The presented paper studies foot-binding – a long-standing cultural practice that reshaped girls’ feet in historical China – and examines how its adoption responded to the shifts of a gender-asymmetric mobility institution (the Civil Examination System). The exam system marked the transition from heredity aristocracy to meritocracy, generated a more heterogeneous composition of men compared to that of women, and triggered intensive competition among women in the marriage market. Embodying both aesthetic and moral values, foot-binding was used by women as a premarital investment, first by the upper class and later by the lower class. However, since footbinding impedes non-sedentary labour but not sedentary labour, its adoption in the lower class exhibited distinctive regional variation: it was prevalent in regions where women specialised in household handicraft but rare in regions where women specialised in labour-intensive farming (e.g., rice cultivation). Both qualitative and quantitative evidence from county-level Republican archives is consistent with theoretical predictions.


Lingwei Wu

University of Bonn


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20.11.2019 | 12:00 - 13:30 (CET)

Event Location

ZEW – Leibniz-Zentrum für Europäische Wirtschaftsforschung

L 7, 1 68161 Mannheim





Head and Dean of Graduate Studies