Chinese knotting

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Chinese knotting
Chinese knot.JPG
Example of Chinese knotwork
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese中國結
Simplified Chinese中国结
Literal meaningChinese knot
English name
EnglishChinese knotting/ Chinese knots/ Decorative knots

Chinese knotting, also known as zhongguo jie (simplified Chinese: 中国结; traditional Chinese: 中國結; pinyin: Zhōngguó jié) and decorative knots in non-Chinese cultures, is a decorative handcraft art that began as a form of Chinese folk art in the Tang and Song dynasty (960–1279 CE) in China.[1][page needed] This form of craft originated and was derived from the Lào zi (simplified Chinese: 络子; traditional Chinese: 絡子) culture which already existed in China since the ancient times.[2] As a form of art, it is also called Chinese traditional decorative knots.[1][page needed] Chinese knotting was later popularized in the Ming and spread to Japan and Korea.[1][page needed] 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. Around the times of the 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 red in colour, which is a colour associated with "luck" in traditional Chinese culture. They are also used to make the pan kou, the Chinese buttons, which are used to decorate the cheongsam.

Forming the name of "Chinese knotting"[edit]

The zhongguo jie was not named as "Chinese knotting" before the time of Lydia Chen’s research. In the 1980s, Lydia Chen, known by her Chinese name as Chen Xiasheng (陈夏生), funded the Chinese knotting Promotion Centre, cooperated with ECHO magazine (Chinese: ECHO漢聲雜誌), and sought out the few remaining keepers of the knotting tradition by recording their work in a series of articles and books.[3]: 5 

She named these knotting crafts as "Chinese knots" and assembled practical manuals to disseminate the art of Chinese knotting to a broader audience. Chinese knotting then became a popular symbol and souvenirs in the festival and commodity market nowadays.[2][1]: 64 


Eight tassel pendants made up of one type of Chinese knot and Chinese tassel.

Historically, Chinese knot work 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 Imperial court. Cords, knots, and tassels were made as separated pieces and were combined later.

Chinese knots are usually lanyard type arrangements where two cords enter from the top of the knot and two cords leave from the bottom. The knots are usually double-layered and symmetrical.[4]

A Chinese butterfly knot lanyard with cross knots

One major characteristic of decorative knot-work 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 colours such as gold, green, blue or black, though the most commonly used colour is red. This is because it symbolizes good luck and prosperity. There are many different shapes of Chinese knots.

Types and shapes[edit]

Lydia Chen lists eleven basic types of Chinese decorative knot work in her first book. More complex knots are constructed from repeating or combining these basic knots.

Types of Chinese knots as listed by Lydia Chen[4]
Name Chinese name Alternate names Images
Chinese button knot Knife Lanyard knot, Bosun Whistle knot
Cloverleaf knot Four-flower knot, dragonfly knot, ginger knot (Korean)
Cross knot Square knot, Friendship knot, Japanese crown knot
Double connection knot Matthew Walker knot
Double coin knot Carrick Bend, Josephine knot
Good luck knot Chinese Good Luck Knot.jpg
Pan Chang knot 盤長結 Coil knot, temple knot, Endless knot, Chrysanthemum knot (Korean), 2x2 mystic knot
Pan chang knots
A 4-row Pan Chang knot with cross knots
An 8-row Pan Chang knot with overlapping ears
A 3D structure of a pan chang knot
3D structure of a Pan chang knot (top view)
3D structure of a Pan chang knot (side view)
Plafond knot 藻井結 Spectacle/glasses knot (Korean), caisson ceiling knot
Round brocade knot 团锦结 Six-flower knot Round brocade.png
Swastika knot 万字结 Agemaki (Japanese), Sailor's cross [it]


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 BC), Buddhist carvings of the Northern Dynasties period (317–581) and on silk paintings during the Western Han period (206 BC–9 CE).

Recording and ruling method[edit]

Based on the archaeology and literature evidence, before 476 BCE, the knots in China had a specific function: recording and ruling method, similar to the Inca Quipu. According to the Yi JingXi Ci xia易经 – 系辞下》, from the ancient times of Bao-xi ruling era, except for the use for fishing,[5] knots were used to record and govern the community.[6]

The Eastern Han (25-220 CE) scholar, Zheng Xuan, who annotated Yi Jing also wrote that:[7][3]: 9 

Big events were recorded with complicated knots, and small events were recorded with simple knots [事大,大结其绳;事小,小结其绳].

