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Chinese Arts

Chinese Ming and Qing Furniture

Chinese Ming furniture is known for its simple and elegant design with fluent lines and appealing proportions. Qing furniture is larger than that of the Ming Dynasty and more imposing, with elaborate carving and inlaid decoration. Both types are prized for their fine materials, special workmanship and high artistic level.

Major types of Chinese Ming and Qing furniture

Type Name Characters
Stool Square stool A square seat with no back and arms, one of the basic form of' the type.
Folding stool A cross-legged stool, consisting of eight straight pieces of wood. It is widely used and easy to carry.
Chair Official' hat armchair The name comes from its top rail, which looks like a Ming official hat. The one with the ends of its top rail and arms protruding is called "Official hat armchair with four protruding ends"; the one without that called "Southern official's hat armchair"
Armchair with curved rest The westerns call it horseshoe armchair.
(excluding the folding chair with curved rest)
  Folding chair with curved back A folding stool added with a back. There were two kinds in tile Song dynasty: one with a straight back and the other with a curved back. The latter was popular in the Ming dynasty.
Table Square table There are two types of Chinese table. One called "Zhuo" has its four legs supporting at the four corners; the other called "An" has its legs recessed from corners. A large square table is usually sit by eight people called in Chinese "Baxianzhuo", Eight Immortals table.
Narrow rectangular table It could be used as a lute table, painting table or writing table.
Half table It could be used as a lute table, painting table or writing table.
Kang table A short table used on Kangs, it kind of chair-level bed that is usually built-up with bricks and can be heated underneath and also used for daytime sitting in north
Narrow rectangular table with recessed legs It is narrow and long and of a high level. The one with a flat top called "Pingtiao'an" in Chinese; the one with everted flanges at the two ends of the top called " Qiaotou'an".
Narrow rectangular trestle table The framed floating panel is supported by two rectangular stands, easy to move.
Bed Canopy bed There were four- or six-post canopy beds in ancient China.
Luohan bed Beds have back and side railings.
Screen Folding screen It is made from many panels that can be arranged in different configurations.
Serene set in a stand It has its central screen panel set in a stand.
Screen set in a stand with a removable panel It has its central screen penal inserted into the grooves at the inner sides of the frame posts. So the panel is removable.
Ink-stone screen
A kind of small screen placed on the narrow rectangular table for decoration or to protect the candle light from wind

Terms for structure parts of Chinese Ming and Qing furniture

1. Top rail
2. Spandrel, at the corner of a joint.
3. Side post.
4. Gooseneck post, the front supporting post of an arm.
5. Arch-shaped apron.

1. Ice-plate edge, a downward-contracting edge of a frame member.
2. Decorative strut.
3. Humpbacked stretcher.
4. One leg with two aprons and one spandrel.

Woods popularly used for Chinese Ming and Qing furniture

l. Zitan wood--Pterocarpus santalinus
This is one of the most precious hardwoods in the world, coming mainly from the tropical islands of the South Pacific Ocean. It grows in some areas of China, Yunnan, Guangdong and Guangxi, but not in a large quantity. It takes hundreds of years for the wood to grow. It is of a very firm texture. It is a dark purplish-black to nearly black color with some irregular grain.

2. Huanghuali wood--Dalbergia hainanensis
Most of the best Ming and Qing furniture were made of huanghuali wood from Hainan Island . It is a dense wood with a beautiful color, and a distinct variable grain pattern.

3. Jichi wood--Ormosia
Jichi wood is from Guangdong and Hainan Provinces. Before the 19th century, only a few pieces of furniture were made of jichi wood. It is dense wood in a purple-brown color with a grain that forms patterns suggestive of the feathers near the neck and wings of a bird.

4. Tieli wood--Mesua ferrea
Tieli trees are the largest of all the hardwood trees. Large pieces of Ming furniture were made from this wood. Its grain looks very similar to that of Jichi wood, but coarser.

5. Ju wood--Zelkova
The ju tree grows in Jiangsu and Zhejiang areas of south China. People in the north called it nanyu (southern elm). It is harder than many woods but not exactly a hardwood. Old ju wood has a reddish color known as xueju (blood.ju). Many pieces of furniture in Suzhou and Shanghai were made of it. Its beautiful grain, called pagoda pattern, looks like mountains piled upon mountains.

6. Rosewood--Pterocarpus indicus
The rosewood tree grows in Guangdong and Yunnan provinces of China, and in India, Bengal and Burma. There are two kinds: old and new. The old resembles Zitan wood, but is not as dark in color or as dense in texture. It was not widely used in the Ming and early Qing Dynasties. The shortage of huanghuli and jichi wood in the mid and late Qing period gave rise to its use.

7. Burl wood
Burl wood does not refer to the wood from a specific kind of tree, but to the wood cut from a large knot or twisted root. It can come from any kind of tree, such as nan burl wood, birch burl wood, huali burl wood. Each has a distinctive grain pattern. Some look like landscape scenery; some like clusters of grapes. Burl wood was prized for its patterns and often used for the floating panels of a table or for decorative inlay.

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