In the lexicon of Chinese carpenter, cabinet maker and furniture dealers various terms and names of woods and construction techniques are unique and apply solely to the Chinese Furniture tradition. In the Chinese tradition words like hardwood and softwood, have different meanings to that which we subscribe to them in the West. In the West hardwood is a description that is used to describe those trees that are deciduous and annually lose their leaves, while softwoods describes the conifers and pines.
In Chinese, the term hardwood is used to denote the tropical hardwoods found in South East Asia known as yingmu in Chinese used to construct the most of the surviving Ming style furniture. The 17th Century Chinese Scholar Qu Dajun lists 20 (hard)woods used in furniture construction hailing from Hainan Island alone, calling them wenmu, though this might be a reference to the figuring of the wood's grain. Softwoods on the other hand are placed under the broad heading of miscellaneous woods, in Chinese zamu.
Little Ming dynasty furniture survives made solely of un-lacquered softwoods probably due to a number of factors, such as the relative expense of the imported hardwoods compared to softwoods which resulted in the hardwood furniture being repaired or the constituent woods recycled, and the softwood furniture replaced. Woods such as Jumu, nanmu and others are all recorded in the contemporary texts, but because they are less insect resistant and less resistant to rot than hardwoods means that in general they did not survive. However it was common practise for the back and interiors of furniture, such as the back panels of cabinets and the sides and bottoms of drawers to be made of softwood. Softwood was also the most favoured material for constructing furniture that was to be lacquered or in the rare occasions when the furniture maker used veneers.
Confusingly, the Chinese did not use a definitive botanical categorisation system that identified trees by species and genus, so that so long as the wood of various trees meet the criteria for the facets required, even different parts of the whole tree could be labelled as different woods. Also the literal English translations of the Chinese names do not necessarily help us to make sense of the word and therefore the wood; for example, peach wood is called taomu, walnut wood is called hetaomu ( black peach wood). However, I have tried to identify the hardwoods and softwoods by species and genus where possible given the current state of the scholarship available on this matter.
Hardwoods have had the benefit of a lot of academic research to determine the precise nature of the wood, its origins and history. However because of the inexact nature of the Chinese names used, categorical definitions are not always possible. The following is a distillation of our current knowledge.
Huali is one of the most desirable of all Chinese furniture timbers, with most of the finest furniture of the Ming and early Qing periods being made from it. Furniture made of Huali was at one stage in the 1560's was counted less valuable than that made from the humble elm, but by the later Qing period, supplies of the wood became very scarce and later furniture using huali is uncommon. A characteristic of the wood is the ghost eyes 'guananjing' in the swirling grain of the wood, which was highly prized as it was believed that the 'eyes' had the power to ward off malign influences and ill fortune.
Today, the 20th Century term Huanghuali, is used by dealers, and this has become the most common descriptive term of the patina and the mellowed yellowish brown colouration of the wood of first choice and preference for most collectors. Huali literally translates as Flower pear, huanghuali is literally yellow flower pear.
Identified in a 14th Century text as being native to the Southern Barbarian Regions as well as Southern China, India Burma, island of Sumatra, Malaysia and the Philippines.
Genus Pterocarpus and Dalbergia latifolia and Ormosia henryi
Considered by the Chinese to be the most precious of all woods, it has been known in China since the 3rd Century AD. The grain is very close and the wood is very dense, so dense in fact that it sinks in water and was a common source for red dye. The mania for zitan in the late 1600's Century lead to large scale felling of the trees in China itself and resulting the cutting of even immature trees that has lead to its near extinction. Qing dynasty officials were sent as far as the South Pacific islands to supervise the felling. The Imperial Court even resorted confiscating privately held supplies to enable the Imperial workshops to have a monopoly the supply of this precious wood. In early 1700's it was selling for its own weight in silver in the Philippines.
Zitan is generally accepted to be not a single species, but a number of different species with varying colour and grain. Furniture dealers identify three different types of zitan. Gold star (jinxing), rooster-blood (jixue) and huali grain zitan. Zitan translates as purple sandalwood. Native in the areas identified by the Chinese as the Southern Barbarian regions today's Indo-China and Thailand and also the Philippines and China's own Guangxi province that includes Hainan Island.