Moreover, the chapter of Tubo (Tibet) in the New Book of Tang also recorded that:[8]

The government makes the agreement by tie cords due to lack of characters [其吏治,无文字,结绳齿木为约].

Ancient totem and symbol[edit]

Mawangdui silk banner from tomb no1.jpg
Mawangdui silk banner from tomb no1

Simultaneously, additional to the use of recording and ruling, knots became an ancient totem and belief motif. In the ancient time, Chinese brought knots a lot of good meanings from the pictograms, quasi-sound, to the totem worship.[9]

An example is the double coin knot pattern painting on the T-shape silk banner discovered by archaeologists in Mawangdui tombs (206 BC – CE 9).[10] The pattern is in the form of intertwined dragons as a double coin knot in the middle of the fabric painting. In the upper part, the fabric painting illustrates the ancient deities Fuxi and Nüwa who are also the initiator of marriage in China that derived the meaning of love for double coin knot in many ancient poems.[3]: 10 

The tangible evidence has been excavated that 3000 years ago on the Yinxu Oracle bone script, where knots were recognized as the use of symbol rather than functional use.[11]

Decorative art[edit]

According to Lydia Chen, the earliest tangible evidence of using knots as decorative motif is on a high stem small square pot in Spring and Autumn Period (770 – 476 BC) which now are displayed in Shanxi Museum.[12][3]: 5  However, the archaeology research in the latest decade confirmed that the earliest artifact of the decorative knot in China can trace back 4000 years ago when a three-row rattan knotting of double coin knot was excavated from Liangzhu Ruins.[11][13]

With gradually developing, the knots became a distinctive decorative art in China starting from the Spring and Autumn Period to use the ribbon knotting and the decorative knots on the clothing. This is attested in the Zuo Zhuan where it is written that:[14]

The collar has an intersection, and the belt is tied as knots [衣有襘.帶有結]

Chinese knotting was thus derived from the Lào zi (Chinese: 络子) culture. The Chinese word Lào (Chinese: ) is the ancient appellation in China for knots, and it was a tradition to tie a knot at the waist by silk or cotton ribbon.[2]

Sui to Ming dynasties[edit]

The first peak of the Lào zi culture was during the Sui Dynasty and Tang Dynasty (581-906 CE), when numbers basic knots, such as Swastika knot (Chinese: 万字结) and the Round brocade knot (Chinese: 团锦结), generated the Lào zi vogue on garments and on the common folk art in the palace and home.[3]: 12  Therefore, knots were cherished not only as symbols and tools but also as an essential part of everyday life to decorate and express thoughts and feelings.[2]

Bride and groom in traditional Chinese wedding dress holding the Concentric knot.

In Tang and Song Dynasty (960–1279 CE), the Love-based knot is a unique element as evidenced in many of the poem, novel, and painting. For example, in the memoir Dongjing Meng Hua Lu東京夢華錄》written by Meng Yuanlao, it is observed that in the traditional wedding custom, a Concentric knot (Chinese: 同心结) or the knot made like a Concentric knot was necessary to be held by the bride and groom.[15] Other ancient poems mentioned the Concentric knot to portray love such as Luo Binwang's poem:[16]

Knot the ribbon as the Concentric knot, interlock the love as the clothes [同心结缕带,连理织成衣].

It was also mentioned in a poem written by Huang Tingjian:

We had a time knotting together, loving as the ribbon tied [曾共结,合欢罗带].

The most famous poem about the Love knot was written by Meng Jiao in Jie Ai结爱lit.'Bond of Love'》.[17]

The phenomenon of knot tying continued to steadily evolve over thousands of years with the development of more sophisticated techniques and increasingly intricate woven patterns. During Song and Yuan dynasties (960 – 1368), Pan Chang knot, today’s most recognizable Chinese knot started popularly. There are also many artwork evidence showed the knots as clothing decoration in Ming Dynasty (1368 –1644), for instance from Tang Yin's beautiful paintings, knotting ribbon is clearly shown.

Chinese knots in paintings
Painting by Tang Yin, 1520.
"Making the Brides' gown", between 1700 and 1825, Qing dynasty

Qing dynasty[edit]

During the Qing dynasty (1644 –1911), Chinese knotting finally broke from its pure folklore status, becoming an acceptable art form in Chinese society and reached the pinnacle of its success. The culture of Lào zi then caught a second peak during the period of Qing Dynasty. During that time, basic knots became widely used to grace objects, such as ruyi, sachets, purses, fan tassels, spectacle cases, and rosaries, in daily use,[3]: 14  and extended the single knot technique into complicated knots.

