Muslim country in Southeast Asia.
Yeo Eng Tong, Tony Yeo and Raymond Yeo, are the third generation of shoemakers in the family business that started in 1918 and who say that foot-binding was not practiced by the substantial locally born Chinese population that started settling here in the 15th century.
“My father told me all the bound feet ladies came to this shop to order shoes, all of them came in trishaws or cars, in the 1960s and 1970s,” said Raymond Yeo.
“Most of the shoes are sold to tourists as souvenirs, although sometimes we may receive orders from ladies with bound feet, but it’s fewer now,” said Tony Yeo in their shop in a district now popular with tourists.
“It will disappear soon, we just can’t help it,” added Raymond.
Editing by David Chance and Miral Fahmy