Genus: Dalbergia Santilinus and Pterocarpus indicus (in the Philippines called tindalo), and perhaps a species of Leguminosae
Translates as Chicken Wing Wood so named because of its fine feathery grain of alternating dark and light lines, when sawn to expose the tangential grains. However Jichimu was not solely from one source of timber, in deed might be from seven different species. Jichimu has since the Tang dynasty had been given in tribute to the Imperial Courts. More commonly used in the Ming period for furniture, by the middle of the Qing period it was rarely used for large pieces of furniture, but more commonly for smaller pieces. Also known in Chinese as xiangsi, most commonly from the hongdou (red bean).
Native to the Guangxi, Hubei, Fujian and Sichuan regions of China.
Genus: Ormosia hosiei (Red bean tree) and also Cassia Siamea
Literally red wood, commonly called Blackwood in South China. Is the most common of all the hardwoods and is predominately found in late Qing furniture, with no references recorded earlier than this period. In South China it was also commonly called suanzhi - sour bough ( wood ) because of the pungent sour smell when it is cut and worked
The tallest of all the hardwood trees, it is the least expensive of the hardwoods. It also known as shiyan and tieleng and is called ironwood in English. The wood is hard and durable, with a dark red pith and a fine a beautiful grain. Its colour and grain bear some resemblance to jichimu, but it has a courser texture and a more open grain and less contrasting feathering.
Tielimu was also commonly used for furniture as a secondary material for the less visible areas of the furniture such as the shelves, the sides and bottom of drawers and for the bottom of cabinets. In addition because of its large timbers it was commonly used in the construction of buildings and bridges.
Genus: Messua Ferrea
Ebony is a very dark wood with a fine texture and depending on the species the colour varies from jet black to black ,grey and brown streaks. The timbers from ebony are small because of the very slow growth of the trees. It is not uncommon some of the sap wood to be visible when used on furniture. It is most commonly used to accent a piece made predominately from other timbers and for smaller scholars objects. Hubanmu is similar to Madagascan Ebony and is recognised by its 'tiger striped' grain.
Below is a representative sample of the major woods that where used by local artisans to make furniture for their customers. These artisans had to rely of the woods available in the local environs. A survey carried out in Hebei province in the 1930's recognised some 130 species being native to that region and 55 of those species were used locally for making furniture. Little research has been carried out on softwoods compared to hardwoods, and the state of current knowledge is therefore less exact, however the listing below is a good working brief.
Nanmu is a large slow growing tree of the evergreen laurel family and not as has been commonly thought, cedar. It has a pleasant light even colour, it seldom expands or contracts and is considered one of the finest softwoods. Indeed Nanmu was subject to several Imperial mandates along with zitan to regulate its use. Some pieces of Ming and the early Qing periods are constructed solely of this wood, but it was more commonly used in combination with a hardwood. It has the many more knots in the grain than any other wood except huamu ( birch burl wood ). Nanmu burl, which is a major material for Ming and early Qing furniture comes from the roots of these massive trees found in the western part of Sichuan province
Genus: Phoebe nees
Camphor is an evergreen whose trunk can exceed 32 metres in height and 5 metres in diameter. The tree thrives in the provinces ion China's south-east coast, in particular Fujian and Taiwan. It is also native to Jiangxi, Hunan and Hebei province. Zhangmu was considered a valuable wood for its odour that repels insects, and as a result is most commonly found in furniture that was used to store clothes, furs and carpets.
Genus: Cinnamomum camphora
Jumu and Yumu
Jumu (Southern Elm) and Yumu (Northern Elm) are excellent woods for furniture, the wood is strong and dense, with a beautiful colour and interesting. The older trees of a reddish colour are called xueju which literally translates as 'blood juice'. The woods are relatively easy to differentiate; Yumu has a more open and wider, darker and more pronounced graining than Jumu. Jumu's tighter grain means the wood is slightly more dense and harder than Yumu. Elm has long been used as a furniture wood and it is recorded in the contemporary Ming texts, as being a valued and valuable wood.
