Evolution of Chinese furniture

Evolution of Chinese furniture
Experience China: The arts of China
Talks / Lecture

Photo of a Chinese cart
Recording date: 
16 April 2016

Humble House Director Roger Carter explores the evolution of Chinese furniture.

Established in 1998, Humble House Gallery collects, conserves and sells authentic Chinese furniture.

Transcript

Transcript of Evolution of Chinese furniture

Speakers: Denyl Cloughley (D), Roger Carter (R)

Location: National Library of Australia

Date: 16/04/2016

D:         This weekend is the fourth of our Experience China weekends, through which we’re exploring Chinese culture, cuisine, art, landscape, architecture and the Chinese diaspora as part of our public programming for Celestial Empire: Life in China, 1644 to 1911. Celestial Empire and its public programs would not be possible without the support of a tremendous group of partners. It has been an extraordinary collaboration between government, commercial partners and individual donors. First and foremost I thank the National Library of China for sharing its extraordinary collection with us and with all of you. I hope you will take the opportunity to visit the exhibition today. I thank our partners, Shell in Australia, Seven Network, Wanda One Pty Ltd, Optus Singtel, Huawei, Cathay Pacific, TFE Hotels, and event partners, the ANU Centre for China in the World and Asia Society Australia for their generosity. I thank our government partners, the Australian Government for support through the National Collecting Institutions Touring Outreach Program and the Australia China Council, and the ACT Government through Visit Canberra.

Importantly, I thank all of you for joining us this afternoon to hear from Roger Carter. Roger has had a long interest in Chinese culture, beginning with his first career in Chinese medicine. He joined the Department of Immigration and was posted to Beijing, which is where his passion for furniture started. Like enthusiastic collectors of antiques anywhere in the world, he and his wife spent their weekends looking at furniture, talking with collectors and dealers, and of course buying favourite pieces. Roger’s passion has become his occupation; he and his wife own Humble House Furniture in Fyshwick. They generously loaned the Library a number of items from the Qing period which are on display in the foyer and oral history wall cabinet. These include a horse-drawn carriage, scholar’s travel chest, carved window panel and black folding chair, and I’m sure Roger will touch on these items today.

This afternoon Roger is going to explore the evolution of Chinese furniture through major forms and styles. He’ll also reveal to us the underlying symbolism that is essential to understanding and appreciating the tastes and aspirations of the people who use the furniture on a daily basis. We will have time for questions at the end of our session today so please hold any queries until that time. Please welcome Roger Carter.

[Applause]

R:         Thanks, Denyl, for that very warm introduction and welcome, everyone, to this afternoon’s talk. What I’ll be intending to do is to cover Chinese furniture from the beginning right through to the present day. The talk will be broken into three major parts, the first part I’ll be talking about background development and major characteristics of Chinese furniture, the second part we’ll be talking about Chinese furniture and Chinese society and then the third part we’ll be talking about Chinese furniture and the west. So let’s get going.

First part of development of Chinese furniture, early Chinese society was a mat culture so daily activities such as eating, sleeping, entertaining were all carried out at that level. And etiquette was very important; so if you look at these two gentlemen they’re both sitting down, they’re roughly in a sort of like a cross-legged position. Now what that indicates is that they’re comfortable in each other’s company but also that they’re equal in status. If there was ... one was more senior than the other then the junior person would be sitting down with their legs tucked under them in you know sort of a more polite position. Now that carried on right through up until ... things started to change in the Han dynasty. And it came with the introduction of two different types of raised seating. The first part or the first style was what we have here which is a folding stool. Now the folding stool wasn’t native to China, it actually came from outside and it was first recoded as something that the emperor in the second century had a particular liking for. Now, people hadn’t seen this sort of thing before so they didn’t know what to call it but it came from somewhere outside of China, it sort of looked a bit like a bed and so that’s what they called it, the hu chuang or barbarian bed.

Now over time the bed ... sorry, this folding stool evolved to become the folding chair. Now this didn’t happen overnight, it took a process of about a thousand years so that’s the development of one style of raised seating. The other style of raised seating was the frame chair. Now it didn’t look quite like this but it came to China from India with the introduction of Buddhism in some time around the 1st century AD. Now India had chairs you know 15 ... two and a half thousand years ago. They were used by the ruling elite and they were also used by senior monks and when Buddhism was introduced into China then someone brought a chair along with them and those early chairs were quite large. In fact they were large enough that people could sit cross-legged in them and a number of them also had a corded seat, so it’d make it a little bit more comfortable.

