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Foot-binding resulted in lifelong disabilities for most of its subjects, and a few elderly Chinese women still survive today with disabilities related to their bound feet.

There are a number of stories about the origin of foot binding, one of these involves the story of a favorite consort of the Southern Qi emperor Xiao Baojuan, Pan Yunu (died 501 AD), who had delicate feet and danced barefoot on a floor decorated with golden lotus flower design.

This practice was called "toast to the golden lotus" and lasted until the late Qing dynasty..

However, no other foreign visitors to Yuan China mentioned the practice, including Ibn Battuta and Marco Polo (who nevertheless noted the dainty walk of Chinese women who took very small steps), perhaps an indication that it was not a widespread or extreme practice at that time.

By the end of the Song dynasty, men would drink from a special shoe whose heel contained a small cup.

During the Yuan dynasty, some would also drink directly from the shoe itself.

Foot binding was practiced in various forms and its prevalence varied in different regions.

A less severe form in Sichuan, called "cucumber foot" (huanggua jiao) due to its slender shape, folded the four toes under but did not distort the heel and taper the ankle.

In the 19th and early 20th century, dancers with bound feet were popular, as were circus performers who stood on prancing or running horses.

Women with bound feet in one village in Yunnan Province even formed a regional dance troupe to perform for tourists in the late 20th century, though age has since forced the group to retire.

The prevalence and practice of foot binding varied in different parts of the country. It has been estimated that by the 19th century, 40–50% of all Chinese women may have had bound feet, and up to almost 100% among upper class Han Chinese women.

In the later part of the 19th century, Chinese reformers challenged the practice but it was not until the early 20th century that foot binding began to die out as a result of anti-foot-binding campaigns.

The Manchus issued a number of edicts to ban the practice, first in 1636 when the Manchu leader Hong Taiji declared the founding of the new Qing dynasty, then in 1638, and another in 1664 by the Kangxi Emperor.

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