The woods characteristic large grain, is called 'pagoda pattern' by carpenters in Suzhou, and it looks like the ranges of mountain peaks one finds in Classical Chinese landscape paintings. Yumu is more commonly found in the northern provinces of Shanxi, Sha'anxi & Hebei, whilst jumu is more commonly found in Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Anhui Provinces.
Genus: Yumu - Zelkova. Jumu - Ulmus
Boxwood grows in Central China, and the freshly cut and worked wood changes to a light greenish yellowy brown as it ages. It has a fine and very dense grain that is difficult to saw but easy to work. Very many scholars objects and carvings were made with it, it is very rare to see the wood being used to construct large pieces of furniture such as chairs.
In Chinese the term huamu is used interchangeably for birch and birch with burl-like graining and it is also used to describe all burl woods. Burl wood can be found from elm, camphor, cedar cypress and willow. Swirl grained huamu is often cut into large boards for table-top panels or door panels on round corner cabinets. It has a fragile grain and as a result the joined boards are highly likely to split over time. The wood is quite dense and as the tree grows the wood changes colour from an off white colour to a reddish brown colour.
Southern Cypress some times called huangbai because of its yellowish brown colour. This is deemed to be the best cypress for making furniture, as the wood is dense and has an even texture and a pleasant fragrance when worked. Some early pieces are made entirely of this wood, while other pieces use it for minor parts, making it an important secondary wood, valued for its ability to resist warping and cracking.
Genus: Cupressus funebris
Zuomu, Gaolimu, Malimu
Over 140 different types o oak have been recorded in China, although it is an ideal wood for furniture making, it is not very commonly found. Oak is a strong wood with a light coloured textured wood with tapering dark coloured flecks of 1 to 2 centimetres and some feathering reminiscent of jichimu. Gaolimu is also known as Korean wood, Gaoli being the Chinese for Ancient Korea, and was used extensively in the Yongzheng Imperial workshops. Both decidious and evergreen oak was used.
Genus Decidious: Quercus Serrata, Q. mongolica, Q. Acutissima. Evergreen:- Cyclobalanopsis
Commonly termed zhazhen or zhajing, this furniture-making wood is associated with the mulberry species. Furniture made from zhazhen wood is commonly found in the Subei region of Jiangsu. The wood is dark reddish-brown and layered with coffee-colored tissue; it has a fine grain pattern with medullary rays visible in the radial cut. The material is of medium density, but has low resistance to decay.
Walnut is a beautiful wood with a small tight grain. It is not a common furniture wood, such pieces that are found are generally worth a premium. Hetao literally translates as 'black peach'. Most of the best walnut furniture comes from Shandong and Shanxi Provinces. Walnut was used for many examples of Qing period furniture sourced from the Shanxi region, which generally demonstrate refined workmanship; earlier pieces are extremely rare. Walnut is easily confused with nanmu, however, the surface of walnut tends to have more of an open-grained texture, and the color tends more towards golden-brown or reddish-brown when contrasted with the olive-brown tones of nanmu. Furthermore, their freshly worked surfaces each emit a distinctive fragrance.
Locust or scholar tree initially appears quite similar to northern elm. In the Northern Song architecture treatise Yingzao fashi, locust and elm (yu) were categorized "miscellaneous hardwoods" of similar sawing difficulty. However, locust is appreciably more dense (.79-.81 g/cm3), and the surface is more coarsely textured.
Locust is distributed throughout China, however the best is considered to come from northern China. Aside from its noted density, the timber is hard and very strong. The pores in the early wood can be relatively large; the grain is relatively straight but unevenly textured. It is relatively easy to dry, with little warpage; however, it tends to develop large cracks. After drying, the wood is quite stable and naturally resistant to moisture and insect damage. It is difficult to cut and to surface; however, afterwards, it reveals a lustrous surface.
