Chinese Knot, Types, and Symbols

Written by Sally Guo Updated Apr. 4, 2021

Knotting, like so many Chinese folk arts that evolved into fine art, had its roots in antiquity.

Because of the perishability of fibrous plant and animal materials, however, the best archaeological evidence of this handicraft is old needles as well as images on bronzes, sculptures, and later paintings.

Jade pendants, scepters, and beads with holes merely suggest the complexity of knots that once bound them together.

History of Chinese Knot

The Chinese dictionary refers to it as "the joining of two cords". Knot tying evolved from a simple functional product to a multifaceted form of decoration.

During the Qing dynasty, knotting reached an apex of creative ingenuity, technical skill, and refined aesthetics. Then it slipped into relative obscurity in the second half of the twentieth century.

The late 1970s saw a resurgence of interest in Taiwan. Not only in Taiwan but more recently throughout East Asia, there has been a revival of the art form. At the same time, decorative macramé (macramé) regained popularity in the West.

Chinese knots are usually tied together with a three-foot-long red rope to form a symmetrical body, tied tightly and three-dimensionally, with both sides intact. Traditionally, the cord was made of cotton, linen, silk, and leather. Gold and silver were also available.

Knotting guides today typically present more than a dozen basic designs. each of them has many variations and permutations. Such as good luck knot; Buddha knot; double connection knot; flat knot; cross knot; and tassel knot.

Chinese Knot
Chinese Knot

Four Fundamental Techniques of Chinese Knot

Four fundamental techniques are employed to tie them including:

The original knot becomes complex by copying the original knot or by adding a different sequence of knots. Knowing the sequence of knots to be tied is fundamental.

But it is the tightening of the knot to make an even structure that elevates the form of the knot to a work of art.

Knotting provides a way to convey a variety of auspicious thoughts at weddings and birthdays. Auspicious motifs were often used in the bridal room. There, knots were strung together as a decorative form of an awning bed.

A special conjoined knot to symbolize love is mentioned in poetry and fiction and is often used at weddings, on sedan chairs, and in bedrooms.

Wan-shan Shih-nu T'u and Kung-yueh T'u serve as the representative works of mid-and late-Tang dynasty painting. They both show the knots of the Wan-tzu pattern were attached to chairs as ornaments.

In the portrait Sung Chen-tsung Chang-i Li-huang-hou Tsohsiang, Empress Chang-i (wife of the Sung emperor Chen-tsung, reigned 995-1003) is seen sitting on a chair decorated with several sets of pendants strung with knots. During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) knotted pendants were gradually replaced by tassels as furniture ornaments.

Traditional men's and women's garments employed button knots and ornamented sashes to fasten pieces of cloth. In museums, it is often easy to overlook knots. This is because they are usually subordinate to other objects on display, appearing only as accouterments on frayed and faded tassels.

Traditional men's and women's clothing used buttons and decorative belts to tie the cloth. It is often easy to overlook knots in museums. This is because they are usually subordinate to other objects on display, appearing only as outfits with worn and faded fringes.

Traditional knotting required only the dexterity of both hands, deft fingers, and string.

Today, many people also use pins, tweezers, sewing needles, and nail polish to facilitate knot tying.

In addition to traditional knots, artisans in China and abroad have become creative in making nylon knotted rope into three-dimensional objects. Such as tabletop centerpieces and large wall hangings that differ greatly from the smaller, more elaborate traditional forms.

Chinese Knot
Chinese Knot

Why the Chinese Knot is So Special

Chinese knot work has primary utility as decoration. Its intrinsic aesthetic value is truly beyond compare. It not only occupies an important place in Chinese decorative arts. It also has played a catalytic role in the development of Japanese and Korean knotting art.

It is no coincidence that Chinese knot work has had such a wide influence in East Asia. It is no coincidence that the reason lies in the diversity of knot structures and applications.

Chinese knots with decorative and practical values generally have the following characteristics:

First, Chinese knots are very compact in structure.

The strain which pulls against the knots would draw the constituent parts tightly together, allowing them to hold.

At the same time, Chinese knots are highly decorative, making them suitable for a variety of applications.

The practice in T'ang China (618-907) of tying presents with red and white strings or cords serves as a good example. In fact, it is in this Chinese tradition that the Japanese mizuhiki (Japanese decorative knot) finds its origin.

Although the first Mizuho appeared in the 7th century, the Japanese have always shown a strict loyalty to "tradition". They have limited the use of Mizuho to gift wrapping. As a result, there have been no major or innovative breakthroughs in the development of Japanese knot work to date.

This may explain why Japanese decorative knots are still quite simple in form. It is relatively loose in structure.

Second, the interlocking structure of Chinese knots is complex. In this structural complexity, there are many variations of patterns.

This characteristic, to be sure, clearly distinguishes Chinese knot work from its Euro-American sibling, macramé tatting.

Although square knots and semi-hanging joints are often used for making macramé. But, they are still quite plain from the aesthetic point of view.

Further, only when a group of square knots and half hitches are well put together, may the beauty of a piece of macramé be realized.

On the other hand, each knot in a Chinese knot work is a beautiful piece of art in itself. Each one has its own world of looping, weaving, hitching, and knitting. When a group of these knots is assembled, countless combinations of decorative patterns emerge.

Similar to Chinese knots in terms of technical maturity are the knots of Korea.

While tracing the history and development of knotting in Korea is by no means possible, source materials conducive for such an endeavor are scarce. It is believed that Korean knot work also has its origin in China.

More interesting, however, the Koreans have acquired exquisite knot tying techniques from the Middle Kingdom. They were able to keep their own traditions and designs and create art that is truly unique

Third, Chinese knots, for the most part, are symmetrical in form.

Chinese Knot
Chinese Knot

While this design is very much in line with the underlying philosophy of Chinese decorative arts. It has nevertheless curtailed the artists' options in the selection of themes.

Fourth, Chinese knots are three-dimensional. They consist of two layers of cord, with an empty space between. This type of interlayer strengthens the structure of the knot without having to change its shape to make it tough enough to hang.

At the same time, unwanted loose ends can be tucked into space inside.

Further, beads, jewels, and other auspicious objects may also be sewn in, adding to the beauty of the knot.

This performed window along a corridor in a Suzhou garden is in the shape of a knot.

Crafted of color stones, this knot enhances the irregular pavement in a Suzhou garden

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