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In this paper, through an investigation of a pair of Manchu women's 'horse-hoof' shoes, I will explore the relationship between Manchu and Han Chinese women's footwear. I will do this first by analysing the artefacts and the way in which objects like these feature inChinese materials of the period and secondary works on Manchu studies; and secondly by using evidence provided by ethnographic observations of the recent past and comparing aspects of Manchu and Han Chinese cultures.

Each shoe consists of two separate parts: a fabric upper and a wooden heel. With a sole at the bottom made of hemp-covered wood supporting a decorative embroidered upper, the shoe comprises two contrasting kinds of materials. The bottom of the sole was padded with layers of cotton, suggesting that the shoe would have been worn indoors or only on special occasions. Even though the toes are slightly pointed, the right and left shoes are interchangeable.

According to art historian Verity Wilson, 'the embroidered uppers were often made by women at home, and these decorated parts were sent out to a professional cobbler to be made up'. However, there has been little study of the origins and development of Manchu shoes. Historical texts tell us that Manchu women never bound their feet and that Manchus traditionally made shoes out of wood. Tradition also holds that the thick-soled shoe was first created by a goddess to keep off the dust and insects when she had to walk in the mud.

When Manchu dress and hairstyle were reshaped in the mid-nineteenth century, 'horse-hoof' shoes became important accessories in Manchu fashion. The Victoria and Albert Museum's collection has several pairs of Manchu 'horse-hoof' shoes. One pair is covered with blue satin and has lace edges, evidence of the importation of Western material culture after the Opium war with Britain in , when China was forced to shift its trade policy to open the port to western goods.

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A pair of male shoes in the collection has uppers of black-dyed cotton, with a geometric weave of varying stitched designs. These have thicker soles but the same edged satin stitch as the women's pair discussed in this essay. According to Chinese fashion historian Valery M. Garrett, this black-edged satin stitch which also appears on Manchu gowns was adopted because it was easier to care for, as the stitching providing more strength at the border of the textile. It was the popular style for over two hundred years in the south of China, particularly in Guangdong, and later became the popular standard style for the labouring class during the s and the s.

Sun Yan-Zhen, in her recent book, 'Women's Fashion Studies in Qing Dynasty', asserts that the 'horse-hoof' sole of the Manchu shoe can be seen to be imitating features of the Han Chinese footbinding shoe. The implications and usage of the terms 'tianzu' and 'dajiou' should be clarified. It is unclear exactly why Chinese people were describing Manchu women's natural or unbound feet as 'heavenly', but it should be noted that 'tianzu' was a term of foreign inspiration, first voiced in when British missionary John MacGowan held a meeting of the Heavenly Foot Society of Amoy Xiamen.

It was an early anti-footbinding campaign that later contributed to the Republican Chinese feminism movement in the s. As Dorothy Ko explains, 'The significance of the category tianzu lies in the transnational context of its birth and its overt Christian justification'. Recounted by Chinese ethnographer Zhou Hong, a folk song called 'Making shoes', from a Manchu village of Liaoning province, makes humorous use of the term. Looking for a woodworker to make a shoe heel Looking for a woodworker to make a shoe sole Using a roll and half of satin thread, using eight boxes of silk Spending three years finally making a shoe Calling a girl to try it on, neither too short nor too long Big feet dajiou small shoe hard to fit it on The girl's left foot could crush eight tigers The girl's right foot could crush nine wolves.

Ink on paper, 20 x In Manchu society, women rode horses and hunted.


This woman belonged to one branch of the Manchu ethnic group called the Hezhe???? In the picture we can see that she wears a winter leather robe, with belt and fastened long stock. She also wears gloves and natural-sized shoes. At the left side of the print are depicted a small crossbow and a marten she has killed.

As a tribute to the Qing government, the Hezhe group had to send marten skins every year. This picture indicates that Manchu women had to hunt as much as any men in their tribe. It also suggests that Manchu women's 'big feet' were requirements of their traditional nomadic life. The 'horse-hoof' shoe was not only fashionable among Manchu women, but also made them appear taller; the shoe reshaped the body.

Together with the new longer 'qipao,' it brought an alternative standard for feminine beauty that contrasted with the bodily aesthetic of Han Chinese women. The 'horse-hoof' shoe and the 'qipao' seem to indicate that Manchu women were not only conscious of their different ethnicity to that of Han Chinese women, but also of their appearance. The significance of Han Chinese elite women's fashion was related to their footbinding.

Why study Manchu?

The female body was an object to be seen, a fact signalled not only by dress and footwear but also by the very way they walked and moved. A particular design issue that arose in this context was how Manchu women could perform their femininity while wearing 'a long Daoist robe. Han Chinese women were supposed to walk discreetly, while the Manchu 'qipao' and high-soled, noisy shoes made their wearers more conspicuous when they were walking. Some courtesans' and wealthy women's shoes were ornamented with jewels and bells in order to draw still further attention to them when walking.

