Chinese knotting (Chinese: 中国结; pinyin: Zhōngguó jié) is a decorative handicraft art that began as a form of Chinese folk art in the Tang and Song dynasty (960–1279 CE) in China. The technique was later popularized in the Ming and spread to Japan and Korea. The art is also referred to as "Chinese traditional decorative knots". In other cultures, it is known as "decorative knots".
Archaeological studies indicate that the art of tying knots dates back to prehistoric times. Recent discoveries include 100,000-year-old bone needles used for sewing and bodkins, which were used to untie knots. However, due to the delicate nature of the medium, few examples of prehistoric Chinese knotting exist today. Some of the earliest evidence of knotting have been preserved on bronze vessels of the Warring States period (481–221 BCE), Buddhist carvings of the Northern Dynasties period (317–581) and on silk paintings during the Western Han period (206 BCE–6 CE).
Further references to knotting have also been found in literature, poetry and the private letters of some of the most famous rulers of China. In the 18th century, one novel that talked extensively about the art was Dream of the Red Chamber.
The phenomenon of knot tying continued to steadily evolve over the course of thousands of years with the development of more sophisticated techniques and increasingly intricate woven patterns. During the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) knotting finally broke from its pure folklore status, becoming an acceptable art form in Chinese society and reached the pinnacle of its success. Knotting continued to flourish up until about the end of imperial China and the founding of the Republic of China in 1911 when China began its modernization period. From 1912 to the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976, the art of Chinese knotting was almost lost.
Historically knotwork is divided into cords and knots. In the dynastic periods, a certain number of craftsmen were stationed in the court and outside the court to produce cords and knots in order to meet the increasing demand for them at various places of the court. Cord, knot and tassels were made separated and combined later.
Around the times of Chinese new year festival, Chinese knot decorations can be seen hanging on walls, doors of homes and as shop decorations to add some festival feel. Usually, these decorations are in red color, which traditional Chinese regards it as a color of "luck".
With greater emphasis on the braids that are used to create the knots, Japanese knotting (also known as hanamusubi) tends to focus on individual knots.
In Korea, decorative knotwork is known as maedeup (매듭), often called Korean knotwork or Korean knots. The origins of Maedeup date back to the Three Kingdoms of Korea in the first century CE. Maedeup articles were first used at religious ceremonies. Inspired by Chinese knotwork, a wall painting found in Anak, Hwanghae Province, now in North Korea, dated 357 CE, indicates that the work was flourishing in silk at that time. Decorative cording was used on silk dresses, to ornament swords, to hang personal items from belts for the aristocracy, in rituals, where it continues now in contemporary wedding ceremonies. Korean knotwork is differentiated from Korean embroidery. Maedeup is still a commonly practiced traditional art, especially amongst the older generations.
The most basic knot in Maedeup is called the Dorae or double connection knot. The Dorae knot is used at the start and end of most knot projects. There are approximately 33 basic Korean knots which vary according to the region they come from. The Bong Sool tassel is noteworthy as the most representative work familiar to Westerners, and often purchased as souvenirs for macramé-style wall-hangings.
Types of knots
Lydia Chen lists eleven basic types of Chinese decorative knotwork in her first book. More complex knots are then constructed from repeating or combining basic knots. They are:
|Cloverleaf knot||Four-flower knot, dragonfly knot, ginger knot (Korean)|
|Round brocade knot||Six-flower knot|
|Chinese button knot||Knife Lanyard knot, Bosun Whistle knot|
|Double connection knot||Matthew Walker knot|
|Double coin knot||Carrick Bend, Josephine knot|
|Sauvastika knot||Agemaki (Japanese)|
|Cross knot||Friendship knot, Japanese crown knot|
|Plafond knot 天花板結||Spectacle/glasses knot (Korean), caisson ceiling knot|
|Pan Chang knot 盤長結||Coil knot, temple knot, Endless knot, Chrysanthemum knot (Korean), 2x2 mystic knot|
|Good luck knot|
One major characteristic of decorative knotwork is that all the knots are tied using one piece of thread, which is usually about one meter in length. However, finished knots look identical from both the front and back. They can come in a variety of colors such as gold, green, blue or black, though the most commonly used color is red. This is because it symbolizes good luck and prosperity.
There are many different shapes of Chinese knots, the most common being butterflies, flowers, birds, dragons, fish, and even shoes. Culturally they were expected to ward off evil spirits similar to bagua mirrors or act as good-luck charms for Chinese marriages.
- Chinese art
- Chinese paper cutting
- Chinese paper folding
- Endless knot
- List of Japanese tea ceremony equipment#Shifuku
- Zonglin Chang and Xukui Li, Aspect of Chinese culture, 2006. 中国文化导读. 清华大学出版社 publishing.
- Chen, Lydia.  (2003). Chinese Knotting: Creative Designs that are Easy and Fun. Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 0-8048-3399-0
- J. Van Rensburg, Elsabe, Knot Another!, Bangkok: Bleho Media, 2009. ISBN 6119020403[page needed]
- Media related to Chinese knots at Wikimedia Commons