Document Type

Honors Project

First Advisor

Dr. Yuka Kishida

Degree Award Date

Spring 5-1-2020


footbinding, gender politics, advocacy, China, Brethren, colonialism, human rights


Asian History | Cultural History | History of Religion


This study examines footbinding as a mechanism for the marginalization of women in Late Imperial China. It assesses how the practice’s debilitating effects, coupled with the indoctrination of Neo-Confucian philosophy, facilitated the exclusion of women from Chinese society. Previous studies have overlooked, in part, the experiences of foot-bound women in discerning the ethicality of the practice. In clarifying scholars’ understanding over the nature of footbinding and positioning of women under the Qing dynasty, this study analyzes the ways in which Church of the Brethren missionaries supplemented state modernization efforts at the provincial and local levels. Although such efforts were intended to strengthen and unify the imperial state, contemporary research suggests that anti-footbinding activists were not universally concerned with the status of women. Certain actors attempted to frame footbinding as a national embarrassment in order to garner support from Western audiences and compensate for the failing Qing court. Despite officials’ resistance towards national level reform, government oversight in advancing the rights of women seems to have allotted for a greater role of regional and transnational actors in the anti-footbinding movement. Underlying the nationalist sentiment of the Xinhai Revolution, the nexus of these advocacy efforts played an integral role in revitalizing the status of women under the emerging Republic of China.

Recommended Citation

McCrickard, Benjamin B.A. "Bound at the Feet of Men: Encounters with Footbinding, Femininity and Progressivism amid a Divided China, 1840-1920." Senior Honors Projects, Bridgewater College, 2020.