Fashionable adaptation and influence were both the result of interactions between Manchu and Han Chinese women.

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Dorothy Ko has argued that the bans Manchu rulers issued on footbinding brought the opposite effect, causing the practice to become an ethnic marker and to spread among Han Chinese of all classes. As Ko argues, 'Two deliberate policies of the Manchu state might have inadvertently contributed to its popularity among non-elite families: the futile early-Qing efforts to ban footbinding as a signpost of Han Chinese identity and the eighteenth-century promotion of the cotton industry in rural areas'.

Susan Mann has suggested that 'we can plausibly assume that…the desirability of footbinding and spread of women's home handicrafts in peasant households were systematically linked'. In Qing economic policy, women were encouraged to undertake spinning and weaving of cotton at home. In the coastal area of China, cotton was of more economic benefit than rice.

In some areas, like Nanhui County near Shanghai, peasant women played an important role in supporting the family economy, by toiling in the fields on a seasonal basis. This raises the possibility that footbinding helped some women to avoid work in the fields. The 'Nanhui County Gazetteer' depicts the situation of womanly work in the nineteenth-century as follows:.

The women weave in order to supplement the [family] income and provide clothing and food. This is true not just for village settlements but also for the townships The rate of woven cloth is one bolt pi per day but sometimes they can reach two bolts per day. They [women] work through the night without sleeping. The income men earn from the harvest of the fields goes to official coffers to pay interest and is exhausted before the year has even come to an end.

For their food and clothing [the family] relies utterly on [the work of] women. Figure 3 - Women sewing, China Qing Dynasty , about Watercolour on paper, 35 x 42 cm. This suggests that economic policy may have helped to spread the practice of footbinding in Han Chinese society.

Manchu horse-hoof shoes: Footwear and cultural identity - Victoria and Albert Museum

Traditionally, women were not allowed to join outdoor activities in feudal Han Chinese society; footbinding practices enforced this belief and ensured that they work at home. Wilson states, 'We know, however, that in there were 1, working people in Suzhou engaged in embroidery work and that these were principally women and young girls'. This picture reveals that these feet are also for working.

Women might prefer to work at home rather than in the fields.

China Review International

While Qing policy may have lead to the increase of Han Chinese women who bound their feet, some may have done so in the hope of changing their social class by copying upper class women's footbinding. As Georg Simmel argued, 'In a certain sense fashion gives woman a compensation for her lack of position in a class based on a calling or profession'.

Simmel continues, 'Naturally the lower classes look and strive to towards the upper, and they encounter the least resistance in those fields which are subject to the whims of fashion; for it is here that mere external imitation is most readily applied'. There were several occasions when the Qing government tried to stop the Han custom of women's footbinding.


All failed; indeed, the practice increased. However, at the same time Manchu and Han Chinese exchanged and shared fashion styles and motifs. The second half will place Rhoads' study in the context of several topical discussions regarding these representations and comment on the ways in which Rhoads' achievements may guide further efforts in the field. Rhoads' Introduction starts with Liang Qichao's "social Darwinist reading of history," according to which "racial competition" and "racial conflicts" between the superior Han and the inferior Manchus were applied to explain the survival of China's "yellow race" when threatened by the European "white race" pp.

To address the critical issues in Liang's understanding of China's crisis at the end of the Qing dynasty, Rhoads argues for a systematic study of the late Qing court in response to the problems in Manchu-Han relations, especially during "the last decade of the dynasty," which has been a neglected period pp. Rhoads thus intends in this book to connect the historical events centering on Manchu-Han relations and to examine how the various ethnic and political groups were motivated by these events.

These groups include the leading Manchus at the court, the leading Han officials inside the Qing government, the Manchu commoners outside the court, the Han rebels under Manchu rule, the constitutional reformers, and the revolutionaries. In his Introduction, Rhoads develops a convincing analysis in which he elaborates on the historical definition of the Manchus, the gap between the Manchus and the Han over several stages of the Qing dynasty, the identity issues before and during the Revolution, and the question of why the Manchus fell from power.

His statement that "the continuing inability of the Qing court Project MUSE promotes the creation and dissemination of essential humanities and social science resources through collaboration with libraries, publishers, and scholars worldwide. Forged from a partnership between a university press and a library, Project MUSE is a trusted part of the academic and scholarly community it serves. Built on the Johns Hopkins University Campus. This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.

Without cookies your experience may not be seamless. Institutional Login. LOG IN. China Review International. In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content: Reviewed by:. Edward J.

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  5. Rhoads' Accomplishment Rhoads' Introduction starts with Liang Qichao's "social Darwinist reading of history," according to which "racial competition" and "racial conflicts" between the superior Han and the inferior Manchus were applied to explain the survival of China's "yellow race" when threatened by the European "white race" pp.