Chinese Classical Furniture
The words 'Chinese Classical Furniture' are used in two different senses. In a broad sense, it may refer to any kind of old-style furniture such as antique furniture, folk furniture, imperial furniture and so on. In a narrow, more specific sense, it could refer to the Chinese antique furniture designed in a classical style that features the finest artistry and craftsmanship. In this article, the reference of Chinese classical furniture corresponds to the more specific sense.
Although Chinese classical furniture greatly developed during the Song dynasty, the height of its popularity was actually from the mid-Ming dynasty until the early Qing dynasty. Furniture styles in this period were rustic yet impressive, with unique aesthetic personality and high practicality. The Qing-style furniture essentially inherited main features of typical Ming dynasty furniture. However, after the late period of Qianlong Kingdom, Chinese classical furniture became overcomplicated and complex in decoration and craftsmanship.
Depending on its function, Chinese classical furniture should belong to either one of the following categories.
Beds: platforms, daybeds, couches, and canopy beds
Chairs & Stools: such as Yoke-back armchair, folding chair, folding stool, corner-leg stool, bamboo-style stool
Cabinets: Display Cabinet, Square-corner Cabinet.
Tables: Square table, incense stand, narrow rectangular table with recessed legs
Racks: Book shelf, mirror stand, wash-basin Stand
Others: Screens etc.
Features of Ming and Qing dynasty furniture
Ming Funiture: As a representative of the golden period, Ming furniture treasured high-quality precious wood, practicality, simple but effective aesthetic design and exquisite craftsmanship. Most of its features were closely linked to the cultural background of that period. Because austerity was put into the law, Ming dynasty people, especially the rich, usually tended to remain low-key about their wealth. So, as a release of natural inclination, people were encouraged to wear bright-coloured, magnificent clothes, to build mansions and use luxurious furniture.
Aside from that, the hierarchy of scholars in Ming Dynasty was not differentiated by the difference of clothing, but by their interests in the novelty of furniture design. Their "less is more" aesthetic taste helped Ming furniture follow the natural and elegant style. Furniture was mostly made of high-valued red sandalwood and scented rosewood and other hardwood. A musical instrument table with a tin pool, backrest armchair used for reading and resting and adjustable bed are all examples of the multi-functioned furniture used in the period. To create an elegant atmosphere, Ming scholars put vases, incense burners, handwritings and paintings into their rooms.
To begin with, Qing furniture kept Ming patterns and styles. Yet, by the Qianlong period, furniture started to show its own personality and even began showing an influence from western art. Furniture became larger and grander, with popular engravings and meaningful decorations, such as auspicious patterns, geometric patterns, animal scenes, mountains and waters, flowers and grass. Additionally, furniture was painted in different colours, especially gold. With the arrival of foreign priests, diplomats and merchants, articles or picture albums about western furniture had been brought into ancient China as well. Some design elements and production techniques were highly prized by high-ranking Chinese officials and incorporated into the design and production of Chinese furniture. Despite these influences from the western world and the changing of style, the essence of Chinese classical furniture still remains and even receives vigorous support from the international world.