Last week an old pair of Italian black leather sandals that I loved gave up the ghost. I had only brought a limited number of shoes/sandals with me to China and this pair were particularly useful because they were extremely comfortable and could be worn with both smart and casual clothes. I have had them repaired several times over the years, indeed I intend to see if I can coax another year of life out of them by having them repaired again.
In the mean time I need a replacement pair so I set off on a shoe shopping expedition. As China is now the country that manufactures the largest number of casual shoes in the world and supplies the world with over 60% of their shoes I didn’t think it would be a problem finding a pair I liked.
I went to a nearby shopping mall called Shin Kong Place which is like Harvey Nichols on steroids. Acres of gleaming marble, and all the famous luxury brands have shops there (the real thing, not rip-offs). Ferragamo, Prada, Max Mara, Gucci, you name it, they were there; and to top it all Shin Kong has a whole floor the size of St Pancras Station totally devoted to the most fabulous shoes.
After finding five designs that met my criteria I found an assistant and asked to try them on. ‘No’ I was told, ‘they don’t come in your size’…..’well which styles do come in my size?’…. ‘no shoes come in your size, your size is too big’. Well!!!
I slunk away feeling suitably chastened and yet my feet are very much in the middle range of shoe sizes – not large but not small, a European size 40. The top size anyone over here stocks is a 39 and they seem to regard that as huge.
What is it with Chinese women and tiny feet? Way back in the 10th/11th century the nobility started binding the feet of little girls when they reached the age of three, and they grew up with hideously deformed small feet – Golden Lotuses they were called – and over the centuries the practice became so wide-spread that it would seriously damage a woman’s marital prospects if she did not have chánzú (bound feet). Golden Lotuses were often considered intensely erotic. Indeed some Qing dynasty sex manuals list no less than 48 ways of playing with women’s bound feet.
The practice of foot binding was forbidden in 1912, but people still carried on doing it so it wasn’t until it was outlawed by the Communists in 1949 that it finally stopped.
Much good it has done me; their shoes are still tiny and I feel I’m like the woman in the Fats Waller song:
Your feets too big
Don’t want cha, ’cause ya feets too big
Mad at you, ’cause your feets too big
I hate you, ’cause your feets too big