Other softwoods include, Taomu - Peach, Fengmu - maple, Shanmu - Fir, Baisong mu - White pine, Huangsongmu - Yellow pine, Shuisongmu - water pine, Qiumu - Catalpa, Duanmu - Linden, Songmu - Pine, Yangmu -Willow, Limu - pear, wutong/baotong - paulownia, shimu - persimmon. Other fruitwoods were used but identifying the actual trees that they came from is difficult, and such furniture is generally labelled as just fruitwood.
No listing of materials that were used for making traditional style country furniture would be complete without including Bamboo ( a grass, not a wood ) so much a part of Chinese culture. Indeed it was common for hardwoods and softwoods to be carved to imitate bamboo. Bamboo, was one of the most accessible materials available in the environs of China's towns and villages for use by local artisans and their poorer customers for furniture construction.
Mountainous regions were also areas where bamboo is extensively used such as Shanxi province, although not poor region in the Ming and early Qing periods because of the regions salt mines, is a source of much of the bamboo furniture found today, most of it being 18th Century. Curiously 19th Century furniture is harder to find as the construction techniques used were less robust. The top surfaces of the bamboo pieces such as an altar table would generally be black lacquered softwood. In addition to being used to construct chairs, side and altar tables, it was commonly used for food storage cabinets. One should however be aware that there is a lot of very clever and convincing reproductions of bamboo furniture purporting to be old, but are in fact new.
Paktong, or baitong hardware was commonly used for reinforcement and decoration. Paktong is essentially a brass alloy with a 5-10% nickel content with imparts a silvery luster and retards the tarnishing which is typical to brass. Metalsmiths were a specialized trade distinct from woodworking carpenters. It is not uncommon for the metal of furniture to be replaced or to have been lost. Metal was an expensive component of the furniture and was used sparingly. Hence the common practise of using wood hinged doors on many pieces of furniture.
Decorative stone was used as a secondary material for table top panels, decorative inlay panels, and impressionistic screen panels. The natural imagery revealed in a slice of geological time often revealed abstract landscape scenes or figures. Soft decorative stone such as marble or serpentine were commonly used; agate panels were also used, but much more rarely
Woven Cane Seats
Soft, woven seats were traditional to Ming and early Qing furniture, although the use of hard seat panels is occasionally noted in early examples. Aside from its pliable support, the airiness of the woven bed frame was especially comfortable during the hot summer seasons. With regard to chairs, the customary use of woven seats gives way to increasing use of hard-panel seats during the 18th and 19th centuries, and old soft seats were also occasionally replaced with maintenance-free hard panels during this period.
Seat weaving was a specialized tradition, and itinerant specialists facilitated their frequent repair and renewal. Soft seats were produced in several traditional styles. Occasionally, processed animal tendons were used to weave an extremely pliant matting. Woven-rope and leather-strip seats were common to folding stools and folding chairs. More commonly, an underwebbing of twisted palm fibre was woven through the holes in the seat frame, after which, split cane was woven directly on top.
The craft of weaving cane has all but disappeared. Modern recaning continues using the underwebbing technique, however, the finely woven mat has been replaced by sheet matting that is cut to size and simply pinned into the holes with softwood wedges. The fibre and cane, having been soaked for several hours before weaving, dries to a taught, yet elastic seat panel.
TYPES AND FORMS OF CHINESE FURNITURE
Chinese furniture evolved a full vocabulary of shapes during the Ming dynasty, expanding upon those developed during the previous Song and Yuan dynasties. The Qing dynasty saw the introduction of more elaborate decoration throughout the regime. The new regime wanted to break from the austere style of the Ming dynasty, and the elaboration of ornament on the Qing period pieces grew with time, and was influenced by the French rococo style with elaborate carvings of entwined leaves, shells and other floral motifs. It is not disputed that Qing furniture is well crafted, the joinery, carving and polishing is of the highest quality. But, by the late Qing dynasty, the form of Imperial and the Literati taste furniture had almost been overwhelmed by detail, so much so, that in comparison to the Ming style, the many of the pieces lack grace and fluidity.
Meanwhile in the non-rarefied atmosphere of the rest of China, the Ming style lived on for most of the rest of the population. Only the more common hardwoods such as tielimu, hongmu were available, together with the softwoods that the majority of the Chinese artisans were used to using.
