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China Information >> Arts
 
lacquer

Over 4000 years ago, before most major inventions of China were created, lacquer ware had already come into use by ancient Chinese people.

Its unique, high-class, elegant appearance is a love-at-first-sight for most Chinese art lovers. The special red color captures your heart instantly, and the glossy, fascinating details repeatedly re-emerge in your dreams later on.

The quality of lacquer ware is superb, and it is not unusual to see a lacquer item made hundreds of years ago still retain its original form and beauty. Take a tour to the major museums in Beijing, and you will discover many exquisite lacquer ware products used by ancient Chinese emperors that retain their great color.

Generally, the quality of lacquer ware is “four resists”. It resists moisture, heat, acid, and corrosion. The special material used to make it, which is the sap from a kind of varnish tree, and the traditional techniques applied in the making, which have been perfected through generations, are what give this especially firm ware such an amazing quality.

For as substantial and firm as a lacquer ware is, it is incredibly light. Its enduring strength comes not from its density or size, but from the numerous layers of lacquer that are painted on the body. It is also very easy to clean and wash, which would not do any damage to its appealing, delicate-looking surface.

 

Lacquer has been used in Chinese Arts since about 200 BC. Lacquer comes from the sap of a Lacquer tree (native to Southern China). It is harvested much like Maple Sap in the United States and Canada. Lacquer is an extremely tedious process. Many coats are needed to create a thickness that can be carved. As many as 100 to 150 coats may be used on some pieces to achieve the desired thickness. Each layer must dry before the next can be applied. It takes up to 4 months to make a single piece. The most popular coloring used in Lacquer goods is called Cinnabar, which is made from mercury. The name comes from its dark red color. Most of the workshops in China that made Cinnabar items have closed.