Chinese Rugs

Written by Helen Glenn Court
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A few records mention hand knotted Chinese rugs being made as early as 1696 in north central China, west of Beijing toward Mongolia, in Ningxia province. In fact, the oldest surviving hand knotted rug--dating to 500 BC--was found on the border of Siberia and Outer Mongolia, but its origin is not known and its design is Persian. For the most part, however, Chinese rugs appeared only in the 19th century, during the Ming and Ching Dynasties.

The first Chinese wool rug making school was founded in 1860 in Beijing, by a Buddhist priest named Ho Chi-ching. It proved successful and rug making thrived for a time. By the end of the century, however, quality declined. In the early 20th century manufacture resumed, thanks in large part to western capital.

Chinese rugs--unlike most from Turkey, the Caucasus, Persia, Central Asia, and India--feature realistic flora and fauna as well as geometric designs. Both wool and camel hair were abundant in China's rug making areas, and were the primary material for pile. Provinces along the old Silk Road into Central Asia all produced rugs early on, as did Tibet and Mongolia.

Chinese Rugs of Tibet

Most rugs made in Tibet are area rugs. The best of them are made--despite an influx of technology and new weaving techniques--by traditional methods, totally hand-spun yarn and natural dyes. They feature thick dense pile and deep rich colors. Weaving in Tibetan rugs, however, is unique among rug makers. A continuous strand of yard is wrapped through all the warps of the foundation and across a metal rod that spans the loom width. The wraps of yarn are then cut, forming two rows of tufts. Two traditional Tibetan designs are the flayed tiger on a cream background, and a simplified and angular large flower design.

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