The Tiger-Head Shoes 虎头鞋: A protective charm for Chinese baby boys

The Tiger-Head Shoes 虎头鞋: A protective charm for Chinese baby boys

There are a lot of different embroidery arts in China; silk embroidery, embroidery on clothes, handkerchiefs, and all kinds of different styles. There are ethnic minorities like the Dong, Miao and Qiang who have their own style. No matter what style, those stitched embroidery handicrafts are still loved by the Chinese people.

My Chinese mother-in-law has introduced me to one of the oldest Chinese embroidery arts: Hand stitched Tiger-Head Shoes.

tigerhead shoes

When I first arrived at my in-laws town it was winter. And every kid would be wrapped in thick clothing. You don’t need to search long until you find one baby wearing those little shoes with a tiger head in front (some even with a tiger tail on the heel of the shoe).

Later I got to know that my mother-in-law still knows how to make those cute shoes. She actually made most of the shoes my sister-in-laws baby boys were wearing. Who would have thought? I was amazed. Unfortunately, until now I haven’t seen the process of making them. Every time I go visit her, she has already finished another pair. But she was eager to tell me the story behind those tiger-head shoes.


As legend has it, a long time ago, there lived a young man in an ancient village. He was a very friendly and generous man. One day when a traveler arrived in the village the young man cared for her and let her stay in his house. To show her appreciation the traveler gave the young man a picture of a pretty girl sewing a pair of tiger shoes. The young man liked the painting a lot and hang it over his bed. One night the girl from the painting came to life. The young man and the girl from the painting would spend every night together. And a year later the girl gave birth to a beautiful boy. But their happiness was taken away when the village chief heard of the painting and the beautiful girl. He confiscated the painting and hang it on his own wall, waiting every night for the girl to appear.


She never did. Meanwhile the son grew up and started the search for his mother. He found her in the forest with other fairies. His mother told him to go back to the village chief to take the painting while wearing the tiger shoes she had made for him. As ordered, the son went to the village chief’s house. When he arrived, the mother came out of the painting. Immediately the evil village chief stopped the woman from following her son. Exactly in that moment the son’s tiger shoes came to life. The tiger killed the evil village chief and the son and her mother were saved. From that day on people started to make those tiger shoes in hope that they would protect the child and the family.

Every time my mother-in-law tells this story, my sister’s kids would all sit around her, listening with bright eyes and open mouth. My mother-in-law rarely tells stories, but if she does, it is like magic. Hollywood is nothing compared to her.

I really hope to get the chance to learn this traditional art and make some tiger shoes for my future children. I found a Chinese website where they teach you in simple steps how to make these incredible tiger-head shoes.

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Anna Z. is a freelance illustrator and portrait artist in her late 20s, with a passion for Martial Arts and Chinese culture, and is the creator of Lost Panda, a blog to China and Art. Together with her husband, a Chinese national, she writes about daily life in rural China, focusing on cultural and social differences and the joys (and sometimes difficulties) as an intercultural couple. Apart from China related topics, she publishes her artwork, photography, art material reviews and tutorials to help more people discover their creative side. She is fluent in German, English and Mandarin Chinese.

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