Now that process, you had that with the introduction of these different types of seating, the process was one of adoption and adaptation to Chinese culture and as I just mentioned that process, it took about a thousand years for that to occur. Here we have ... it’s a detail of China’s most famous painting called Qingming shanghe tu or Celebrating Qingming on the River. And it’s a very long scroll painting from the early twelfth century and you can hopefully see ... here we have benches, over here there are tables so it just shows that by the twelfth century the Chinese shift from a mat culture to a chair culture ... was complete across all levels of society.

Now one of the questions to ask then is well what does that actually mean you know just moving from mat to chair? Well your whole style of living changes when you go from a mat culture to the chair. There’s a proliferation of a whole range of furniture. If you need a chair then you’re going to have tables, there’ll be higher cabinets, floors will also change. With a mat culture when you enter a house you’re taking your shoes off because you don’t want to get it dirty because that’s where you’re going to sleep. With chair cultures there’s a much wider range of floorcoverings at least until you’re get into sort of the bedroom area. It’s also been said by a couple of authors that ceiling heights and window heights changed. Unfortunately I haven’t been to sort of prove that, maybe it happened, maybe it didn’t.

But essentially life changes completely. You also tend to ... you’ll be wearing shoes around the house more. In relation to the furniture … is when you’re at a ... at the floor level, is you tend to look at the furniture straight on. When you’re up and about and walking around then you’re going to be looking at furniture from different sides and different angles so with say for example Japanese furniture you tend to get ... ...more of the decoration is on the front, the side is just more about utility. With Chinese furniture you tend to get more of ... there’s carving and decoration on the sides as well so if you look at a lot of tables they’ll be carved on all four sides. So life changes considerably. Now it’s interesting to note that China was the only Asian culture to adopt the chair form of living until modern times. Now question of course arises, well why? It’s not an easy question to answer but it was probably just it became more comfortable and it was something that just ... it suited those people.

Now the next little section is going to be about ... on particular characteristics of Chinese furniture so the main point of ... is okay, they’ve taken up, they’re making all these different styles of furniture, how did they make it? So all traditional Chinese furniture is handmade with hand tools and with the joinery, here is a small cabinet that we’ve got in our own gallery that has been prepared to reveal the joinery. Now the Chinese were experts at joinery because that was how they used to build one of their styles of houses. It was all about mortise and tenon joinery so it’s solid timber making very tight mortise and tenon joinery and here is a corner of that little cabinet that I just showed you and you can just ... you can see ... if that works ... the tenon through there and that would slip into the mortise here. Now the other thing about Chinese furniture is ... so the frame was mortise and tenon joinery and the panels would sit in tongue and groove. Now what’s good about all of that? Well the thing about mortise and tenon joinery and using tongue and groove panels is the ... the first thing is is that if you know how to make it you know how to take it apart so this furniture, it was made that if there was damage you could actually take it apart, examine it and then decide what work needs to be done, undertake that repair and put it back together.

Now the other feature about Chinese joinery is that the joints come together to form an interlocking hole so it’s the joints that hold all the furniture together as opposed to a lot more modern-day furniture where the joint is really just to increase the gluing surface and put it together and also then support it with screws or nails. This furniture was made that the joints would hold it together and this system of carpentry continued right through until the middle of the twentieth century so it was a tradition that stayed with China. They didn’t have an industrial revolution, they didn’t have the changes in technology that occurred in the west. This was how it was made in the beginning and the joints evolved, they became more complex and better but it was a way to ... as a way they maintained the ... to make the furniture right through until the twentieth century. Now the other thing about this furniture is with joinery, in a lot of cases as ... you can take it apart which means that you can flat pack it, transport it and then reassemble the furniture in a new location and that happened quite a lot.

The ... now the other important characteristic about Chinese furniture is that particularly a lot of the early furniture was lacquered. Lacquer was invented by the Chinese about 8,000 years ago. It’s actually the resin from a particular species of tree that was native to China and a few other neighbouring countries. The reason for lacquering furniture ... I’ve got a piece there ... is ... there are two purposes. One is that it helped preserve the timber so that lacquered pieces, they can last hundreds if not thousands of years. The other thing is that it’s beautiful and as you can see here, is ... the natural lacquer as it comes out of the tree is sort of a grey colour and it gradually darkens as it dries and then they can add oxides to it too to give it different colours. And the red and black lacquer is the ... they’re the most common colours that you’ll see in Chinese furniture.