The softwoods necessitated the use of less elaborate joinery, to ensure that the furniture was sturdy, strong and up to the day to day wear of the environment that they would find themselves. This meant, that tenons rather than being disguised, would be longer penetrating the joined wood and leaving the tenon exposed, that compound mitred joints would not have the multiple redundancy that might be found furniture made at the Forbidden City's Luban workshops.
This does not mean that the country furniture did not have decoration and detailing, in later pieces the detailing can be quite elaborate. Pieces from Shanxi are quite often found with highly exaggerated detailing and expressive ornamentation, as an attempt was made to give the impression of a more refined taste and status. Generally, however the forms remained closer to the Ming style. In many cases, the softwood forms directly echo those of the hardwood, which considering the average carpenter did not have a manual to work from but relied on the rote learnt instructions of their apprenticeship, is a remarkable testament to their abilities.
Stools and Chairs
Square, rectangular and round stools.
Called wudeng in Chinese, the original meaning of the character is a tree without branches, and the meaning has since come to mean a backless seat or stool, and is a term used in Northern China.
The basic forms of waistless stools have straight legs and stretchers. They may be square or rectangular and vary greatly in dimensions. Many variations of spandrals occur including plain ones and those carved with cloud-like motifs. When there is no apron, short pillar shaped struts may be added. In addition to straight stretchers there are humpbacked stretchers. The ends of the stretchers are joined to the legs by a double mitre, or they may go around the outside of the legs as if wrapped around them, a construction which simulates bamboo furniture. Some waistless stools have base stretchers.
The waisted form of stools has straight legs terminating in inward-curving horse-hoof feet, with either straight or humpbacked stretchers. Stools with crossed stretchers can only be considered a variation of this simple form. Besides straight legs there are cabriole, or s shaped legs. The outward curve of the apron and leg can end in an inward-curving horse-hoof foot. Base stretchers maybe found on waisted stools, and sometimes the legs stand on a continuous floor stretcher with separate small feet.
The drum stool ( zuodun ) is also called an embroidery stool ( xiudun ) because many of them were used with a piece of square embroidery placed on the top surface with coins weighting the embroidery's corners. Most Ming and early Qing drum stools still bear vestiges of rattan stools and wooden drums. The openings in the sides are derived from the circular openings in rattan stools. The string mouldings and round bosses are echoes of the nails by which the hide was attached to drums.
Folding stools are known as jiaowu, or commonly as mazha, and are direct descendants of the ancient cross legged stool called a barbarian seat ( huchuang ). The folding stool originated in the Western regions in the Eastern Han period ( AD 25-220 ) and has been widely used in China for more than a thousand years. Its basic form consists of eight straight pieces of wood has not changed through the ages.
Benches (changdeng) come in many forms in the Ming and Qing periods, from benches for one to benches, for 3 or 4 people. Benches can be found that are devoid of all decoration to those that are quite ornate. Some from Shanxi province come with everted flanged ends and carved ornamental panels. Benches are most commonly found in pairs.
Benches and stools were offered to those of lesser rank or status, visiting someone of higher status, who did not warrant a chair but did warrant more than kneeing on the floor.
Ming & Qing chairs maybe divided into various types; side chairs i.e. without arms - (kaobeiyi), armchairs with curved backrests - ( quanyi ), folding chairs ( jiaoyi ). Another kind of is known as a lamp hanger chair ( dengguayi ) because of the resemblance of its rather high, narrow back to the hanger of a bamboo hanger.
All chairs with a back and armrest, except for the armchairs with a curved rest and the folding chairs are called armchairs. There are three main forms, one is quite low, with the back and armrests at right angles to the seat. In north China this form is called a rose chair ( meiguiyi ), the reason for its name is obscure., in the South it is called a writing chair ( wenyi ) because the literati liked to use it for that purpose. Since it is a rather light and easily portable chair with a back that does not obstruct one's vision, it can be put anywhere in the room. Its disadvantage is that the top rail is across the middle of the user's back so that the chair is only suitable for use while writing and is not comfortable for resting.