Chinese knots in daily items
Mirror and needle case
Brisé Fan
Objects decorated with Chinese knots dating from the Qing dynasty, 19th century

According to the Chinese classical novel Dream of the Red Chamber, the Lào zi was developed and spread between the middle and higher hierarchy, making Lào zi was a way to express love and lucky within family members, lovers, and friends in Qing Dynasty.[18] It was also a form honourable craftsmanship studied and created by maids in the Imperial Palace; as written in the Gongnü Tan Wang lu宫女谈往录》, when knotting, the maids amusing for Ci Xi were able to quickly produce objects of various kinds proficient.”[19]: 29 

Republic of China[edit]

In the period of the Republic of China (1912–1949), knots can be seen from modern Chinese style without intricate and over decorative. For example, the pan kou, which was already appeared before Qing Dynasty,[20] using knot buttons ornament were designed particular for the cheongsam in this period.[21]

21st century[edit]

Variety of pan kou which is typically used as fastener for the cheongsam.

Even though the craft of Chinese knotting declined before 1970s,[1]: 64  the use of pan kou on the clothing and knots as a folk craft still alive in China.[22]: 98 

Influences and derivatives[edit]


An agemaki knot

The tying knots tradition in Japan is called hanamusubi, a term composed of the words hana which literally means "flower" and musubi which means "knot".[3]: 16 

The hanamusubi is a legacy of the Tang dynasty of China when a Japanese Emperor in the 7th century was so impressed by Chinese knots which were used to tie a gift from the Chinese that he started to encourage Japanese people to adopt the tying knots practice.[3]: 16 

Japanese knots are more austere and formal, simple, structurally looser than the Chinese knots.[3]: 16  In function, Japanese knots are more decorative than functional.[3]: 16  With a greater emphasis on the braids that are used to create the knots, Japanese knotting tends to focus on individual knots.


In Korea, decorative knot work is known as maedeup (Korean매듭), often referred as Korean knotwork or Korean knots in English languages.[3]: 16 

The Korean knotting techniques is believed to originate from China, but Korean knots evolved into its own rich culture as to design, colour and incorporation of local characteristics.[3]: 16  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.[23][page needed]

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 practice traditional art, especially among the older generations.

The most basic knot in maedeup is called the dorae (or the 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.[23][page needed] The bongsul tassel is noteworthy as the most representative work familiar to Westerners, and often purchased as souvenirs for macramé-style wall-hangings.

