Chinese Knotting: A Timeless Art with Rich History

Chinese Knots image

Chinese knotting is a traditional and intricate art form that has a rich history dating back centuries.

The art of tying knots to create beautiful and symbolic designs has been a part of Chinese culture for many generations, and has evolved and grown into a true representation of Chinese craftsmanship.

The knotting technique involves using cords, ribbons, and strings to create a variety of intricate designs, each with its own special meaning and significance.

Whether you're a seasoned knotting expert or just discovering this fascinating art form, Chinese knotting is sure to captivate you with its beauty, history, and deep cultural roots.

What is Chinese knotting?

Chinese knotting is an ancient form of Chinese folk art that started during the Tang dynasty and Song dynasty.

It's also known as "zhongguo jie" or "decorative knots" and was derived from the Lào zi culture that is an ancient appellation for knots in China.

The knots are used for decoration and as a form of good luck charm, often used during the Chinese New Year.

There are many different shapes and designs, including

  • butterflies
  • flowers
  • birds
  • dragons
  • shoes

And there are usually made in red, which is considered lucky in Chinese culture.

They are also used to make buttons for the traditional Chinese dress, the cheongsam.

Origin of the name of Chinese knot

Lydia Chen, also known as Chen Xiasheng, is credited with popularizing the art of Chinese knotting in the 1980s.

She established the Chinese Knotting Promotion Centre and worked with ECHO magazine to document and preserve the knotting tradition.

Through her research and publishing efforts, she named the craft "Chinese knots" and created manuals to spread the art to a wider audience.

As a result, Chinese knotting became a popular symbol and souvenir in festivals and the commodity market.

Characteristics of Chinese knotting

Chinese knot work is divided into cords and knots, with a history of craftsmen producing them for the Imperial court.

The knots are made using a single piece of thread, typically one meter in length, and are tied in a lanyard style with two cords entering at the top and two leaving at the bottom.

They are double-layered and symmetrical, with an identical appearance on both the front and back.

The knots can come in various colors, but red is the most common because it symbolizes good luck and prosperity.

There are many different shapes and designs of Chinese knots.

History of Chinese knotting

The history of knotting dates back to prehistoric times, as evidenced by the discovery of ancient bone needles and bodkins used for sewing and untying knots.

*A bodkin is a pointed tool used for piercing holes, threading ribbon or lace, making loops in cords, or in some cases, referring to a hairpin or a dagger. It can be made of metal, bone, or plastic and comes in different shapes and sizes.

Despite this, few examples of prehistoric Chinese knotting have survived due to the delicate nature of the material.

Knotting can be seen in artifacts from various periods such as

  • bronze vessels from the Warring States period
  • carvings from the Northern Dynasties period
  • silk paintings from the Western Han period

Recording and ruling method

Knots were used in ancient China for recording and governing the community, according to the Yi Jing and other sources.

Big events were recorded using complicated knots, while small events were recorded using simple knots.

The government would also make agreements by tying cords, as they lacked written characters.

This practice is similar to the Inca Quipu system.

Ancient symbol

Knots also had cultural significance in ancient China, beyond their practical uses in recording and ruling.

They were considered to bring good luck and were used as symbols.

For example, the double coin knot pattern on a T-shape silk banner found in the Mawangdui tombs was interpreted as a symbol of love due to its depiction of the ancient deities Fuxi and Nüwa.

The use of knots as symbols was also evident 3000 years ago on the Yinxu Oracle bone script.

*Yinxu is an ancient ruin in China that was once the capital of the Shang dynasty. It's located near Anyang, in Henan province, and is an important archaeological site that has provided important information about the dynasty through its excavations, including the discovery of oracle bones. Yinxu is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is open to visitors.

Decorative art

The earliest known decorative knot in China dates back to 4000 years ago, as confirmed by recent archaeological research.

The use of knots as a decorative art gradually developed, starting in the Spring and Autumn Period (770 – 476 BC), when ribbon knotting and decorative knots on clothing became popular.

The tradition of tying knots at the waist with silk or cotton ribbon became a part of the Lào zi culture.

The word Lào is an ancient Chinese word for knots and is the origin of the tradition of knotting in China.

Sui to Ming dynasties

Chinese knotting reached its first peak in the Sui and Tang dynasties (581-906 CE), when many basic knots were created and became popular in garments and folk art.

Knots were valued for their symbolic and practical uses and were a part of everyday life.

Love knots became a unique element in the Tang and Song dynasties and were used in traditional weddings and mentioned in poems as symbols of love.

Over time, the art of knotting evolved with more complex techniques and intricate patterns.

The most recognizable Chinese knot, the Pan Chang knot, became popular during the Song and Yuan dynasties (960-1368).

And knots were commonly used as decorations on clothing during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), as seen in paintings by Tang Yin.

Qing dynasty

The culture of Chinese knotting reached its height of popularity and success during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

During this time, basic knots became widely used to decorate everyday objects, such as sachets and fan tassels, and the single knot technique was developed into more complex knots.

Chinese knotting was seen as a way to express love and good luck within families, among lovers and friends, and was even studied and created by maids in the imperial palace.

The novel "Dream of the Red Chamber" highlights how the culture of knotting was spread and developed among the middle and upper classes.

Republic of China

During the Republic of China period (1912-1949), knots appeared in a more modern and simple style, without excessive decoration.

One example is the pan kou knot, which was used as a button decoration on cheongsams.

21st century

The art of Chinese knotting declined before the 1970s, but the use of knot buttons on clothing and knots as a folk craft still persists in China.

The Spread and Development

In Japan, the tradition of tying knots is known as hanamusubi.

The practice was adopted by the Japanese in the 7th century after a Japanese emperor was impressed by the Chinese knots used to tie a gift.

Japanese knots are simple and formal, with a focus on individual knots and braids.

In Korea, the tradition of decorative knotting is known as maedeup, with roots dating back to the Three Kingdoms of Korea in the first century CE.

It was originally used in religious ceremonies and on items like silk dresses, swords, and personal items for the aristocracy.

There are about 33 basic Korean knots, with the most well-known being the bongsul tassel.

Maedeup is still a commonly practiced traditional art, especially among the older generations.

How to make a Chinese knot

Making Chinese knots is surprisingly simple and can be done with just a few basic materials such as embroidery thread or cord.

Once you learn the basic knotting techniques, you can create many different designs and patterns, each with its unique look.

If you're interested in learning how to make Chinese knots, many instructional videos are available online to help you get started.

These videos typically demonstrate the steps involved in making each type of knot and provide tips and tricks for creating a successful knot.

Whether you're an experienced knotter or just starting, making Chinese knots is a fun and rewarding hobby that can be enjoyed by people of all ages.

So why not try it out for yourself?

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