updated 24 Dec 2010, 13:20
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Thu, Jun 03, 2010
The Star
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Malaysia’s 93-year-old woman regrets having lotus feet

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 then Malaya, was born in 1917 and first had her feet bound when she was seven years old.

Foot binding was officially banned in China 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, Selangor.

Instead of the 7.5cm “golden lotus” feet that many rich families aspired to when their daughters’ feet were bound, Lim’s now unbound feet have grown to about 13cm 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.

At the age of 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 to the desired pointed shape.

It took Lim more than a year before she said she could walk again with feet that had been moulded 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 shoemaker in Malacca whose business specialises in making shoes for the “golden lotus” women.

When Lim, then aged 30 arrived in Malaya with her 10-year-old daughter, she was forced to work as an agricultural labourer – not an easy task for a woman with deformed feet.

The tiny leather shoes that Lim was so proud of came from Wah Aik Shoemaker in Malacca that once had a lucrative business supplying the needs of the Chinese community in this country.

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 practised 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 70s,” 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.

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