If the top rail and arms have protruding ends the chair is called an official's hat armchair with four protruding ends (sichutou guanmaoyi ). If the top rail and arms do not protrude, it is called a southern official's hat armchair (nanguanmaoyi ).
Armchairs with curved back rests ( quanyi ) appears in the Qing regulations, in the Ming period this type of chair was simply known as (yuanyi - literally round chair ). In the West they have become known as horseshoe arm chairs. The back of the chair flows down to form arms in a smooth and graceful curve. This type of chair is very comfortable since the user's upper arm and elbow is supported.
The development of a chair culture necessitated the development of the rest of Chinese furniture, tables were a natural development, and there are various different types, all of which have different uses.
A feature of houses in north China is the kang, a chair level bed that is also used for daytime sitting. Kangs were built in against the wall, and are hollow made of wood or bricks. In poorer households the kangs are made of unbaked clay with a brick top. The brick and clay kangs' are heated by fires, which circulate hot air in the spaces beneath the kang, thus warming the entire platform.
The development of kangs led to its own range of low furniture consisting of tables, cupboards and shelves. There are three kinds of kang table. The wide kang table - kang zhuo - was most often placed in the middle of a kang or bed. Narrow kang tables - kangji - tend to be used on the two sides of a kang.
Kang furniture can be found in all woods with Shanxi kang furniture found often made of bamboo, with lacquered softwood tops.
Wine Tables and Half Tables
Wine tables and half tables are two kinds of comparatively small rectangular tables. Wine table can be traced back to the Five Dynasties period and the Northern Song, when they were often used at social gatherings. On most, along the edge of the top there is a water-stopping moulding to prevent spilt wine and food getting on to the user's clothes.
Half tables, a term used in ancient texts, derive their name from the fact that they are half the size of an eight Immortals table. They are also called extension tables (jiezhuo), as they are used to extend the Eight Immortals table that are not large enough for their intended use.
There are many extant square tables. Square tables may be large, medium-sized or small and are known as Eight Immortals tables (Baxianzhuo), Six Immortals tables (liuxianzhu), and Four Immortals Tables ( sixianzhuo ). These tables had a number of uses for both eating at and also for games such as Mahjong or Chinese chess. In formal settings, long altar tables are often fronted by a square table flanked by 2 chairs.
Painting Tables and Writing Tables
There are four kinds of large tables. In construction and form many are identical to narrow rectangular tables with corner legs and narrow rectangular tables with recessed legs, but are wider.
If these tables were narrower, they would not be convenient for the user to wield his brush while painting or practising calligraphy, or even to open his books to while reading, and could not be called a painting or writing table. Painting tables with corner legs and painting tables with recessed legs are designed so that the user can stand easily at them to paint and write.
Tables with drawers are named by their construction: wide writing tables with drawers and corner legs, or writing tables with drawers and recessed legs.
Shelves and Cabinets
There are four types of shelves and cabinets found in the Chinese furniture tradition.
Shelves - jiage - are also called bookshelves ( shuge or shujia ). The basic form has four legs and open shelves without ornamental openings and drawers. The three tiered shelf opn on four sides with two drawers is close to the basic form. In order to decorate the shelves, ornamental railings are frequently added to the back and sides. The back may consist of a board or be left open. Sometimes a four sided inner frame or arched-shaped inner frame may be added to the back and sides, or just the sides.
Some shelves have a latticed back and other have lattice on three sides, these shelves generally serve as food cupboards. In Beijing, the colloquial term for such a cabinet is qisimao ( vexing the cat ). These everyday kitchen cabinets are usually made of unfinished wood or bamboo. They aren't always used as food cabinets, examples are found in Buddhist temples and ancestral halls' storing religious texts and ancestral tablets, and the literati used them for storing books and antiques and these cabinets are generally larger and made from hardwood and the better softwoods.
Display cabinets - lianggegui - is a combination of shelves and cabinets. In most Ming display cabinets the shelf is above the cabinets, thus the piece functions as both a display and storage cabinet. Display cabinets have a standard form which consists of a cupboard with open shelf above resting on a separate low stand.