Now ... okay so we’ve covered rise from mat to chair, we’ve had a look at the joinery and the lacquers as main characteristics. The next thing about Chinese furniture are the styles. Now European furniture, the styles of furniture change quite frequently but with Chinese furniture it’s really recognised as only ... there are two major styles and they’re called Ming and Qing styles of furniture. Mings relates to the Ming period from you know fourteenth to seventeenth century, and Qing relates to furniture from the seventeenth to the twentieth century. Now the differentiation between the two is that Ming furniture is said to be very simple with just beautiful lines so here you’ve got a pair of cabinets, there’s no ornamentation on them at all, black-lacquered and they just stand and they’re just majestic standing tougher.

Qing-style furniture is considered to be more ornate. Now there’s a bit of a problem with using those terms because there was Ming-style furniture being made in the Qing dynasty and there was certainly plenty of what we’d call Qing-style furniture being made in the Ming period. So this brings with it a little bit of a problem if there are only two main styles, is ... and people latched onto this very quickly and said well the problem with Chinese furniture is that you don’t know how old it is. It can be a problem but there are clues that can help. One, as you get more experienced is to be looking at the way it’s been made and also look at the timbers and wear and other things but a tiny percentage of Chinese furniture was actually date-marked. Now on this ... this is a particular piece, it’s a small cosmetic and jewellery stand and on the inside of the left-hand door is ... or the right-hand door as you’re looking at the photo, there is calligraphy. Now ... and what it is says i ... that this piece was made in the nineteenth year of reign of Emp ... nineteenth year of the Emperor Jiajing. Now we can go to books and find that that actually corresponds to 1814. The other little bit of information which is really nice about this particular piece is that it said it was sold for 310 cash. That’s ... which is really quite unusual to get that level of detail in a piece.

Now that’s one form of date marking. Another form of date marking is where instead of having the emperor’s year, is they have what they call celestial stems and it’ll be some characters which correspond to a particular year in a 60 year cycle. Now the problem with that is that it might be 1870 but it might be 1930, it might be 1810 so without more information that becomes a little bit difficult to differentiate. And another one that you sometimes get is it might be in sort of a western calendar as well.

Now having date-marked pieces ... and when we get them we tend to hold onto them because they make fantastic reverence points and benchmarks for being able to look at other furniture and be able to say well if we know that one to be you know early nineteenth century, that looks to be having about the sort of the same pattern or of age about it, it’s probably around the same period. So those are the major characteristics of Chinese furniture so now we can start to look at sort of how the Chinese use their furniture.

Now one of the things about Chinese furniture ... and I mentioned earlier about sort of that sense of etiquette as a mat culture, well that etiquette, those good manners, that didn’t change with the development of Chinese furniture and that’s ... the sense of good manners remained. Now downstairs there’s a ... in the collection there’s a first edition of China’s most famous novel, Hong lou meng or Dream of Red Mansions, also known as Story of the Stone. Now it’s a fantastic book to read if you want to sort of see how you know people and furniture work together and there’s a particular scene in that book where Granny Lieu who is a distant but much-loved relative comes to visit the fa ... the heads of the family and they’re sitting in their bed, and it may have been a bed not dissimilar to this. Now if you’re invited to sit on a bed you had to be a close relative or a very, very, very close friend. The Chinese didn’t have sofas or couches so the bed took on that role. So in this particular scene Granny Lieu is invited onto the bed but she absolutely refuses. The closest that she’ll get is to sit on a stool next to the bed. She says I am not good enough to sit with you people. Sorry, I won’t do it at all. Incidentally with this bed is ... relating back to the joinery that we spoke about earlier, this comes apart completely. You could pack it up and most of it’d fit in the back of a small car.

Now I also mention beds because it’s one of the interes ... it’s a, you know, another important piece of Chinese furniture. If you’re no longer sleeping on the floor then you’re going to need something to sleep on and so they got their beds and the Chinese love their beds and they came in different styles. This one comes in a ... it’s a three-sided ... it’s called a monk’s bed, sometimes an opium bed and I’ll be talking a bit more about the panels in a few minutes. Now this particular ... this painting, it’s from the tenth century and it’s called the Night Revels of Han Xizai. It was painted on the orders of the Emperor. He wanted Han to come and take up an official position and Han kept on refusing, making all sorts of excuses so the Emperor sent this artist to go and say what’s this bloke actually up to? And he went and visited him and he made a series of paintings of the scenes.

