Chinese Knotting: Lao Tzu 80

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The quote on the front page of this site is an excerpt from Lao Tzu, chapter 80 as translated by Wing-Tsit Chan in A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, P175.

The whole section is as follows:

Let there be a small country with few people.
Let there be ten times and a hundred times as many utensils
But let them not be used.
Let the people value their lives highly and not migrate far.
Even if there are ships and carriages, none will ride in them.
Even if there are armor and weapons, none will display them.
Let the people again knot cords and use them (in place of writing).
Let them relish their food, beautify their clothing, be content with their homes, and delight in their customs.
Though neighboring communities overlook one another and the crowing of cocks and barking of dogs can be heard,
Yet the people there may grow old and die without ever visiting one another.

As in many other places (most notably South America with their famous quipu or khipu), record keeping through the use of knotted cords also occurred in China. Unfortunately, very little is known about what kind of records were kept, what knots were used, or much else (at least in the literature that I have been able to access. When I asked my my father what information there might be in Chinese, he replied that he was certain there were lots of texts about the subject, all of which would be completely fabricated and without connection to true history. What a cynic!).

The only information I have been able to find beyond "Yes that happened" type notes was in the "History of Chinese Knotting" essay by Lydia Chen which has Chinese and English translations. Even so, the crude line drawing that accompanies the essay tells you nothing about the actual knots used, or if there was more to the record keeping with knots beyond numbers.

For a little more information about A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, or to buy this book, follow any of the following links: Chapters.CA,, Barnes & Noble,,, Amazon.DE, Amazon.FR.


Creation Date: Sun Jul 2 16:25:38 PDT 2000
Last Modified: Saturday, 12-Apr-2003 02:50:10 UTC
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