Heavenly Feet Society (Anti-Footbinding League) badge
China, around 1900
This is the badge of the Heavenly Feet Society, set up in opposition to the Chinese custom of binding the feet of young girls. Footbinding probably originated towards the end of the Tang dynasty (618-906), as a fashion among palace dancers. By the twelfth century it had become accepted throughout the imperial palace, and from then on the practice became increasingly common amongst the upper classes as a sign of gentility. The earliest recorded opponent to footbinding was a writer from the Song dynasty (960-1279) called Ch'e Jo-shui, and the Manchus who conquered China in the seventeenth century tried without success to abolish the practice. However, it was during the late nineteenth century that opposition became more widespread, and the abolition of footbinding became closely associated with the emancipation of women.
The first Unbound Foot Association was started by K'ang Yu-wei in Canton in 1894, later moving to Shanghai. This group had 10,000 followers. Other natural foot groups sprang up all over China, holding mass meetings and publishing songs and tracts. All members would vow not to bind their daughters' feet or let their sons marry girls with bound feet. Christian missionaries made natural feet a condition for entering church or boarding school. The Empress Dowager Tz'u-hsi issued an Anti-Footbinding Edict in 1902, and footbinding was officially prohibited in Taiwan in 1915. The revolutionaries who overthrew the Manchu government were equally determined to eliminate the practice and issued several decrees. Footbinding persisted for some years, mainly in rural areas, but eventually died out before the Second World War.
P. Attwood, Status symbols: identity and b (London, British Museum Press, 2004)