The practice of foot binding began during the Song Dynasty (960-976), reportedly to imitate an imperial concubine who was required to dance with her feet bound. By the 12th century, the practice was widespread and more severe -- girls's feet were bound so tightly and early in life that they were unable to dance and had difficulty walking. As only rich people could afford having nonproductive girls, foot binding was viewed as a show of wealth. The Hongwu Emperor's consort, born of humble origin, did not have small feet and was once mocked. To take revenge, Emperor Hongwu crazily killed the neighbours of the mockers.
By the time a girl turned three-years-old, all her toes except the first were broken, and her feet were bound tightly with cloth strips to keep her feet from growing larger than 10 cm (about 3.9 inches). The practice would cause the soles of feet to bend in extreme concavity. They were often referred to as "lotus hooks".
Foot binding ceased in the 20th century with the end of imperial dynasties and increasing influence of western fashion. According to a UCSF study, "As the practice waned, some girls' feet were released after initial binding, leaving less severe deformities." However, the deformities of foot binding linger on as a common cause of disability in very elderly Chinese women.