|Beijing Scene, Volume 5, Issue 4, April 9 -15|
This type of rug is best made with sheep wool but
nomads sometimes used goat and camel hair. Early Chinese carpet makers
also used silk pile which displays subtle color nuances and changes
its appearance in different light but silk is expensive and very fragile,
not ideal qualities in a carpet (especially if you are a nomad who has
just trodden in camel droppings).
Asian carpets are woven with a horizontal yarn (the
weft) and a vertical yarn (the warp). Colored pile yarns are firmly
knotted around two warp yarns and held tightly to the carpet base by
the weft yarns. The tufts of the knotted piles stick out above the warp
and the weft and the colored end of these tufts is what gives the carpet
its pattern. Like most oriental carpets, the design of Chinese carpets
emphasizes the flat surface of the pattern instead of going for the
kitsch realist effect like European designs later attempted.
Chinese carpet design features have spread throughout
western Asia. The arabesque - a complex scrolling-vine design - was
first used in China in the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770-221 BC) on bronze
mirrors. The design motif spread west along the Silk Route and was adopted
by Persians who since the 12th century AD have used it extensively in
the design of carpets. Another Chinese motif that became an important
part of Persian carpet design is a stylized band of clouds, sometimes
knotted, sometimes straight.
Chinaís own carpet industry took a great leap forward
when foreign Capitalist Silk Roaders journeyed to the east from western
Asia in the early Tang Dynasty (618-907). The opening of the Silk Route
allowed merchants to sell wool from sheep-raising areas of Tibet, Xinjiang
and Ningxia to carpet factories in eastern China. As recently as 1925
there were probably half a million camels transporting wool along this
route and the trade still goes on today. Scholars may object, but it
is your ayiís theory that this trade is where the term "carpetbagger"
Before you say "Chinese carpet shmarpet, the rugs
in my villa are a vomit-inducing neon pink," remember that it hasnít
always been so: Chinese craftsmen have been making wool and silk carpets
in tasteful black, blue, red, white and yellow for more than one thousand
years. Using rudimentary looms that were only replaced after Liberation
in 1949, carpet makers produced functional artworks of a beauty modern
machines have never rivaled.
The designs of Chinese carpets often have the same
elements found in other Chinese arts. Buddhist and Taoist symbols such
as the reverse swastika and tíai chi (yin and yang) are common, as are
animals like dragons, phoenixes, elephants and horses. Tibetan carpets
made for aristocrats also often depict animals, especially tigers and
elephants, while temple carpets commonly feature religious symbols such
as the lotus flower and images from the lives of the Buddha. Rugs from
Mongolia, Ningxia and Gansu have adopted elements of both Tibetan and
Chinese carpet design, while craftsmen from Xinjiangís famous carpet
oases like Khotan (Hetian) and Yarkand (Shache) preferred to weave abstract
designs due to Muslim belief that representational art is profane. Handmade
carpets have patterns that may not be symmetrical and sometimes the
colors are uneven because dye lots were small.
Most traditional rugs from China and Central Asia date from around a hundred years ago but newly made replicas abound. While Beijing is not a good place to buy carpets with contemporary designs, it is an excellent place to purchase a traditional rug. The prices are much lower than in the west and there are enough rug dealers that a wide selection is available. But donít take your time: replicas excepted, there is a limited supply of these things and capitalist roaders are taking them all away as we speak. So, Lino Less, get thee hence to a carpet factory and help invigorate our socialist market economy by removing yet another priceless relic of our glorious past!
Qianmen Carpet Factory
About 80 percent of the rugs are antique, handmade and colored with natural dyes. The carpets range from about •400 to •40,000. Tibetan rugs are the most expensive, sold at about •900 per meter. Others may go for •500 to •650 a meter. There is room to bargain, however.
Shopping here demands a certain tolerance toward
dust. None of these carpets are spotlessly clean, but the staff can
advise you on how to clean and care for your carpet. Even so, your eyes
will be dazzled by the Xinjiang pinks and greens, and Tibetan reds and