Now this is a ... it’s an interesting painting for a number of reasons. One is if you look at the bed that Han, who I guess is the guy sitting on the right, it’s a three-sided bed but it’s very high. It’s from the tenth century so you can see that there’s ... furniture is developing, it hasn’t reached that sort of maturity that the previous picture of the three-sided bed has. The other is the guy sitting next to him, he must be close. Now look at the other people, you have a few of them who are seated and there are a few who are standing so furniture is status. If you’re allowed to sit down you are a more senior person than the others who are forced to stand so in this one painting you can see you know the social status of the particular individuals. You might also notice what looks like upholstery through there at first sight, you think oh it looks like an upholstered chair. It’s not; it’s actually a chair runner, which were very popular. If they wanted additional comfort they’d actually put a cushion down. Chinese furniture wasn’t upholstered, it never was.

Now another important and really interesting aspect of Chinese furniture is the influence of Chinese medicine on the design and development of furniture and this is a really interesting topic because the books that I’ve got don’t really ... they’ll talk about sort of different aspects of furniture and culture but medicine doesn’t get a look in. But if you talk to Chinese a lot of them know about furniture and medicine, it’s just inherent in the way that they’ve been brought up but I wanted to bring a couple of things to your attention. Now one of the things that’s said at ... a lot of people say about Chinese chairs ... two things. One, they’re too big and the second thing is they’re really uncomfortable. Okay. Let’s address them in turn. Why are Chinese chairs large? Well the tables are larger but the chairs themselves, they are bigger by that much, the front stretcher. So almost all Chinese chairs come with that stretcher which is a footrest. Why? Well to put your feet on. Why? Because so many Chinese homes, the floors were quite cold and they may have been damp. In Chinese medicine terms cold and damp is an external cause of disease so by raising your feet you’re keeping ... maintaining better health and reducing the risk of you know circulation problems and arthritis.

Now the second thing about the chairs being uncomfortable is unlike us soppy westerners who lounge about in chairs, you didn’t lounge about ... the Chinese didn’t lounge about in their chairs, they sat up straight because it was better posture is better for your health. That’s why they ... they didn’t pay the same attention to the ergonomics of the furniture because they didn’t need to.

Now another really interesting piece of Chinese furniture is the screen. Now Chinese screens are beautiful, they are ... this is a wonderful example of a screen but a screen in Chinese is called a pingfeng, which means a shield against the wind. What does that mean? Well ... so screens were used to keep draughts off you. Okay well that’s interesting. Now it was ... the value of the pingfeng was really brought home to me when I was studying Chinese medicine in Shanghai which included a three-month placement at one of the hospitals. And one day, walk into the ward and there’s a young guy and he’s got facial paralysis on one side. Hasn’t had a stroke you know in the west we call it Bell’s palsy, it’s, you know, there’s a nerve problem with the trigeminal nerve. And I said, what happened to you? And he said remember that really windy night three nights ago? And this was winter. And I said yeah, it was really cold. He said well there was a crack in the wall and I went to bed and the wind blew on my face and I woke up like this. Now he needed a pingfeng. So it shows the practical aspects, that furniture is not only beautiful and functional but it’s important, it’s good for health.

Now this is a really ... another really interesting piece. It’s a footbath and it’s one of the real pleasures of the job that I do is that I get to talk to people and one of my Chinese customers, she was in one day and she said Roger, why does that footbath have feet? Keep it off the floor? I said, somewhat unconvincingly. Yes, true but why is it like that? I said I don’t know. She said okay so the footbath would be filled with hot water and you’d be sitting in a chair or on a stool and you’d put a foot in but you couldn't keep your foot there all the time so you’d rest your foot on the edge of the footbath. Now if it didn’t have those feet it’d be obviously lower to the ground and when you’re sitting there your leg would be straight. By having it raised you can be sitting there with your leg slightly bent and there’s better for chi flow, for energy flow. That’s why it’s like that. Now I love that because here you have such a modest piece of furniture but the thought and care that’s actually gone into making it. And then to have someone come and explain that to me, it just makes that piece that ... so much more special. Every time I see it I remember that conversation and I just love that.

Aha, okay, now we get into another important aspect of Chinese furniture and how it works in society. Now another thing that people will often say about Chinese furniture is oh it’s all so ornate. What they don’t realise is the underlying story behind the motifs of furniture. Now ... and these motifs come from different sources and ... we’ll just talk about a few of them here. Now what we have here is ... it’s a really beautiful kitchen cabinet and if you look at the ... along the top is ... it has four characters and it’s the characters for plum, orchid, bamboo and chrysanthemum. So they represent the four seasons and going from right to left it starts off with winter, spring, summer and autumn so observations from nature is one source of the symbolic motifs.

