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  • Pair of red silk shoes with blue binding and white silk moon gate. Pointed toe, low heel, textile covered sole with visible stitching.
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Throughout many parts of Asia, Mandarin ducks are a symbol of marital harmony. Although a mated pair differs from each other in appearance, they form a perfect union. Chinese women with bound feet would sometimes allude to this when making shoes. When making a pair of “Mandarin duck” shoes, a woman would make each shoe in a similar shape but would embroider different designs and symbols on each shoe. This pair features different symbols, designs, and different fabrics on soles.

Mandarin duck gin lien
Ningbo, China, c. 1910
BSM P02.25

Small Stories

Imperial China

Chinese women of Han ethnicity had their feet bound when they were young girls. For more than 1,000 years, artificially dainty feet were considered an attribute of beauty as well as a means of conveying status and ethnic identity. Shoes also highlighted prized embroidery skills, as girls were responsible for making their own shoes.

When a girl reached marriageable age, a matchmaker would take a pair of her shoes to potential suitors, as the shoes conveyed a great deal of information about the girlís education and social class. Once a match was made, a young bride would make her wedding shoes, as well as other shoes for both herself and the women of her husbandís household. Many of these shoes incorporated symbolism that proclaimed the young brideís desire for a happy, fruitful and prosperous marriage.