Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - China’s bound feet women on display at AMMO Jewellery Workshops

China’s bound feet women on display at AMMO Jewellery Workshops

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Documentary photographer Jo Farrel spent years taking photos of old Chinese women who underwent the ancient tradition of foot binding when they were young girls. jo farrel

China’s bound feet women on display at AMMO Jewellery Workshops

A moving photography exhibition displaying the ancient Chinese tradition of women with bound feet is being held in Siem Reap, as the city hosts the 10-day-long 14th annual Angkor Photo Festival.

The exhibition, Bound Feet Women of China, displays the work of Jo Farrell, a Hong Kong-based documentary photographer.

Farrel said she began the project in 2004, spending years taking photos of old Chinese women who underwent the ancient, but now extinct, tradition of foot binding when they were young girls.

“Most people told me it was a tradition from the past and there were no women left with bound feet."

“But I met a taxi driver who took me to his grandmother’s village in Shandong province, that’s where I met Zhang Yun Ying. She became the first woman in my project,” she said.

In 2014, Farrel published a book on the topic – Living History: Bound Feet Women of China – featuring portraits and photographs of Chinese women who have undergone the process.

In the book, she explains that the practice became fashionable during the reign of Chinese Emperor Li Yu in the 10th century.

Young women, aged between seven and 15 years, would have their feet bound together to modify the shape and reduce the size of their feet. The desired final result became known as “lotus feet”.

“The first year is particularly excruciating because the girls are made to walk until their toes would break under their weight and become numb. But 50 or 60 years later, they don’t have any pain in their feet.”

Farrel explains that lotus feet represented feminine beauty to those who practised the tradition, with the excruciating process to achieve them showing that the women were able to endure great hardship and “serve as better wives”.

By the mid-19th century, it was estimated that 40-50 per cent of Chinese women had bound feet. But after it was banned in 1912, the tradition increasingly became stigmatised, with virtually no new cases recorded after 1949.

Today, there remain only a select few elderly Chinese women with bound feet, acting as living relics of a by-gone era.

Farrel’s photos will be displayed at jewellery brand and social enterprise, AMMO Jewellery Workshops, in Siem Reap. The organisation provides disadvantaged children training in crafting jewellery from recycled silver and brass bullet casings.

Farrel insists that her photographs are not intended to sensationalise the topic, but educate people on what lengths women will go to in order to be accepted in their societies.

To this end, she previously photographed the Kayan women of Myanmar, who wear brass coils to elongate their necks.

“The Siem Reap exhibition will excite and provoke, encourage empathy and understanding and instigate reflection,” she said.

Zelda Cheatle, a world-renowned curator and photography lecturer based in London, praised Farrel’s work as “considered and thoughtful”, saying a “joy, calm and happiness” emanated from her subjects.

Farrel’s exhibition, Bound Feet Women of China, opened on December 9 at the AMMO Jewellery Workshops and will run until December 18. Entrance is free.


  • Body of woman killed in Bangkok returns

    The Cambodian embassy in Thailand is working to repatriate the body of a casino dealer who was shot dead in Bangkok on Monday night. Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation spokesman Kuy Kuong told The Post on Wednesday that officials are preparing paperwork to

  • Chikungunya hits 15 provinces, says gov’t

    Ministry of Health spokeswoman Or Vandine said on Thursday that the chikungunya outbreak in the Kingdom has spread to 15 provinces. Some 1,700 people are now suspected to have the disease. Vandine urged people to prevent its further spread by eliminating shelters for the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes

  • Gov’t exempts visa A and B holders from Covid fees

    Airline passengers who are diplomats and officials of international organisations holding Type A and B visas for travel to Cambodia are exempted from paying Covid-19 testing fees, said the Ministry of Health in its latest adjustment of rules on Wednesday. Health Minister Mam Bun Heng

  • Bill covering dress code draws ire

    Ministry of Interior secretary of state Ouk Kim Lek responded on Tuesday to criticism concerning a draft law that would ban women from wearing overly revealing clothing, saying that input from all parties will be considered as the law moves through the promulgation process. Several

  • Passing the test: Is Cambodia’s education system failing its people?

    The Kingdom’s education system needs to grow its people but some flaws might stifle​ this growth Coming from the Khmer Rouge occupation, with the loss of many scholars and academicians and a collapsed government, the education system had to be reconstructed from scratch – one

  • What’s the deal with Cambodia and China’s FTA?

    Cambodia’s Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China kicks off a series of FTAs in future but for now, critics wonder what else the parties could bring to the table apart from what it already has to date By the end of this year, Cambodia