Chinese Shoe Culture (II) Why Were Toes Upturned?

Written by Gioia Zhang


Upturned toecap shoes are the most typical kind of ancient Chinese shoe. Yet if we look at the global history of shoes, we find that an upturned toecap is a common feature of ancient shoes from many different cultures. Shoes with upturned toecaps began in the Qin Dynasty. During the Spring and Autumn Period, these shoes were highly valued by people. In the Tang dynasty, people made many colorful upturned toecap shoes.

 Red Shoes · The Shang Dynasty

Flower Brocade Shoes · The Tang Dynasty

Upturned Blue Silk Shoes

Upturned Damask Shoes

Upturned Toecap Style in the Tang Dynasty

Pointed shoes and “three-inch lotus” shoes originated in the Five Dynasties period and developed into “tip of the small feet” shoes in the Song dynasty.

Upturned Pointed Shoes · The Ming Dynasty

After the Qing dynasty, women generally wore shoes with thick soles, which were called “lotus” shoes and round head shoes. Except for boots, Men wore similar styles of shoes to what people wear today. A new trend of “flat shoes” was formed in the Qing dynasty. However, ethnic groups in southwest and northwest China still make and wear beautiful upturned toecap shoes.

Upturned Embroidered Shoes · The Yi Ethic Group in China

 Zi Zhong shoes, a pair of knee high boat boots from a Tibetan monk in old days


Why were ancient shoes upturned? There are 4 reasons:


  1. Ancient Chinese wore long coats and long dresses. These upturned toecap shoes could provide some support for those long clothes to prevent people from slipping and falling.
  2. Upturned toecap shoes could better prevent people from accidentally hitting dangerous objects, and protect them from some acute injuries.
  3. The upturned part is made with soles that are resilient. This design could extend the useful life of the shoes.
  4. Upturned toecap shoes share the same features as the apexes of ancient buildings. It could be explained that this design was to show respect to gods and supernatural beings.


About Interact China


“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide” 

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 10 years solid experience in e-commerce via, we position well to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and bring you direct finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

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