cover image Every Step a Lotus: Shoes for Bound Feet

Every Step a Lotus: Shoes for Bound Feet

Dorothy Ko. University of California Press, $45 (162pp) ISBN 978-0-520-23283-9

One of the best known, most torturous examples of fashionable alteration is Chinese foot binding. In Every Step a Lotus: Shoes for Bound Feet, Barnard College history professor Dorothy Ko looks at the making and wearing of lotus shoes, the footwear for women with bound feet. Along the way she discredits some simplistic popular notions about foot binding and emphasizes the economic and social problems that it addressed. While the practice began as an exclusive custom of leisured elites, Ko explains, it spread to the peasantry in the 17th and 18th centuries, resulting in such incongruous artifacts as lotus rainboots and galoshes. Color photographs throughout the book illustrate Ko's explanation of shoemaking, foot binding and the symbolism of the shoes' decorations, though the beauty of the shoes (and this book, which includes step-by-step, how-to instructions for binding) belies the pain of the wearers. ( Dec.)