The Heavenly Foot Society. Founder: John MacGowan

Foot binding was a custom practiced on Chinese girls and women for a thousand years. Then a few people organized a society to end it.

In Chinese society, bound feet were considered beautiful.

The practice also limited women’s mobility and was sometimes seen as a mark of status (the woman did not have to work), or a mark of male ownership (a woman was dependent on the males in her household).

After the First Opium War, China signed the 1842 Treaty of Nanking with Britain, which forced the Qing government to open the five ports.

More missionaries came to China and began to oppose foot binding, because they thought it was discriminatory against females.

In 1875, 60-70 Christian women in Xiamen met with a missionary, John MacGowan, and formed the Natural Foot (tianzu, literally Heavenly Foot) Society. That is how the first voices were raised against footbinding. The Woman’s Christian Temperance Movement  founded in 1883 and advocated by missionaries including Timothy Richard, who thought that Christianity could promote equality between the sexes.

The writings of Timothy Richard would influence Chinese reformers in the coming years. 

That was a success; that was a triumph over evil.

I would like to draw your attention to the invention that made that triumph possible.

The students at the Chinese University asked Scott Sunquist, “Is it true,” they asked Scott, “that Christian missionaries organized the first society to oppose the practice of foot binding?” “Yes.”

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