The Symbol Filled Rugs Of China
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[The Flower Filled Rugs Of Persia]
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[The Symbol Filled Rugs Of China]
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Five hundred years before Christ, when Greece was rising to her golden age and much of Europe was wearing hides for clothing, a great collector walked the yellow earth of China gathering things his fathers had treasured. He stored them in the museums of men's minds, to be used as symbols in Chinese art. They have influenced the workmanship, colors, and designs of Chinese rugs from then until now. That collector was Confucius.
Whence came the rug weaving art of China, and when did it begin? Who is 'to say? China was weaving fine silks in the days of Babylon's glory. Wool sleeping rugs and covers were important in the Northern cold of Mongolia, and the mountain air of Tibetan regions. Important too were the "saddle" rugs for hardy Mongol horsemen and warriors.
Did China invent her own "pile," knotted to warp threads? Or did she get the idea through Arab traders carrying Babylonia's flowered rugs? Is the legend true about a Babylonian king, Sargon, visiting China's East coast? He would take his flowered tent, sleeping and eating rugs. China largely uses the Persian knot, and her early rugs leaned strongly toward Persian patterns of flowers, vines and leaves, as in the Peony rug woven at Ninghsia in Inner Mongolia in the late sixteen hundreds.
The Patterns in Chinese Rugs
Chinese designs grew from China's agricultural past with its worship of heaver., earth and nature, and from the religious symbols of Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, and Mohammedanism. The swastika, recurring line, T-pattern and latch hook, checker-board, coin or circle, and the pearl border are ancient. So are the dragon, sceptre or jui, cloud band, water patterns, lightning and fire, mountains and crags, thunder line and meander, and Yin and Yang-a circle equally divided by an S-curve into two curving, somewhat pear-shaped figures, one dark for earth or female, Yin, the other light for sky or male, Yang.
From the Hundred Antiques, weavers used the Eight Precious Things, also the Scholars' Emblems of harp, chessboard, books and paintings. The shou, butterfly, three fruits and the bat belong in these ancient symbols. The Metropolitan has an early rug with bat and swastika outlined in blue over a yellow field.
Taoism's Eight Immortals or their symbols-the fan, sword, pilgrim's staff and gourd, flower basket, flute, lotus flower, and bamboo tube and rods show on rug fields and borders. Their phoenix bird augured
happy events, their stag crane and peach (their fruit of the Immortals) augured long life.
Symbolic Colors in China's Rugs
China has a symbolic color for each of her five directions. Here, or middle, is yellow, the color of Chinese earth, of the Mongols, of gold, of the sun - sometimes used as a symbol for the emperor, and of the imperial household of the Manchus. Yellow was used in rugs for fields, for the dragon which represented the emperor's power, for the phoenix or feng huang which represented the glory of the empress.
Red, from madder, stands for south, joy, summer, fire, and copper. It is a favorite East Turkestan color, perhaps from Turkoman influence. Red in East China rugs came into increasing favor with the Manchu reigns.
Green, for east, for leaves, growth and spring, came from indigo and sumac. It is a religious color much used in Mohammedan mosque and prayer rugs.
White, the color representing west, mourning, precious jade, and silver, is from natural sheep's wool, sometimes bleached for more pristine whiteness.
Black, for north, winter, water, and the metal, iron, came from the natural colored wool or hair of animals, and from gallnuts or acorns, or iron filings soaked in vinegar.
Blue, from indigo, beloved color of China, is the color of heaven and air. It is much used for rug fields and borders. Blendings of yellow and red made peach and apricot. Brown came from blendings or from natural hair of camels, yaks, horses, cows or dogs.
China's Rug Types
Under the exacting arts of China's Manchus, gold, silver and silk rugs were made both in Khotan in Chinese Turkestan, and in Peking and Shantung on the coast. The wonderful flowered gold rugs of Khotan are rare now.
But Yarkand and Kashgar have fine wool rugs, often with a red field, due to their Turkoman contacts. Butterflies, bats and dragons, decorate the field. Rice grains (flecks of light color) enrich many a tan and brown rug. Swastika, T-pattern, water, and magic mountain make many a border. Prayer rugs from this section and from Lhasa are considered very fine.
Ceremonial rugs were used for the court yards and reception rooms of the rich on special occasions. The Wang rug, approximately five by nine feet., lay on the brick platform at the end of the main room. Under this passed the smoke from the cooking fire which made a warm spot for the household to sleep and play.
The beautiful saddle rugs from Ninghsia are the pride of Mongolian horsemen. Travel rugs with pockets make a night's pillow or a cover along with the cart rug. These are necessities in well to do homes. So are chair backs and seats.
China's Rugs in America
Chinese rugs, vegetable dyed and with the old symbols, began coming to America in clipper ships. Each bit of design was outlined by contrasting color, or by slightly cutting down the wool nap around it. This cutting gave a brocaded effect to the rugs. It is used today.
Old designs still appear in Peking and Tientsin rugs, but styled for American homes. Tientsin's rugs have such tight twisted yarns and tight pounded weft, they look almost machine made. Dark blues, browns and reds, with some lighter yellow, rose and blue, predominate. Peonies and pagodas, cloud bands and lotus, flowering branch and Chinese lantern spring from dark borders into lighter fields.
Knots in silk rugs run twice those of wool, which run four to ten knots an inch. (Persian, Turkoman, Turkish and Caucasian rugs run at seven to 21 knots to the inch-meaning they have much finer yarns and also infinitely more detailed pattern). Chinese rugs are simpler in design, with much less pattern than the other Oriental rugs. The best Chinese weavings today come from inland. Ninghsia and Paotow on the Hoangho make picture rugs with eight to 12 or more knots to the inch, the more knots, the more pattern detail can be put in.
Cotton warp and weft with wool pile, is the rule. Colors are vivid and dramatic. Designs include white cranes, black and white storks, pink phoenixes, and the favorite "eight horses of Emperor Mu-W'ang," These bold, modern carpets are a far cry from the mellow colors and quaint symbolism of the Mings, Manchus and even the early Republic.