Chinese Knots

Chinese knotting is an ancient folk art that involves the tying and weaving of a single length of cord or rope into a variety of shapes, varying in complexity, that each hold their own symbolic meaning. Most knots are double layered and symmetrical and have two cords entering the knot from the top and two leaving from the bottom. Each kind of knot is named after its shape or the symbolic meaning that it carries. Knots can vary in colour, but are most commonly made with red cord, as the colour red is a symbol of good luck and fortune in China. Today they are mainly used as decorations, given as gifts on special occasions or used as buttons or adornments on clothes. However these knots have a long history, and originated as a way of recording information and events, before the creation of Chinese characters.

Although, due to the delicate nature of the art, few ancient examples of knotting exist today, there is evidence that the history of knotting goes as far back as 100 000 years. For example, the recent discovery of tools that would have been used for the tying and untying of knots, and reference to knots in ancient literature. They were first used as a form of communication, a method of recording historical events and a symbol of a contract or formal agreement. For example, when archiving an event, the nature of the event would be recorded in the shape of the knot and the importance or significance was emulated in the size of the knot. An event of great historical importance would be recorded with a large and complex knot, whereas less significant events would merit only small, far simpler designs. It was also widely used in traditional Chinese clothing, as a means of fastening or decorating garments, as knots proved to be far stronger than bone buttons.

Even today, Chinese knots are rich in symbolic meaning, and therefore hold a great deal of sentimental value when given as gifts or passed down through families. The Chinese word for ‘rope’ is ‘shèng’, which has similar properties to the words for ‘spirit’ and ‘divine’; therefore knots also carry great spiritual meaning and have been used as objects of worship. The word for ‘knot’ itself is ‘jié’ and is related to many other terms that reinforce the symbolic meaning of the knots. For example, ‘tuán jié’ which means ‘to unite’, ‘jié hūn’ meaning ‘to marry’ and ‘jié guŏ’ meaning ‘result’ or ‘outcome’ are just a few.

It is no wonder then that knots have been so closely related to love and marriage in Chinese culture. In ancient times and even now, lovers may give a knot as a token of their love, for example the ‘truelove knot’ or ‘double happiness knot’, which are often associated with weddings and symbolize mutual love and growing old together…


True Love Knot

Double Happiness Knot

The following knot is a traditional Chinese button knot, used for thousands of years before the invention of zips as a way of fastening clothes. It was also not only functional but a beautiful way of decorating garments and is still used today…

Button Knot

In China fish are associated with wealth and good fortune, as the word for fish is similar to the word for ‘plentiful’. So a knot in the shape of a fish would perhaps be given as a gift to wish a friend good luck in a new endeavor…

Gold Fish Knot

Another common knot is the butterfly knot. The butterfly is also a symbol of love and longevity, particularly the strong bond between lovers, therefore a butterfly knot is the perfect gift for a new couple…

Butterfly Knot

In todays China, a land that is evolving at such a rapid rate in order to keep up with the demands of modern society, it is comforting to know that ancient traditions such as knotting, passed down through so many generations, are still alive and continue to intrigue and delight people the world over.

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