Another is legends and gods and this panel is from the bed that I showed a little bit earlier and it shows the 80 mortals and as a group they represent a wish for long life. Now some of you have probably been quick enough to say hang on, there are nine. Well if eight gods isn’t enough to give you long life, let’s add the god of longevity as well and you’ll get there. So see ... nature and then mythology are sources of the motifs. Another source is idiomatic phrases and one ... this one is ... it’s quite literal. The saying in Chinese is wu fu peng shou, five bats surrounding a long life motif. Now the five bats represent the five blessings and the five blessings are wishes for happiness, long life, good health, love of virtue and a peaceful passing.

Now, there is another rendition of the five bats that substitutes wealth for happiness, so you can have a long, happy, healthy, virtuous life and then hop off the twig or you can have a long, wealthy, healthy virtuous life and then hop off the twig. Now ... so you look at this and you say well am I allowed to substitute any of the others? And say well let’s have a long, happy, wealthy healthy life and hop off the twig? We’ll sod the virtue. Well no, you can’t ‘cause virtue is so deeply embedded in Chinese culture from Confucian times so you can substitute happiness for wealth or the other way ‘round but everything else stays. So you start to get a sense then of the cultural values of Chinese society.

Now here we have ... it’s a four-section cabinet and I’m just going to look at the detail of a couple. Now what this is, it’s a visual representation and it’s a magpie and plum blossom. Now this is what called ... it’s ... in English we call it a rebus, it’s a picture tells a thousand words essentially and in Chinese the scene of a magpie on a branch of plum blossom is said xi shang mei shao. Now Chinese love linguistic puns, there’s a whole genre of comedy devoted to it and if you substitute different characters, written characters with the same pronunciation you get the meaning of be happy ‘til the end of your eyebrows and that’s what this particular motif is telling us. And coincidentally the plum blossom which has five petals, it also represents the five blessings if you want to take it to another level. So what you get with a lot of Chinese symbols is that it’s layered.

Now also what we have here is these are the scenes from a Chi ... probably a Chinese opera, a story of some sort. Now I don’t know what this particular story is but again if we go back to Hong lou meng and some of the characters in that story is the people ... you pick up very quickly just how smart and how well educated people were. And the people ... the characters in Hong lou meng, they would look at this and they would know immediately what the story is and what the scene is. So these weren’t made as you know sort of decorative, they were made for people to understand and they did.

Now here we have a two-drawer table and it’s got some particular motifs. And from here it’s the four arts of the scholar which are ... here’s a musical instrument called the qin, this is a chessboard. It’s a bit like ... Chinese chess is a bit like Go. Then over here we have books and then here we have paintings. Now the four arts of the scholar were music, being able to play Chinese chess, painting and calligraphy and also being knowledgeable about you know sort of calligraphy and the classics. So what you have here is ... at one level it’s oh well isn’t that interesting? It’s a representation of you know particular motifs but these symbols were also a powerful way to transmit cultural values. So here the message is hey, you need to study hard in these areas in order for you to pass the imperial examinations and get an official position and then we’ll all be better off. So you see with a lot of the motifs that there’s ... it’s getting people to pull together and to become you know sort of part of Chinese society and to have the same types of aspirations. And that’s something that’s important about the symbolic motifs of Chinese furniture.

Okay so we’ve covered the Chinese side of things. Now we’re going to have a look at Chinese furniture and the west. Now the west was fascinated with China ever since Marco Polo in the thirteenth century came back and started telling his stories about what he’d seen in China. And the desire for Chinese goods increased over the centuries and during the seventeenth and the eighteenth century there was an insatiable desire for Chinese products and that’s included things like silk, lacquer, porcelain. Now in relation to the ... to furniture is there wasn’t ... there was some Chinese furniture that was coming from ... traditional Chinese furniture that was being imported into places like Britain but there wasn’t huge amounts and it was expensive. So for example a Chinese cabinet was given as a wedding present to Princess Elizabeth in 1713 and it cost £10,000 which is an incredible amount.