Related content[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Chang, Zonglin; Li, Xukui (2006). Zhongguo wen hua dao du 中国文化导读 [Aspect of Chinese culture] (1st ed.). Beijing: Tsinghua University Press. ISBN 7-302-12632-1. OCLC 77167477.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  2. ^ a b c d Yang, Yuxin. "Unveiling and Activating the "Uncertain Heritage" of Chinese Knotting". Issn: 2187-4751 the Asian Conference on Cultural Studies 2018: Official Conference Proceedings. Archived from the original on 15 July 2020. Retrieved 14 July 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Chen, Lydia (2007). The Complete Book of Chinese Knotting: A Compendium of Techniques and Variations. Tuttle Publishing. p. 5-16. ISBN 978-1-4629-1645-0. Archived from the original on 13 August 2020. Retrieved 28 July 2020.
  4. ^ a b "Chinese Knotting Home Page". 2010. Archived from the original on 17 March 2020. Retrieved 8 November 2010.
  5. ^ "Book of Changes:《系辞下 - Xi Ci II》". Archived from the original on 24 September 2020. Retrieved 13 July 2020. when Bao-xi had come to the rule of all...He invented the making of nets of various kinds by knotting strings, both for hunting and fishing.
  6. ^ "Book of Changes:《系辞下 - Xi Ci II》". Retrieved 13 July 2020. In the highest antiquity, government was carried on successfully by the use of knotted cords (to preserve the memory of things). In subsequent ages the sages substituted for these written characters and bonds. By means of these (the doings of) all the officers could be regulated, and (the affairs of) all the people accurately examined. The idea of this was taken, probably, from Guai (the forty-third hexagram).
  7. ^ Zhou yi zheng yi 周易正義. Wang, Bi (Sanguo); Kong, Yingda; Li, Xueqin; Lu, Guangming; Li, Shen. Tai bei shi: Tai wan gu ji. 2001. ISBN 957-9402-28-0. OCLC 327183583.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  8. ^ "Xin Tangshu/ juan 216 shang" 新唐書/卷216上 [New book of Tang/ Volume 216]. Wikisource. Archived from the original on 14 July 2020. Retrieved 14 July 2020.
  9. ^ Zhiyuan, Zhang (1993). "A Brief Account of Traditional Chinese Festival Customs". The Journal of Popular Culture. 27 (2): 13–24. doi:10.1111/j.0022-3840.1993.1354684.x. ISSN 1540-5931.
  10. ^ "T-Shaped Painting on Silk". hnmuseum. 2017. Archived from the original on 18 July 2020. Retrieved 17 July 2020.
  11. ^ a b Yu [于], Weidong [伟东]; Guo [郭], Yishu [乙姝]; Zhou [周], Sheng [胜] (2016). "Lun "jie" de gongju qiyuanshuo" 论"结"的工具起源说 [On the origin of "knot" as tool]. Journal of Silk. 53 (8): 80. doi:10.3969/j.issn.1001-7003.2016.08.013.
  12. ^ "高柄小方壶 High stem small square pot". Archived from the original on 13 July 2020. Retrieved 13 July 2020.
  13. ^ "You Hemudu Wenhua faduan" 由河姆渡文化发端. 看点快报. Archived from the original on 15 July 2020. Retrieved 15 July 2020.
  14. ^ "Chunqiu Zuo Zhuan ·Zhao Gong" 春秋左传·昭公 [Spring and Autumn Zuo Zhuan·Zhao Gong]. Wikisource. Archived from the original on 16 July 2020. Retrieved 14 July 2020.
  15. ^ Meng [孟], Yuanlao [元老]. "Qinding siku quanshu Dongjing Menhua Lu Juan wu" 欽定四庫全書 東亰夢華録巻五. guoxuedashi. Archived from the original on 17 July 2020. Retrieved 17 July 2020.
  16. ^ 王, 駱賓. "帝京篇". dugushici. Archived from the original on 17 July 2020. Retrieved 17 July 2020.
  17. ^ "Poems of Meng Jiao" 孟郊诗. Retrieved 2 July 2022.
  18. ^ "紅樓夢/第035回" [Dream of the Red Chamber·Chapter 35]. Wikisource. Archived from the original on 14 July 2020. Retrieved 14 July 2020.
  19. ^ Jin, Yi; Shen, Yiling (1991). Gong nü tan wang lu (1st ed.). Zi jin cheng chu ban she. p. 29. ISBN 978-7-80047-055-4. Archived from the original on 13 August 2020. Retrieved 14 July 2020.
  20. ^ Li [李], Keyou [科友[; Zhou [周], Diren [迪人]; Yu [于], Shaoxian [少先] (1990). "Jiangxi de an nansong zhou shu mu qingli jianbao" 江西德安南宋周氏墓清理简报 [Brief report on the cleanup of Zhou's tomb in South Song, De'an, Jiangxi]. 文物. 9: 1–13. Archived from the original on 18 July 2020. Retrieved 17 July 2020.
  21. ^ Guo, Jing (2014). "Aesthetic Characteristics of Shanghai Qipao in Chinese Women s Dress Culture". Aesthetic Characteristics of Shanghai Qipao in Chinese Women's Dress Culture. Proceedings of the International Conference on Education, Language, Art and Intercultural Communication. Vol. 3. Atlantis Press. p. 510. doi:10.2991/icelaic-14.2014.128. ISBN 978-94-6252-013-4. Archived from the original on 16 July 2020. Retrieved 17 July 2020.
  22. ^ Hua [华], Mei [梅] (2004). Zhongguo fu shi [Chinese clothing] (1st ed.). Beijing: Wu zhou chuan bo chu ban she. ISBN 7-5085-0540-9. OCLC 60568032.
  23. ^ a b Van Rensburg, Elsabe Jansen (2009). Knot another! : a step-by-step guide to 50 Korean maedeup knots and projects(as taught to me by Ms. Kim Mi Hae). Bangkok: Bleho Media. ISBN 9786119020405. OCLC 796904799.

External links[edit]