Questions that have always intrigued you about the world will appear in this, your section,
and be answered by other readers. Please address your answers and questions to ‘Curiosities’.
How did the Chinese custom of foot-binding originate?
I remember reading about it in a book about 76 years ago. It began because one of the princesses was born with club feet, so they passed a cruel law that all female babies have their feet bound up to be like the princess.
The origins are obscure but there is one theory: it was introduced through a form of dancing in the Tang dynasty (during the tenth and eleventh centuries). The dancers practised a little foot-binding and the idea caught on for two reasons. First, female liberty and intellectual freedom were increasingly frowned upon and crippling women seemed the perfect way to take away their freedom. Second, the bound foot resembled the lotus flower which was sacred to the Chinese. (See The Tyranny of Beauty by Arline and John Liggett.)
Lower Hutt, Aotearoa/New Zealand
The fashion of foot-binding women came about the during the Southern Sung Dynasty (1127-1279 AD) in the capital of Hangchow. Women’s position in society had never been very high but at this time had declined further. It became fashionable amongst the rich to take concubines and it was a mark of status to be able to support women so disabled that they could not do any kind of physical work. It gave women an awkward and doll like gait that had an erotic attraction that appealed to the affluent classes and therefore became widely fashionable.
This I would describe as the ‘golden era’ of Chinese civilization. Life in the towns and cities was highly sophisticated. They had great shopping malls, coffee houses, theatres and the like. Any person who sought a place in society meticulously cultivated the arts; paintings, calligraphy and antiques were much valued. The novel and short story also came into vogue.
Europe learnt of the practice of foot-binding through Friar Odoric of Pordenone who had lived in Peking in the 1320s. He was an avid collector of all things Chinese.
awaiting your answers
Is it true that before the state of Israel was born this century, Jewish people had only ruled this land for 60 out of the last 3000 years?
Most alphabets have a similar order, even where the script is different. For example, the Russian and Greek alphabets have a similar order to the Roman. Where did this order come from?
If you have any questions or answers please send them to Curiosities, New Internationalist, 55 Rectory Road, Oxford OX4 1BW, UK, or to your local NI office (see inside front cover for addresses).
THE VIEWS EXPRESSED IN THIS SECTION ARE NOT NECESSARILY THOSE OF NI.
1 Danish assumed, wrongly, that he is a dictator (6,7)
10 Old Gael takes first class return to European country (7)
11 Condition of the princess’s when at leisure (7)
12 Town on the Mosel? Not the right bank (4)
13 Miser performs for Muslim leaders (5)
14 Opening the slit... (4)
17 ...he throws the jug... (7)
18 with a following wind, clear out of doors (4-3)
19 Ship, departing Canaries city, arrives at another island (2,5)
22 Plants, but varieties need water or mustard, perhaps! (7)
24 A weight of gold taken from site of antiquity? (4)
25 African capital commonly invested in nomad displacement (5)
26 The state capitals of Tasmania, Assam, Uzbekistan and Hawaii are in chaos (4)
29 Cowardly character gets the bird (7)
30 Swan caught in downpour on the way back to the islands (7)
31 EU oil plan sank unceremoniously on the Russian coastline (4,9)
2 The morning habit I am in is going around (7)
3 Expected – about start of ninth – to find the sand (4)
4 Army man controlling Burma? (7)
5 Experience German and therefore it follows (7)
6 Indifferent to love after Mayday (2-2)
7 I’m holding glass, aiming initially for the beach (7)
8 The group approach to function on public affairs? (5,8)
9 Desert following film concerning troubled African territory (7,6)
15 The state of being hot or cold, it’s said (5)
16 The author of French politics? (2,3)
20 The professionals have six in the ring to see the rider (7)
21 Deliberately put Italian poet’s name under article (7)
22 Eleven seen as the number involved with sing-song – it’s the wine. (7)
23 Fix character from The Merchant of Venice, so it’s reported, to a place near Lisbon (7)
27 Ladies’ fingers knead pakoras without a second thought (4)
28 Deeds attributed to Luke? (4)
1 Middle Eastern leader, a member of the Ba’ath Party, became head of state in 1979 (6,7)
10 Nation where Zog was proclaimed king in 1928 (7)
11 Unhealthy state of body or mind, usually caused by infection (7)
12 Row, rank or layer (4)
13 Islamic potentates (5)
14 Express (especially anger) (4)
17 Earthenware container for water or wine (7)
18 Alfresco (4-3)
19 One of the smallest of the Canary Islands (2,5)
22 Lepidum sativum is one of many varieties of these salad crops (7)
24 Site of classical city in Turkey, alternatively-named Ilium (4)
25 Familiar name of East African capital (5)
26 The ‘Beehive’ state! (4)
29 Fowl domesticated from the Gallus gallus breed of SE Asia (7)
30 Indian Ocean archipelago name, positioned between the Andaman Islands and Sumatra (7)
31 Arctic promontory partially encircling the White Sea (4,9)
2 Surrounding, enveloping (7)
3 A barkhan is a desert version of this landform (4)
4 The name the military government has given to Burma (7)
5 Endure or withstand (7)
6 Undistinguished, unexceptional (2-2)
7 Rio waterfront (7)
8 Views on government through a group, not an individual, standpoint 5,8)
9 North African territory occupied by Morocco but fighting for independence (7,6)
15 South American country whose chief port is Valparaiso (5)
16 French politician, leader of the Nationalist movement (2,3)
20 Condition, small print (7)
21 Musical tempo – literally at walking pace – moderately slow (7)
22 Red wine grown mainly from the Sangiovese grape in Tuscany (7)
23 City and peninsula of central Portugal (7)
27 Green vegetable of tropical and sub-tropical regions, with red and yellow flowers, the Hibiscus esculentus (4)
28 The book of the New Testament which describes the apostles’ work in developing the early Church (4)
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©Copyright: New Internationalist 1996
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