The forms of Chinese furniture evolved along
three distinct lineages which dates back to 1000 BC, based on frame and
panel, yoke and rack (based on post and rail seen in architecture) and
bamboo construction techniques.
Chinese home furniture evolved independently of Western
furniture into many similar forms including chairs, tables, stools, cupboards,
cabinets, beds and sofas. Until about the 10th century CE the Chinese sat
on mats or low platforms using low tables, in typical Asian style, but
then gradually moved to using high tables with chairs.
Chinese furniture is mostly in plain polished wood, but
from at least the Song dynasty the most luxurious pieces often used lacquer
to cover the whole or parts of the visible areas. All the various sub-techniques
of Chinese lacquerware can be found on furniture, and become increasingly
affordable down the social scale. Xarved lacquer furniture was at first
only affordable by the imperial family or the extremely rich, but by the
19th century was merely very expensive, and mostly found in smaller pieces
or as decorated areas on larger ones. It was especially popular on screens,
which were common in China. Lacquer inlaid with mother of pearl was especially
a technique used on furniture.
Chinese furniture is usually light where possible, anticipating
Europe by several centuries in this respect. Practical fittings in metal
such as hinges, lock plates, drawer handles and protective plates at edges
or feet are used, and often given considerable emphasis.
Classic Chinese furniture is typically made of a class
of hardwoods, known collectively as "rosewood". These woods are denser
than water, fine grained, and high in oils and resins. These properties
make them dimensionally stable, hardwearing, rot and insect resistant,
and when new, highly fragrant. The density and toughness of the wood also
allows furniture to be built without the use of glue and nail, but rather
constructed from joinery and doweling alone.