Decorative Chinese Knots - Review of Origins and History

Decorative Chinese Wedding Knot

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Long a staple decoration across cultures in Asia, the Decorative Knot is instantly recognizable by people both native and foreign to Asian countries. Though the art of knot tying was practiced separately across the world, it was in Asia specifically that this art form was so developed that it’s still in widespread and popular use today. Possessing characteristic curves and intricate turns, the decorative knot is an ancient art form that is once again spreading in popularity with the reemergence of Asian cultures on the world stage.

Cultural Significance of Decorative Knot Tying
Besides being practiced in China and much of Asia for several thousand years, Chinese knots begun to see use in both ceremonial and religious functions in addition to their more decorative uses. Chinese weddings commonly feature a variety of decorative knots, symbolic of the entwining of two lives similar to entwining of the knots. Many pieces also feature embroidered images or other materials inlaid onto the knot itself, such as precious stones or other solid materials. Other common additions to knots are small embroidered bags filled with fragrant herbs. In modern times, decorative knots fill an important commercial niche especially in China, where you’ll see it attached to everything from rear view mirrors to cell phones carried by teenagers.

Origins of Traditional Decorative Knot Making in Asia
Knot making began during prehistoric times, likely for the practical purposes of holding together rope and other fabric material. But as civilization advanced, the practice shifted to artistic and ceremonial purposes. One of the earliest Chinese dictionaries from two thousand years ago defines the word knot as the “joining of two cords”. Other surviving documents and records suggest that artistic knot making was proliferating widely in ancient China and being incorporated into everything from sword hilts, lanterns, to hair stick tassels. As this art form developed, it would involve increasingly intricate and ornate knots in its creation. Most of the advancement in technique of knot tying occurred around the time of the Tang and Song Dynasties. This period, especially during the Tang Era, was an apex in advancement and proliferation of art and culture in ancient China. It would be hundreds of years later however, during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, that it would reach its most widespread popularity.

China’s decorative knot making also spread and influenced to development of similar styles in neighboring countries, such as Japan and Korea, where it is still wide spread and popular today.

Modern Day Knot Tying
Following the many conflicts that disrupted art and culture in China and Greater Asia during the 20th century, knot tying begun to reemerge as a staple art form in society.

Especially noteworthy is the resurgence of interest in Taiwan that occurred during the 1970s. At the time, Lydia Chen of the National Palace Museum founded the Chinese Knotting Promotion Center that began a steady effort to spread awareness and popularity of decorative knot tying both in Asia and internationally. In the 1980s, she would focus her efforts at preserving and cataloging numerous artifacts displaying the art of knot making and tracing the development and evolution of decorative knots over the centuries. Other Taiwanese groups also expressed interest in preserving the art of traditional knots during this time, which led to other efforts to preserve the practice. Largely through these efforts and the subsequent books written by Lydia Chen, Chinese decorative knot tying gained international popularity and has today become an instantly recognizable symbol of both Chinese and other Asian cultures.

View the Video Below Showing the Production of a Chinese Knot (Video Produced by The Daily English Show at Arcadia University):

References:
Chen, Lydia. The Complete Book of Chinese Knotting: A Compendium of Techniques and Variations. Tuttle Publishing, 2007.

Chang, Zonglin. Li, Xukui. Aspect of Chinese culture. 中国文化导读. 清华大学出版社 publishing, 2006.

Chen, Lydia. Chinese Knotting: Creative Designs that are Easy and Fun. Tuttle Publishing, 2003.

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