In rural China, where the neon lights of the country’s big cities don’t shine, traces of the old country remain—hidden in tiny shoes.
Foot binding, the cruel practice of mutilating the feet of young girls, was once pervasive in turn-of-the-century China, where it was seen as a sign of wealth and marriage eligibility. For a millennium—from the 10th to 20th centuries—the practice flourished on and off, deeply ingrained in Chinese society. Even after it was outlawed in 1912, many women continued to clandestinely bind their daughters’ feet, believing it would make them more attractive to suitors.
For nearly a decade, British photographer Jo Farrell has been traveling to far-flung Chinese provinces to track down the last surviving women with bound feet. At first, she was unaware that such women even still existed. But she has since uncovered a little-discussed and almost never seen practice that has endured in China’s aging female population. Forgotten by a society that hopes to bury any trace of the “old China” under skyscrapers and technology, the women readily bared their lotus-like feet for Farrell’s project, “Living History.”