Oriental Arts - Chinese
Many styles of Chinese antique day beds, big marriage
beds, opium beds, platforms, couches and canopy beds.
Low platforms, which were used as honorific seats,
were the earliest type of raised seating furniture to
appear in China. Sitting platforms were called ta;
the relatively longer chuang was used both for
sitting and reclining. By the Tang dynasty (618-907
AD), the platform had increased in height with
decorative panels or kunmen-shaped openings
decorating the sides.
"When daybeds (ta) were made in ancient times,
although the length and width were not standardized,
they were invariably antique, elegant and delightful
when placed in a studio or room. There was no way in
which they were not convenient, whether for sitting
up, lying down or reclining. In moments of pleasant
relaxation they would spread out classic or
historical texts, examine works of calligraphy or
painting, display ancient bronze vessels, arrange
dishes of food and fruit, or set out a pillow and
Wen Zhengheng, Early 17th century
Wen's descriptive imagery recalls painted scenes from
the Song and Yuan paintings wherein scholarly
gentlemen recline on platforms surrounded with the
trappings of the literati lifestyle.
During the late Ming, some sophisticated connoisseurs
preferred the archaic style of the box-style platform
over the modern daybeds with free-standing legs.
Although the old tradition gave way to popular
fashion, some limited use continued throughout the
Qing dynasty (1644-1912).
Open-frame daybeds were popularized during the Ming
dynasty (1368-1644), and their use gradually eclipsed
the old, box-style platform. Traditional styles
included simian ping and waisted forms with cabriole
legs or horse feet.
A miniature wooden daybed found in the tomb of Pan
Yunzheng (d. 1589) near Shanghai reflects a classical
'waisted corner-leg' -style typical of the late Ming
Daybeds of 'recessed-leg' style were also typical of
the late Ming period, including both those of
round-leg style as well a those with mitred bridle
joints and legs shaped with flanges.
Being relatively lightweight, the daybed was
well-suited for impromptu gatherings, and was often
arranged with other furnishings on a terrace or in
the garden where fresh air and natural impressions
could be enjoyed.
In a makeshift study arranged on a garden terrace,
the daybed served as a place for quiet relaxation and
contemplative meditation or as a platform from which
to engage in lofty conversation. Such tented
arrangements also provided a comfortable place to
sleep during the hot summers nights.
The refined gentleman also found idle pleasure
playing the qin while seated upon a daybed arranged
in a garden pavilion.
Writing in the early 17th century, Wen Zhenheng
recommended a simple daybed (ta) for a gentleman's
sleeping quarters; his suggested arrangement ™with a
couple of stools and a small table set to the side
corresponds closely to scene painted by Qiu Ying some
50 years earlier.
Therein, a gentleman relaxes leisurely upon on a
simianping daybed, and while reclining against a
backrest, looks out upon an enclosed private garden.
Although the use was similar to the daybed, the couch
bed (chuang, luohan chuang) is distinguished by
railings, which render it as a more formal piece of
furniture. The development of railings may be related
with the early placement of screen panels around the
back and sides of the platform, which enhanced the
sitter as well as provided privacy and protection
This practice gradually gave rise to decorative
railings attached to the seat frame of the platform.
By the Ming dynasty, the box-style platform had
developed into the more sophisticated
open-structured, corner-leg form.
Railings were made in various styles; those
configured as throne-like stepped panels are evident
from the early Ming period. Literary references also
record use of decorative stone for couch bed railings
during this time.
Railings were frequently decorated with carving,
inlays, or painted lacquer. By the late Ming period,
advanced joinery techniques permitted the abandonment
of the reinforcing floor stretcher.
Contemporary to the fashion for hardwood furniture
during the late Ming and Qing dynasties, the couch
bed was frequently made with plain solid panels of
naturally figured wood or with intricate lattice
patterns displaying auspicious wanzi, jingzi, or
'carpenter's square' motifs.
Bamboo was also a favourite material of construction
for couch beds especially the prized speckled bamboo.
Couch beds contrived from roots also appeared during
the the late Ming and Qing dynasties, at a time when
Daoist traditions expressed through rusticity and
humble natural materials became fashionable for those
with leisurely lifestyles.
The platform bed was naturally extended with
surrounding screen panels or tented awnings to
provide night time enclosure. The canopy bed is thus
characterized by a super structure fitted to the top
of the bed, which was enclosed with panels and/or
hung with draperies. This room within a room provided
private space that was further insulated from draffy
Four-post canopy beds, which were common during the
Ming period, were typically draped with fabric around
the outside of the frame that suited to the season.
Pongee silk or thick cotton provided insulated during
the cold winters; gauze netting, provided relief was
from annoying insects during the summer without
diminishing the refreshingly cool evening breezes.
Silk curtains for a lady's bed were often finely
embroidered with decorative and auspicious patterns.
Curtains were drawn back during the day with curtain
hooks, and the cosy cubicle continued to be utilized
for dining, socializing, and other daily activities.
Six post canopy beds exhibit a somewhat more
architectural style. The curtains were generally hung
on the inside of these beds so as to reveal its
decorative lattice-work and/or open-carved panels.
Those decorated with marble panels were highly prized
during the late Ming period.
The alcove bed is yet a larger piece of furniture
that fits upon base with floor boards. An extension
in front provides space for a small table, cabinet,
and/or stool. The alcove bed is described in the Ming
carpenters manual Lu Ban jing, and a miniature wood
model illustrated below was discovered in a tomb near
Shanghai dated to the late 16th century. A similar
full-sized example made from huanghuali wood is
exhibited at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas