Footbinding: A Jungian Engagement with Chinese Culture and Psychology

Footbinding: A Jungian Engagement with Chinese Culture and Psychology

Footbinding: A Jungian Engagement with Chinese Culture and Psychology

Footbinding: A Jungian Engagement with Chinese Culture and Psychology


In this book Shirley See Yan Ma provides a Jungian perspective on the Chinese tradition of footbinding and considers how it can be used as a metaphor for the suffering of women and the repression of the feminine, as well as a symbol for hope, creativity and spiritual transformation.

Drawing on personal history, popular myths, literature, and work with clients, Footbinding discusses how modern women still symbolically find their feet bound through this ancient practice. Detailed case studies from Western and Asian women demonstrate how Jungian analysis can loosen these psychological bindings allowing the client to reconnect with the feminine archetype, discover their own identity and take control of their own destiny.

This original book will be of great interest to Jungian analysts looking for a new perspective. It will also be of interest to anyone studying Chinese culture and psychology.


This book chronicles my exploration of the psychological meaning of footbinding in traditional China. This project was initiated as the result of a chance encounter with an old Chinese lady with tiny bound feet in the woods outside the city of Zurich. I had then just arrived in Switzerland to attend the C.G. Jung Institute for my analytic training. Meeting this old lady inevitably triggered childhood memories of footbound women in my family and in the neighborhoods in Hong Kong where I grew up. In order to further understand my emotional reactions to this experience, I delved into the cultural history of China, including cosmology, mythology, legends, fairy tales, Confucianism, Taoism, literature, as well as case histories and dreams of clients, looking for some explanations for the origin and development of this archaic practice and to find out what impact it may have on the psyches of modern men and women.

During the 1000 years that footbinding was in practice, the young girl’s mother bound her feet - an excruciatingly painful practice that debilitated and crippled her, restricted her movement and grotesquely deformed her feet. Golden Lotus is the deceptively lovely name given to the tiny, mutilated and deformed bound feet of women in traditional China. This practice was carried out by the mother, but for the father - to ensure that his daughter would be a valuable, marriageable, physically beautiful bride. In other words, it was done so she would fit into and be, quite literally, confined by the strictures of an extremely patriarchal society. The practice of footbinding was abolished in the early days of the last century. Yet, occasionally, older women with bound feet can still be seen in China today, although their number is fast dwindling.

The early missionaries were appalled by the prevalence of footbinding in China and were active in their attempts to have this practice officially abolished. Chiu Chin (1875-1907) was the first female political activist to openly attack this practice and call for reforms that would end the subjugation and oppression of women in China. She found herself to be a lone voice against not only this brutal practice, but also the rigid Confucianist system that carried the weight of over 30 centuries. She was . . .

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