Some of the most dramatic aspects of Oriental culture, like sobriety, glory and harmony, are reflected by the traditional furniture of China. Generally, classical Chinese furniture items are made of materials like elm, camphor, pine, walnut, bamboo, boxwood, beach and cypress. They are an astute blend of practical functionality and artistic ingenuity. Though exquisite lacquered wooden furniture appeared in China as early as the Han Dynasty, the ancient and antique furniture of China, which belong to the Ming and Qing dynasties, are of special mention.They are generally well-known for their peerless beauty, characterized by elegant designs and delicate craftsmanship.
Chinese lifestyle and the cultural and economic changes in China greatly influenced the type of furniture that remained in vogue during a particular period. In earlier days, Chinese mostly preferred sitting on straw mats on the floor. However, after the Warring States period (475-221 BC), couches and beds came to be used for seating purposes. Gradually, furniture pieces like chairs and folding stools penetrated the Chinese lifestyle. The age-old practice of sitting cross-legged on the floor was substituted by various furniture items and straw mats came to be used as bed and couch coverings.
The Ming dynasty (1368-1644 AD) of China featured frame-structure furniture in minimal, even and flowing lines. These furniture items were valued for their expensive wood, simple decoration and outstanding craftsmanship. The texture of wood was fully used to bring out its natural beauty and skillfully shaped, to give form to tables, cupboards, beds and backrests. Scented rosewood and red sandalwood were used to add an aesthetic and elegant touch. Often, lattice work was used to enhance the appeal. However, beauty was not used to supplement comfort, as details like curves, lines, height and size were given due consideration while sculpting Ming furniture.
At the beginning of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), furniture was modeled on Ming patterns. However, with the burgeoning of Western lifestyle, Qing furniture became larger, animated and more magnificent. Unlike Ming furniture, that gave importance to simplicity, Qing furniture pieces were decked out in elaborate patterns, flamboyant colors and inlaid designs. Engraving became a popular art in the field of furniture decoration during the Qing era. Paintings in vivid colors, especially bright gold were widely used. Often the furniture pieces were painted with various designs like geometric patterns, commercial symbols, natural sceneries, animals and spiritual motifs.
Though, these two types of Chinese classical furniture were very much different in their styles and approach, each exudes its own charm and occupies an important place in the entire history of world furniture today.