Nash Antiques, London, early 1980s.
The Archibald Little Collection is an historically important collection of shoes for bound and unbound feet formed by Mrs. Archibald Little, a leading figure in the campaign to stop the binding of feet in China. The collection was used in her public lectures to raise funds for the campaign. Also included in the collection is a scrapbook of newspaper cuttings, reviews of several books written by her and articles written about the author, along with her passports and various title deeds.
Mrs. Archibald Little was born Alicia Bewicke on the island of Madeira in 1845. She married Archibald John Little in 1886. First arriving in China in 1859 as a tea taster, he became a successful entrepreneur. The two lived in China from 1887 until 1907, with the early years spent in Sichuan province. She was a keen observer of Chinese social life and customs, and published a diary of her life on a farm outside Chongqing from July 1893 to August 1894. She also kept a scrapbook of newspaper cuttings which date from October 1898 through August 1899. Many of these cuttings were reports by Mrs. Little on the failure of the '100 Days Reform' initiated by the Guangxu Emperor (r. 1875-1908), the coup d'etat by the Dowager Empress Cixi, speculation about the subsequent fate of the young Emperor, as well as strong views on the opium trade.
In 1885 Mrs. Little co-founded the Natural Foot Society with a group of Western diplomats, merchants and missionaries living in Shanghai. The aim was to establish an international pressure group to end the practice of foot binding. She gave public lectures during her visits to Europe which helped raise funds to support the campaign. She did find some support amongst reform-minded Chinese officials, including Duke Gong Huizhong. Initially, the movement did not have the acknowledged support of the Dowager Empress Cixi, who as a Manchu did not have bound feet, but through an American physician who treated several ladies of the imperial court, they learned she was sympathetic to the campaign. However, in 1902, following the unsuccessful Boxer Uprising, the Dowager Empress was forced to concede to calls for radical social and political reform, which included encouraging the educated classes to unite in their opposition to foot binding. After the collapse of the Qing dynasty in 1911 strong measures were taken against the practice, but it did not end until well after the establishment of the People's Republic in 1949. Mrs. Little's last two passports indicate that she was still traveling in Europe in the 1920s.
This collection reflects the times, the concerns and the personality of Mrs. Archibald Little. The shoe collection illustrates her cause, each shoe individually selected to show clearly the true nature of foot binding.
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