Three Inch Lotus Feet 三寸金蓮
UPDATED JULY 2020
WHAT ARE LOTUS FEET?
Have you ever heard of lotus feet? In ancient China and all the time up till the Qing Dynasty which ended at the beginning of the last century, binding women’s feet was common amongst the rich and the elite. If you haven’t heard of this before, this is what happens. Girls feet are wrapped tightly in fabric from a young age to stop them growing, and by the time they are a grown up woman their feet are still quite tiny. Think 4 inches. These are called lotus feet.
大家應該聽過以前傳統中國富貴女性會纏足。 你們又有沒有看過手工做的三寸金蓮呢? 馬來西亞馬六甲一天遊，讓我遇上這門已漸漸失去的傳統手工藝 。 楊先生是這家華益鞋莊的老闆， 爺爺的年代已開始做三寸金蓮。可惜直到他這一代已沒有後人再有興趣學這門手藝。 窄腳是一個是殘暴的行為， 讓當年很多大家閨秀，千金小姐吃過不少苦頭 。幸好現今的女性不用再接受這樣的折磨。今天的三寸金蓮已成為收藏和紀念品，而楊先生也隨著時代的變遷開始多元化發展做南洋拖鞋。 感謝楊先生讓我在店內多了解這個遠久的歷史和傳統。
The process of binding feet deforms it, as basically all the toes are squashed together and even curled under towards the sole. Ouch!!!! I can’t imagine the pain the ladies had to go through. Small feet are thought to be beautiful and represent a status symbol for the wealthy and elite as it limits mobility. If you’re not rich enough you can’t afford to be waited on hand and foot all your life. With such beauty and wealth, you need beautiful shoes. These shoes are called Three Inch Golden Lotus. The Chinese three-inch roughly equates to the western four inch, and is considered the perfect size for lotus feet.
During a trip to Malaysia, I went to Malacca and stumbled onto this shoe shop which has been making Golden Lotus shoes for three generations. I had a chat with the owner Mr Yeo and he was very kind to let me take photos around the shop.
At the front of the shop are a couple of framed articles about foot binding and lotus feet. If you want to understand more about it you can check out the website for Mr Yeo’s shop. There’s an interesting article which tells the story of the Lotus Feet. Do be prepared for some not too pleasant photos though.
SHOES FOR LOTUS FEEET
Of course, today no one wears the Lotus Shoes anymore, they’re more of a collector’s item or bought as souvenirs. All the exquisite Lotus Shoes are handmade by Mr Yeo and family, and comes in different colours. The fabric is traditional Chinese style fabric, you may recognise them from handbags if you have bought any souvenirs from China. I dare not touch the shoes as they seemed so delicate, and it was really hard to believe that they would have been worn by a grown up woman as recent as a hundred years ago.
My Yeo also makes traditional Nyonya beaded shoes. Nyonya is the Chinese immigrants who came to Malaysia and the surrounding countries around the 15th to 17th century and these shoes dates back to the 20th century. They form part of the traditional outfit. I think it’s really amazing how you can apply the skills in shoemaking from one tradition and culture to another. I feel like they have bridged two worlds together.
I would have loved to stay around to chat with Mr Yeo and understand more about this traditional handicraft but my husband felt that we shouldn’t bother him for too long and shoo’ed me to leave. I thanked Mr Yeo for his kindness, took a few more photos outside the shop and reluctantly left this piece of history.