volume 2 number 1

The 4th China International Export Antique Furniture and Decorative Artworks Fair
Shanghai Exhibition Center
May 19-22, 2005
China International Export Antique Furniture and Decorative Artworks Fair is the largest and most professional venue of its type in China, providing an exhibition stage for dealers of antique and reproduction furniture, as well as other decorative arts. This year, the fair organizers are building on past experience with increased focus on quality. The new venue the Shanghai Exhibition Center will also include a series of lectures by professionals in the field. For free tickets to the fair, use the form at We look forward to seeing you at the Shanghai Shanju booth: D49-51.

May 19
1:15-2:30pm: Chen Zengbi_Modern Hardwood Furniture Transmission and Development (in Chinese)
3:30_4:00pm: Fang Yunhu_How to Transmit the Cultural Lineage of Classical Chinese Furniture (in Chinese)
May 20
10:00-11:30am: Curtis Evarts_Chinese Furniture and Western Sensitivities (in Chinese)
1:30-3:00pm: Zhang Dexiang_The Reproduction and Repair of Classical Chinese Furniture: 'Du' and 'Shi' (in Chinese)
May 21
10-11:30pm: Curtis Evarts_Chinese Furniture and Asian Sensitivities (in English)
1:30-3:00pm: Hu Desheng_Categories and Characteristics of Ming and Qing Furniture (in Chinese)
3:00-4:30pm: Wu Shaohua_Investing in Classical Chinese Furniture and Market Preditiction (in Chinese)
May 22
10-11:30pm: Shi Jianbang_The Fulfillment of Artful Living (in Chinese)

Armrests and Backrests
Accessories for sitting on the mat or platform have an ancient tradition in the history of Chinese furniture. The multifunctional armrest, of which examples as early as the Warring States period have survived, has also long served as a pillow, footrest or small table. That literati gentlemen of the late Ming period had also assimilated the such ancient traditions into their lives is found in the writings of Gao Lian and Wen Zhenheng.

Armrests are made of strange pieces of wood, which have naturally grown into the shape of a half-circle. The most wonderful have three horizontal branches as legs; otherwise legs are added. It is placed upon the platform so that one can rest the arms or forehead against it when sleeping. This is also what is meant by Mengzi when he wrote, 'leaned upon his stand and also slept on it'. I have seen an armrest belonging to my friend Wu Popiao made of a piece of wood with finely wrinkled surface and curiously twisted. The three legs were natural. The shape was similar to a semi-circular jade huang, and the surface polished smooth and glossy. He always traveled with it and loved it as a valuable treasure. It was really a most rare thing.
Gao Lian, Eight Discourses on the Art of Living (Zunsheng bajian) (ca. 1580)

Use a knarly branch with a natural semicircular curve and three naturally projecting legs. Polish to a smooth luster. Placed on a bed or mat, it can support the arm, feet, or head. I have also seen depictions in paintings with ancient men reclining with such stands supporting the feet—the make also curiously antique.
Wen Zhenheng, Superfluous Things (Zhangwuzhi) (ca. 1620)

The development of the backrest appears to parallel that of the chair. Early evidence in Song dynasty paintings illutrate the backrest as throne-like sitting accessory used on the platform. By the Ming period, it appears as an object of a recluse's leisurely life. Amongst the erotic art of the Qing period, the backrest is also frequently depicted as an accessory for love-making.

For the backrest, use softwood to make a frame and weave it with caning. Like a mirror stand with height 2 feet and width 1.8 feet, make a mechanism with tenons so that the height can be adjusted…….It is suitable for lying down in a drunken state, for looking up while reclining, or looking at calligraphy. It is also marvelous for lying down and appreciating flowering blossoms.
Gao Lian, Eight Discourses on the Art of Living (Zunsheng bajian) (ca. 1580)

A small on-line exhibition of armrests and backrests from the Shanju Shanghai collection demonstrates a range of styles.

Hardwood vs. Softwood
It is the rustic furniture in native soft woods that has preserved the simple structural form, and a notion of the traditional Chinese sense of proportion.
Gustav Ecke, Chinese Domestic Furniture

In the Orient, the aesthetic of patination has long been associated with the mysteries of the dark and clouded yin world. The eminent Japanese novelist Jun’ichiro Tanizaki elaborated upon the extremities of such preference in his In Praise of Shadows.

Of course this ‘sheen of antiquity’ of which we hear so much is in fact the glow of grime. In both Chinese and Japanese the words denoting this glow describe a polish that comes of being touched over and over again, a sheen produced by the oils that naturally permeate an object over long years of handling—which is to say grime. If indeed ‘elegance is frigid’, it can as well as be described as filth. There is no denying, at any rate, that among the elements of the elegance in which we take such delight is a measure of the unclean, the unsanitary. I suppose I shall sound terribly defensive if I say that Westerners attempt to expose every speck of grime and eradicate it, while we Orientals carefully preserve and even idealize it. Yet for better or for worse, we do love things that bear the marks of grime, soot, and weather, and we love the colors and the sheen that call to mind the past that made them. Living in these old houses among these old objects is in some mysterious way a source of peace and repose.

Juxtaposed here are the frigid elegance of transparency and brilliance—traditional catchwords within discussions of Western aesthetics and ethics, and yang manifestations within the dualistic yin/yang system of thought. In the Chinese language, 'patination' is further elaborated with terms like baojiang (lit. pasty coating, and used in the sense of surface accumulation), pi'ke (lit. skin/shell, and used in the sense of surface transformation), and niandai (lit. generations of age, and used in the sense of the unmistakable age of wear and attrition). In Japanese, the elusive aesthetic of wabi sabi embodies a beauty that rises out of degradation and attrition of things. Beyond the sensual appeal of the age-worn surface, cultivating the appreciation of patina can also lead to a deeper understanding of age of genuine antique Chinese furniture.

Ornate and severe styles were produced side by side at the same time, and the basic styles, severe or ornate, did not change radically over a period of almost three hundred years.
Robert H. Ellsworth, Chinese Hardwood Furniture

Editor newsletter newsletter is sponsored by Shanju Shanghai. Look for us at The 4th China International Export Antique Furniture and Decorative Artworks Fair May 19-22 in booths D49-51.

Classical Chinese Furniture

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