Short Stories for Teachers
Archeological finds, ancient texts and art works reveal how the Chinese people historically responded to geological and natural changes, which influenced the evolution of their shoes. The military history of China figures predominantly in the influence on shoe development. Whims of emperors within the multitudes of dynasties also affected shoe styles for both the average person and members of the imperial court. Several styles of shoes designed centuries ago are still worn by millions in modern China.
Stone Age China
Seven thousand years ago, people in China's northern provinces made leather shoes by binding sections of skins to their feet using leather strips and bone needles, while at the same time, the people in the eastern regions made shoes using flax thread and bamboo needles. Plants and furs kept ancient Chinese feet warm and protected. The oldest pair of boots unearthed in China, made from sheep skin, belonged to a woman buried four thousand years ago.
Straw sandals are one of the earliest styles of shoes worn by Chinese people. Today, millions of Chinese wear the same straw shoe their ancestors wore thousands of years ago.
Yin and Shang Dynasties
Nomadic people of the Yin and Shang dynasties of China (14th-12th centuries B.C.E.) produced the earliest record of glazed pottery and industrialized bronze pottery. During this period of China's history, in what is believed to be a precursor to the military boot, soldiers wrapped pieces of rattan in hide and secured them over their shins for protection in battle. During the Shang dynasty in particular, the discovery of the silkworm brought silk weaving into the Chinese culture. Eventually the colorful dyes of natural plants of China changed woven silk material into colorful cloth shoes worn by the royal court of China.
Classical Confucian writings began during the Zhou dynasty (1100-256 B.C.E.). This era nurtured hundreds of schools of philosophical thinkers. Clothing on unearthed terra-cotta military figures from this period shows the same style of stitched soles on handmade cloth shoes still worn in China today. Stitch-soled cloth shoes developed over two thousand years ago specifically for the Chinese military.
Warring States Period
This period of unrest among warring states in Chinese history (475-221 B.C.E.) found soldiers of the Shandong Province attaching wooden sandals to straw boots for the first time, making this type of footwear standard for the military for many generations. However, in 325 B.C.E., King Wuling of the state of Zhao prepared his soldiers for battle by dispensing with the flax-fabric shoes over wooden soles. Instead, the king dressed his men in boots fashioned from the attire of the nomads of the northern provinces to assure they were stronger and better protected than any other Chinese soldier at this time in Chinese history.
During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 C.E.), military boots came in two styles: pointed and square toed. Adapted to civilian wear for court officials as well, the pointed toe boot adorned feet for everyday wear. Attending court functions required wearing the square-toed boot. Chinese history saw the last of this style shoe with the downfall of the last ruling emperor of China--Emperor Xuantong--in 1911.