Some scholars such as Laurel Bossen and Hill Gates reject the notion that bound feet in China were considered more beautiful, or that it was a means of male control over women, a sign of class status, or a chance for women to marry well (in general, bound women did not improve their class position by marriage). Foot binding is believed to have spread from elite women to civilian women, and there were large differences in each region.
The body and labor of unmarried daughters belonged to their parents, thereby the boundaries between work and kinship for women were blurred. They argued that foot binding was an instrumental means to reserve women to handwork, and can be seen as a way by mothers to tie their daughters down, train them in handwork and keep them close at hand.
Foot binding were common when women could do light industry, but where women were required to do heavy farm work they often did not bind their feet because it hindered physical work. These scholars argued that the coming of the mechanized industry at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, such as the introduction of industrial textile processes, resulted in a loss of light handwork for women, removing a reason to maintain the practice.
Mechanization resulted in women who worked at home facing a crisis. Coupled with changes in politics and people’s consciousness, the practice of foot binding disappeared in China forever after two generations.
It has been argued that while the practice started out as a fashion, it persisted because it became an expression of Han identity after the Mongols invaded China in 1279, and later the Manchus’ conquest in 1644, as it was then practiced only by Han women.
During the Qing dynasty, attempts were made by the Manchus to ban the practice but failed, and it has been argued the attempts at banning may have in fact led to a spread of the practice among Han Chinese in the 17th and 18th centuries.