The Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties were ages of expansion and great prosperity in Chinese history. The vogue during this period went beyond a rich and decent life. Luxury and novelty became fashionable. The most sought-after furniture made of the choicest timber, was as precious as gold.
Ming furniture is treasured for its comfortable design, simplicity and elegance, while Qing furniture impresses people with its grandeur and pageantry. Though different in style, Ming and Qing furniture represents the zenith of classical Chinese furniture making because of the use of hardwood material and superb craftsmanship.
A Wide Variety
Ming and Qing furniture is finely designed and boasts harmonious proportion with its settings. It,s a combination of all these things: elegance and simplicity, harmony and utility. Take a reclining chair for example. It,s convenient, whether for sitting up or lying down; it also makes a good ornament in a living room.
Ming and Qing furniture has a wide variety of items, mainly including chairs, tables, beds, cabinets, and screen panels.
Sitting on the floor was common in China well into the 10th century. In the Ming dynasty chairs became an increasingly common furniture item. Curving chairs, folding chairs, and the throne are among the best known of Ming and Qing chairs.
This chair is not only designed to please the eye, but also to increase comfort. Made to support the elbows as well as the upper arms, the elegant curving arms and backrest are by no means inconvenient.
This type of chair has a pair of hinged legs that take on an "x" shape when unfolded. Foldable and easy to carry, it was usually taken outside for nobles and aristocrats to rest on when they went outing and hunting.
A stately large chair exuding sense of austerity and authority was a must-have furniture item in the living room of the wealthy and the noble in the Ming and Qing dynasties. The majestic throne in the Hall of Supreme Harmony in the Forbidden City was good evidence of this practice. The regal supremeness permeated all over the hall when the emperors were sitting high on the throne and presiding over routine meetings with officials. In imperial China, the dragon was the most auspicious symbol of all, representing wisdom, strength and goodness, and it was often seen carved in the throne. Therefore, the throne was also called the ,Dragon Chair.,
Arhat beds and frame beds were the two most frequently seen types of beds in the Ming and Qing dynasties.
It looks like a sizable chair. One can sit up or lie down on it. The arhat bed is distinguished by railings around the back and sides of the platform. This practice gradually gave rise to decorative railings attached to the seat frame of the platform.
Arbats are followers of the Buddha who have attained full enlightenment, peace and freedom. It,s said that secular men and Buddhists often had enlightening conversations sitting on this type of beds, hence the name "arbat beds."
Raised posts are attached to the surrounding railings of the bed, rendering it as a small secluded "room." This "room" within a room provided nighttime enclosure when it was hung with draperies around the outside of the frame that suited the season. This type of beds denotes people’s belief that bedrooms should be relatively dim and enclosed, while living rooms large and bright.
The screen panel is among the oldest furniture that has been popular for centuries in ancient China. Originally a practical furniture item used for separating space, the screen panel was later decorated with motifs denoting the social status of the owners. In the Qing dynasty, the screen panel inlayed or carved with dragons always went together with the emperors, throne, displaying overwhelming imperial might.
Use of Tropical Hardwood
The source of timber largely decides the quality of the furniture. Ming and Qing classical Chinese furniture is no exception. The imported tropical hardwood, mostly from Southeast Asia, was the most choice wood for Ming and Qing furniture.
Zheng He, a renowned Ming official, started his first maritime expedition in 1405 under the patronage of the emperor. During the subsequent 28 years, he and his fleet had six more trade journeys, reaching 37 countries around the world. Zheng Hiss journey gained remarkable achievements in increasing trade between China and those countries, particularly in Southeast Asia. A large number of tropical hardwoods, timber with great hardness and density, were taken back to China. Craftsmen in the Ming Dynasty used these valuable hardwoods like sandalwood and rosewood to make furniture for the royal family. The numbered timber that Zheng He brought back, however, was far from enough. To meet the increasing domestic need, the Ming emperors regularly had officials take long and arduous trips to Southeast Asia to purchase the rare woods.
Timber can be roughly classified into four color-categories in descending order of hardness and value: black, yellow, red, and white. Black stands for red sandalwood; yellow for yellow rosewood; red for blackwood, and white for other ordinary timber.
Judging by hardness and density, hardwoods rank among the top. Sandalwood, rosewood, and blackwood are all considered the best hardwoods. The choicest hardwoods are mainly distributed in Southeast Asia as well as in South China. They,re rare and expensive, even reputed as "Golden Trees," because it usually takes up to hundreds of years to mat