Written by Juliette Qi
Tiger-headed shoes are an example of traditional Chinese folk crafts. These children’s shoes, made from a variety of soft fabrics, feature a tiger at the front of the shoe and embroidered soles. Their name comes from the from the front part of the shoe that looks like the head of a tiger. In northern China, people also refer to them as “cat-headed shoes”. Wearing these brightly colored cloth shoes which all have such special designs is a traditional custom for young Chinese people and symbolizes good fortune.
In Chinese culture, tigers are considered auspicious, so women embroider the vamp of the shoe in the shape of a tiger, hoping that their children will become as strong and vibrant as this animal. In addition, the bright image of the tiger’s head has been thought to chase away evil spirits and to protect children from diseases or disasters in their lives. It is a complicated job to make tiger-headed shoes and it requires a lot of delicate work like embroidery and weaving, especially on the very front of the shoe. The main part of the shoe is largely red and yellow and the craftsmen generally use thick lines to draw the outline of the mouth, the eyebrows, the nose and the eyes of the tiger to express its power in an exaggerated way.
Tancheng County, Linyi, Shandong Province (East China),2017. Zhao Kaiying, 85, has been making tiger-headed shoes for more than 20 years.
These shoes, offered to the child from an early age, present a tiger head in the front of the vamp. As a guardian animal and devourer of demons, the tiger protects the child against evil spirits. Other symbols are also embroidered under the shoes.
The origins of the tiger-headed shoe have no historical records, but there are several popular legends about them. The following is one of the legends that would explain the origin of these shoes: a long time ago, there was a lady with skillful hands and good artistic taste. She was very good at embroidery, so that her child was always well dressed. One night a monster came to the village and took all the children except his son. From then on, people began to realize that the child’s shoes were decorated with a tiger’s head at their ends to scare the monster, leaving the child safe. As a result, people started to imitate this practice.
In the eyes of the general public, the tiger is a robust and powerful animal with the title of “king of animals”. So when this animal is mentioned, it evokes in people the idea of power and fear. As a result, some expressions about tiger, such as the roar of the tiger, the scary aspect of the tiger (Chinese: 虎威, pinyin: Huwei) or vigorous as a tiger (Chinese: 虎虎有生气, pinyin: huhuyoushengqi) were invented along with this culture.
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