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Traditional Chinese Knots Become Modern Fashion

The traditional Chinese knot, or zhongguojie, is a fashionable ornament in many modern cities. Different kinds of Chinese knots in many shops greet customers. Whether you are a tourist in China or professional leaving for your home country after a work assignment here, you may choose the traditional Chinese knot as a souvenir for yourself or your loved ones.

People are drawn to traditional Chinese knots for different reasons. While many prefer to hang it on their doors at home to symbolize a joyous atmosphere, many young women like to use it as a fashion accessory to go with their equally fashionable clothing. The Chinese knot is also used to exchange best wishes among friends as well as to wish drivers a safe journey to and from their destination.

A beautiful and auspicious decoration of profound cultural significance, the Chinese knot is knotted with a silk cord into traditional patterns with colorful tassels. It varies significantly in size, use and color. A typical Chinese knot is red but it can also be gold, green or black.

As it is knotted with a single cord that looks the same on both the front and back, the Chinese knot stands for peace, perfection and altogether symbolizes eternal life, which makes it an auspicious accessory. The beautifully handcrafted unique but mysterious oriental patterns are listed among China’s three most famous handicrafts, the other two are embroidery and fabrics.

The long history of the Chinese knot dates back to ancient times when no characters existed. Originating during the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties and flourishing during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, the traditional Chinese knot began as a simple knotting technique and became increasingly elaborate as a current exquisite work of art.

The pronunciation for the word “cord,” or sheng in Chinese, is similarly to the word shen (god). Thus, ancient Chinese once made the dragon-shaped cord, as all Chinese considered themselves descendents of the dragon. The knot, or jie in Chinese, symbolizes strength and harmony. Many Chinese expressions formed by jie represent unity, closeness and comfort. Furthermore, its homophone, ji (auspicious), has numerous positive meanings, such as blessing, longevity, fortune and health. All these favorable connotations made the Chinese knot a trendy item in China.

Flowers, birds, fish and insects are common patterns used in the Chinese knot. As in other Chinese art forms, ancient Chinese derived auspicious meanings from related connotations of the knotted patterns, such as longevity, wealth, family togetherness and joy.

In addition, certain kinds of Chinese knots were considered religious talismans conducive to exorcizing evil spirits, such as the auspicious knot and long coiling knot, which many ordinary citizens used extensively.

The Chinese knot was also a part of ancient Chinese literature—it was the subject of numerous poems. For example, in the Classics of Poetry, China’s first ancient poetry collection, which dates back more than 2,000 years, a number of poems depict scenes of a mother giving her soon-to-be-married daughter tips on making good Chinese knots.

Chinese knots can be categorized according to their various functions. For example, the old-style auspicious knot or “lovers’ knot,” made by tying together two single knots, symbolizes true love and commitment; and the peony knot symbolizes elegance and wealth as well as true love. Bow-knots symbolize blessings, while safety knots worn on clothing and knots hung on walls ward off evil and ensure safety. All these knots represented ancient Chinese cultural and religious beliefs as well as the people’s pursuit of truth, good and beauty.

However, the Chinese knot of today is nothing like it was in ancient times. Many elaborate techniques are now used to craft the Chinese knot and make it a unique new item. These techniques combine modern fashion and technologies with folk art such as woodcraft, New Year pictures and paper-cuts. One of its two main sets includes an auspicious ornamental wall hanging which includes large hangings, an inner pendant, a pendant to hang on a car rearview mirror, and so on. Its other main use includes jewelry and hair ornaments consisting of rings, earrings, bracelets, necklaces, hairpins, classic coat buttons and hangings for mobile phones.

Due to its diverse uses, there are strict rules on where to hang the Chinese knot indoors while decorating one’s home. The blessing knot is hung mostly on the walls, as it symbolizes a festive time and atmosphere, while the wood-carved knot using antithetical couplets best belongs in the study. A bow-knot and “lovers’ knot” look good on curtains and screens, while the spring knot, an emblem of bumper harvests, is suitable for the bedroom, as it indicates fertility.

(Beijing Review March 25, 2002)

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