Not long after we meet Cullum, we meet Dirk's current concubine, May-may. May-may is a real character, and we'll see a lot of her. One of the first things we learn about her is she has "lotus feet", or bound feet.
Clavell gives a very clear explanation of the process involved, including noting that unwrapping bound feet is very painful for the bindee.
You can see a yicky picture of a bound foot, and a bound foot next to a coffee cup. (The cup is larger.)
Even though foot binding was outlawed in 1911, the practice continued on into the 1930s. This video has interviews with two of the fewer than ten surviving women with bound feet. (There's an ad at the beginning of the video - sorry. No way around it.)
Before you get too grossed out by this, and condemn it as barbaric, think about some of the things we're more accustomed to seeing, which we accept.
Corsets. High heeled shoes. Various types of makeup and manicures. Circumcision. Breast enlargement. Piercing. Botox. Tattoos.
What exactly is barbaric and what isn't?
Want to know more about foot binding? Check out this list of books in your library that have great foot binding info!