Ming dynasty cabinet
Ming dynasty cabinet

A wide variety of miniature furniture has been found in Han Dynasty tombs. This includes chairs, tables, cupboards and chests. It is made with sophisticated, flowing lines, not unlike modern bentwood furniture. The pieces are made of rich, fine-grained hardwoods, like ebony, rosewood and sandalwood, polished to a high finish and with little, if any, carving. Teak, which is often thought of in the West as a traditional Chinese timber was not used until the 19th century and then only in items intended for export. Lacquer was used but the technique was so time-consuming and expensive that it was found in quantity only in palaces.

Han Dynasty furniture consisted mainly of low platforms, called k’ang, for reclining and sleeping, low tables and stools. The chair was introduced late in the Han Dynasty and tables and stools became higher.

A unique aspect of Chinese furniture is the absence of nails and dowels and very limited use of glue. Joints are made almost entirely by motices and tenons. There are two advantages of this: the furniture has the ability to withstand extreme changes in temperature and humidity over a short period of time, and it can be taken apart for moving.. The intricate interlocking structure is concealed where possible to preserve the lines of the piece. Different timbers are often used in one piece of furniture but the use of veneers is rare.

Ch'ing Dynasty chair
Ch’ing Dynasty chair

Chinese furniture is traditionally arranged against the wall or at right angles to the wall. It is never slanted or grouped in the centre of the room. The place of honour in any room is that farthest from the door and to the left of the host. At meal times, a dining table is brought into any room where it is decided to eat; there is no room set aside for dining. Tables seat no more than eight or ten because everyone must be able to reach all of the dishes, which are placed in the centre of the table.

The Chinese had a great variety of cupboards and chests. Clothes were stored in chests (never in drawers), books in cupboards and crockery in cupboards sometimes including drawers.

An armchair was regarded as a seat of honour and, as such, was usually reserved for men. Indeed, during the Sung Dynasty (from 960 to 1287 A.D.) it was regarded as improper for a woman to sit on any chair.

Antique Chinese furniture available now
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