Written by Juliette Qi
Tiger-headed shoes are an example of traditional Chinese folk crafts. These children’s fabric shoes feature a tiger at the tip and embroidered soles. Their name comes from their tip that looks like the head of a tiger. In northern China, people also call them “cat-headed shoes”. The wearing of these brightly colored cloth shoes with such special designs is a traditional custom for young Chinese people and symbolizes best wishes.
In Chinese culture, tigers are considered auspicious and women embroider the toe as well as the upper part of the tiger-shaped shoe, in the hopes that their children will become as robust 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 and disasters. 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 tip of the shoe. The upper part of the shoe is mainly red and yellow and the craftswomen 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 of an exaggerated way.
Tancheng County, Linyi, Shandong Province (East China), December 24, 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, depict the head of a tiger on the front of them. A guardian animal and devourer of demons, the tiger protects the child against evil spirits. Other symbols are also embroidered under the shoe.
The origins of the tiger-headed shoe are not known, but there are several popular legends about them. (already mentioned in the paragraph above). One legend regarding their origin suggests that a long time ago, there was a lady with skillful hands and common sense. 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 that were decorated with a tiger’s head at their ends scared 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 the tiger is mentioned, it evokes in people the idea of power and fear. As a result, tiger-like expressions, such as the roar of the tiger, the frightening appearance of the tiger (Chinese: 虎威, pinyin: Huwei) or strength of a tiger (Chinese: 虎虎 有 生气, pinyin: huhuyoushengqi) have taken shape in these crafts as part of this culture around the tiger.
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