Construction

Though shoe styles varied from region to region, no one style can be attributed to any specific region of China. A bride may have grown up in one province and made her shoes of a local design, then moved to her husband’s province where the design was quite different. In the cities, most of the shoes were made from silk. In villages and poorer sections of the country, cotton was used because it was less expensive and more durable. The shoes varied greatly in style according to area, climate, lifestyle and according to fashion. To make the foot look smaller, a higher heel was often added. The hard working peasants couldn’t afford high heels, to indulge in changing fashions, consequently, they made their shoes in inexpensive cottons. In northern China, larger shoes were common, as the northerners were physically taller and heavier as a rule.

Both the toe and the heel of the foot had to fit into the shoe, but in order to make their feet seem smaller, many women held their heel in the top of the shoe because the shoes were made shorter than the foot.

Manchu women were forbidden to marry the Chinese or adopt the practise of footbinding by law. Many Manchu men, however, found the bound foot exotic, so Manchu women wore shoes elevated on platforms which narrowed at the bottom. This gave the appearance of having a bound foot, and allowed them to adopt the special walk.

Embroidery

The embroidery on the shoes was hand sewn by the women who was to wear them, though younger girls often enlisted the help of mothers and sisters. Commercial patterns were available, but many women made up their own designs, specific to region and personality. This was the only time in a Chinese woman’s life where creativity was encouraged. The lotus flower, a symbol for summer, purity and fruitfulness was perhaps the most popular. Chinese characters, leaves, animals, fish and flowers were also used in embroidered decoration. The bottom of the shoes could be embroidered as well. As many wealthy women spent their days sitting with their feet up, it was important that the bottom of the shoes be just as attractive as the sides.