For some explicable reason round-corner cabinets - yuanjiaogui - are also called noodles cabinets (miantiaogui). The top of this type of cabinet, which protrudes slightly on three sides is called the cabinet's cap ( guimao ) and usually has rounded corners. The reason why the top protrudes is so that there is enough space for the door pivots and mortises. These cabinets are also called wood hinges door cabinets ( muzhumengui ). All round- corner cabinets have a clear splay, and when placed together with waistless furniture, which is similiarly splayed, the effect is pleasing to the eye.
Round-corner cabinets without a central moveable stile are called yingjimen. Some have a central stile. The doors of the small round-corner cabinets extend right to the base stretchers without any hidden compartment. When there is a hidden compartment, it is placed under the doors, adding additional interior storage space. A door may be made from one piece of wood, or divided into sections and named according to the number of horizontals, or mortise-bearing frame members.
Square-corner cabinets have no splay and may or may not have had a central removeable stile. Those with no upper part are called square-corner cabinets. These forms can be found from small low cabinets to large imposing pieces.
If there is an upper part they are known as compound wardrobes in four parts - dingxiang ligui sijiangui- because a pair of the wardrobes come in four pieces. This kind of cabinet varies greatly in size, from ones designed for kangs, to large ones that may be 3 to 4 metres high.
The square corner cabinet is commonly used to make the so called wedding cabinets. These cabinets lacquered red with or without painted decoration, and were given as part of the dowry gift, and can be easily recognised. Different regions had variations to this theme and cabinets from Zhejiang and Shanxi are very different.
Beds without railing are called daybeds - ta. Beds with back and side railings are known as Luohan beds (luohanchuang ). Stone balustrades called Luohan railings ( luohan lan'gan ) are often seen in Beijing gardens and even more commonly on bridges; these railing have no posts between the panels. Similarly the railings of a Luohan bed, unlike that of a canopy bed, have no posts between the panel, hence the possiblilty that the name was derived from the term Luohan railings.
The base of the bed can be made in different ways and maybe waisted or waistless. It not only resembles a daybed but also has some similarities to kang tables and even rectangular stools. The railings of Luohan beds exist in many variations; when the railing is formed of three pieces the bed is called a three-paneled screen bed (sanpingfengshi ). If the railing has five pieces, back being made up by three pieces with the two single side panels, it is a five panel screen bed in Chinese (wupingfengshi).
One can also find seven-panel screen beds (qipingfengshi), where the back is made up of 3 pieces and the side panels made up of 2 pieces each.
When Occident meet Orient in the late 18th and 19th Century, the idea of the desk as we know it firmly took hold. Writing desks with drawers did not belong to the tradition of the Chinese Scholar; writing and painting were done on large flat drawerless tables - painting tables - on which the scholar could spread out his various painting materials, while precious items and important documents were stored in separate wooden boxes.
The majority of writing desks which still survive were in spired by Western needs and design influences in the 19th Century. They were mostly made in the 'Treaty port' cities such as Shanghai, or in nearly traditional centres of furniture manufacture such as Soochow. A large number of desks were made for the export trade to the West. One of the most popular styles was a three or four-drawer desk with a platform fretwork of cracked ice or geometric design fixed above the hoof feet.
For the Chinese market desks were made to be 'collapsible' and were made up of three or four pieces, which were used often in the offices of wealthy Chinese merchants. They tend to be large functional pieces with abundant storage in drawers and cupboards set in the legs. Many of them however would retain the distinctly Chinese feature of a foot rest. This feature, so common in most Chinese furniture is designed for elevating one's feet away from the cold stone or earth floor. They also provide a handy space for stacking an overflow of books or papers while not interfering with more functional aspects.
In addition to desks made for export or for use in the 'treaty port' cities, there were 'indigenous' desks. These desks served the function of a wrinting table on journeys, and was a symbol of the status of the scholar. these traveling desks were made of three parts a flat plank top supported on two pedestrals, sharing the same basic design as the traditional 'box & board' painting table and it was easily transported for use by a Mandarin working as a magistrate on his circuit.