So you had sort of goods coming into Europe from China but it wasn’t enough to meet demand. So what happened is that European manufacturers started to produce their own products in the Chinese manner and in Chinese style and it led to this fashion trend that we call Chinoiserie and so Chinoiserie is European manufactured goods in a Chinese style. And here we have an example, Thomas Chippendale, and the text says that ... which is interesting ... with Chinese lacquer panels and English Japanning. Now we have Chinese ... the traditional lacquer. There’s also another product called shellac. Lacquer comes from a tree, shellac comes from an insect and then there’s this other thing called Japanning. Japanning was the European substitution for lacquer and they use a range of different products. Now why was it called Japanning? Well even in the eighteenth century Europeans understood that Japanese lacquer was finer in quality than Chinese. Now you also had that ... porcelain was coming in from China so anything that was sort of like porcelain was called and is still called ... we still call it now ... china. Now the lacquer which came from Japan was superior in quality to that of the Chinese so they called it Japanning even though it actually applied to their ... Europeans’ own version of lacquering. It gets confusing.

So Chinoiserie was a really big hit during ... particularly during the eighteenth century. It petered out a little bit during the nineteenth century but it still continued. Now the ... there was another level of interest in ... we’re looking at Chinese furniture and this is what’s called the China trade. So if Chinoiserie was Europeans making things in a Chinese style the China trade was furniture that was being made in China to European design and it was being made for the European market. So during this period, seventeenth, eighteenth, going right through to the nineteenth century there was this huge supply and demand for goods that were either in a Chinese style or you also had sort of furniture that was ... had a Chinese flavour to it but it was really being made for the Europeans. The important thing here is that the traditional Chinese furniture was not going into ... out of China in any great quantity, it would have been more as a curiosity. And so there’s that quite clear distinction so traditional Chinese furniture was by and large staying in China. Now I mention that because it’s about to change.

Now I’ll come back ... I’ll leave that there. Coming to the twentieth century and for the first time you start to see books being written and published that take up the topic of Chine ... traditional Chinese furniture. I have not been able to find anything earlier than the twentieth century, and before 1985 the number of books on the topic was small. I’ve come up with about four, one in the 1920s, a couple in the 1940s, another one ... and another one in the 1960s. In the mid-80s things start to change and you’ve got a number of things coming together at the same time. One of these is that China is starting to open up and you’re now getting large numbers of foreigners coming into the country and staying for extended periods of time, either you know for work or for study. The tourist trade is also starting to gather momentum.

Around that time also is ... you get some seminal publications of books and ... the most famous of which is Classic Chinese Furniture by Wang Shixiang who ... it’s a magnificent book on Ming hardwood furniture with beautiful photographs and that captures people’s imagination. You also start to get markets opening up in China and being allowed to stay open so ... and when westerners saw traditional Chinese furniture they went nuts over it, they just loved it. And so you had this insatiable desire for Chinese furniture and a whole new industry blossomed of people native to a particular province going out and collecting furniture. And it wasn’t difficult for them because a lot of the furniture wasn’t in great condition, it had just been sitting around for decades and they were happy to get rid of it because they wanted to get some nice chrome and laminated furniture which worked better.

And then you had you know networks of dealers who were getting the furniture and it was being exported. So from the mid-80s right up until the earlier part of the current century furniture was being exported in enormous volumes to the point that now it’s running out and that people who see this sort of furniture like the chair will say ... the Chinese will say you don’t see this furniture in China anymore. So that’s you know an enormous shift so where you had centuries of people looking for Chinese style type things, suddenly now they were going for the real deal and they took it out. An untold story is how much Chinese material culture was taken out of the country in such a short period of time. Does anyone care about it? Who knows?

Now—I’ll finish in a couple of minutes—another thread to the story of Chinese furniture is western furniture designers. Now what you see here is a classic piece of Chinese furniture, the horseshoe or circular back armchair. It is a unique Chinese design. Now it didn’t appear in Europe until the eighteenth century and they really loved it, and a famous designer from Denmark, Hans Wegner, in the 1940s he saw a portrait of Danish merchants seated around the traditional horseshoe back armchair and he goes that is just lovely. And so he went on to develop his own interpretation of that chair which you see here. It’s still being made by the same manufacturers and you can still buy it today. In fact you could go to Design Craft this afternoon and you could probably get yourself one. And the first models that he called this chair, he called it his Chinese chair.

Now here we have .. this is just a final example ... this is a typical three-drawer Beijing to Tianjin sideboard. And here you can see its interpretation ... this is actually done by local cabinetmaker, Evan Dunstone, so you can see he’s picked up the curved ends and he’s reinterpreted it. Now one of the interesting things about this sort of taking up the inspiration of Chinese furniture and reinterpreting it into modern-day furniture is that it gets so embedded, is that no one now knows what the original piece looked like. So it just ... and that’s fine. It just shows how things change about. I can stop there. Thank you.

[End of recording]

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