Archaeological Examples of Lotus Shoes, China

A number of ancient lotus shoes (small shoes for bound feet of Chinese women) are still extant.

They were recorded from the tombs of various elite women from the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) in China. Some of the earliest surviving lotus shoes come from the tomb of Lady Huang (1227-1243), at Fuzhous, in Fujian Province in southern China. Six pairs of flat soled shoes were recorded from the tomb. They had an average length of 13 cm and a width of 5 cm. In each case the shoe toes had a very prominent upturned shape. One pair of shoes was made from brown silk uppers with hemp soles. Along the top edge of the shoe is a band with a printed plum blossom motif. A bow made of a fine silk ribbon was sewn to the upturned tip of the shoes.

A pair of silver shoes with upturned feet was recorded from the tomb of Shi Shengzu, in Quzhou, Zheijiang Province. Shi Shengzu was a scholar who died in 1274. The name of his first wife, Luo Shuangshuang, was etched onto the sole. The shoes were funerary objects, especially made for burial. They are 14 cm long and 4.5 cm wide.

Of a similar date, but from the town of De’an, in Jiangxi Province, is the tomb of Madame Zhou (1240-1274), the daughter and wife of a government official. She was buried with seven pairs of shoes with flat soles and a panel at the back. The shoes have toes that curve upwards, albeit not so prominent as those from Lady Huang and Luo Shuangshuang noted above. Some of the shoes were decorated with a butterfly knot at the front of the upper.

Lotus shoes were also found in two (Great) Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) period tombs in northern China. The earliest shoe comes from the tomb of Madam Qian Yu, who died in 1320 and was buried in Wuxi, Jiangsu, in northeastern China. The lotus shoes are flat sole forms with a pointed tip and a high back. Of a slightly later date is a shoe from the Dove Cave, Longhua, Hebei Province, also in northeastern China. The shoe was found in a package of Yuan period documents and textiles that were discovered in the cave. The collection has been given a terminus ante quem of 1362. The shoe in question is a long ‘boat’ form with upright toe and a high back, like the Madam Qian Yu shoe. The Dove Cave shoe was embroidered with lotus, peony and plum blossoms on a green silk ground. The shoe was lined with white silk. In addition, the sole was stitched with hemp threads in a lozenge pattern. It would appear from the latter detail that patterns on the soles of shoes have a long history within the Chinese clothing repertoire.

A Ming Dynasty (1368-1644/62) lotus shoe was found in the tomb of a woman from Yangzhou, Jiangsu Province in northern China. This form is quite large in comparison to the shoes described above. A conspicuous feature is its upturned toe, but it is not as prominent as the shoe from the tomb of Madam Li (below). The Yangzhou shoe is made from two large uppers and a panel at the back of the shoe, similar to those described above. The sole is flat.

As noted above, a much more prominent upturned toe can be seen on a shoe from the tomb of Madam Li (1538-1556), Nanchang, Jiangxi, in southern China. The shoe has yellow brocade uppers and a flat sole. Again there is a panel attached to the back of the shoe. The same basic shape can be found on a shoe from the tomb of Madam Sun (1543-1582), again from Nanchang, Jiangxi in southern China. Again the shoe uppers are made from a yellow brocade. In this case, however, the sole is very different and takes the form of a thick pedestal, which does not come to the end of the shoe, creating the effect of an overhang. This style of sole could still be found in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the Qinghai area of central China.

See also: main types of Chinese lotus shoes.

See also the TRC digital exhibition Chinese lotus shoes (TRC, Leiden 2018).


Last modified on Wednesday, 25 April 2018 08:11