Celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival

As you know, we love to dip into Chinese culture and share what we know with you. You’ll already be aware of the importance of festivals to the Chinese, and one of the most significant of all is celebrated over the next couple of days- the Mid-Autumn Festival. So what do we know about its history and origins?

moon-beautiful-cool The term ‘Mid-Autumn’ first appeared in the book ‘Rites of Zhou’, written in the Warring States Period (475–221 BC). But it wasn’t until during the Northern Song Dynasty (960–1127 AD) that the 15th day of the 8th lunar month was established as the ‘Mid-Autumn Festival’. From then on, worshipping the moon was established as a traditional custom. Ancient Chinese emperors worshipped the moon goddess as they believed that the practice would bring them a plentiful harvest the following year.

During the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644 AD) and the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912 AD), the Mid-Autumn Festival was as popular as Chinese New Year. People enjoyed many different activities to celebrate it, such as burning pagodas and performing the fire dragon dance.

Worshipping the moon could involve placing a large table outside in the middle of the yard or garden under the moon, and putting offerings, such as fruit and snacks, on the table. The sacrificial offerings would include apples, plums, grapes and incense, but mooncakes and watermelons (pomelos in the south) were the most important. The watermelon skin would be sliced and opened up into a lotus shape when offered as a sacrifice.

Chinese mid autumn festival foods. Traditional mooncakes on tablThe tradition of eating mooncakes during the festival began in the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368), a dynasty ruled by the Mongols. At the end of the Yuan Dynasty, the Han people’s resistance army wanted to overthrow the rule of the Mongols, so they planned an uprising together. But they had no way to inform other Han people who wanted to join them of the time of the uprising without being discovered by the Mongols. The military counselor of the Han people’s resistance army, Liu Bowen, came up with the strategy of using mooncakes. Liu Bowen asked his soldiers to write “uprising on the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival” on slips of paper, put them in mooncakes, and then sell them to the other Han people.

When the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival came, a huge uprising broke out and the Han people succeeded in battle.  From then on, people ate mooncakes every Mid-Autumn Festival to commemorate the uprising.

Today, it is still an occasion for friends and relatives to eat mooncakes and watch the moon, which is a symbol of harmony and unity. The festival is celebrated with many cultural or regional customs, including burning incense in reverence to deities, performing lion dances and carrying brightly lit lanterns.

Cosy up with autumnal shades

As the weather begins to cool and the days grow shorter, our thoughts turn to autumn.

We love an excuse to update our decor, and there’s no reason why the interior of our homes shouldn’t reflect the changes outside. So why not embrace the season’s beautiful colours? The harvest months showcase the earth’s richest hues, from burnt oranges to metallic sheens.

We borrowed the above image of autumn leaves and its associated colour palette from the Littletree Designs blog, and it’s a great place to start with any seasonal scheme. Use of this warm, inviting colour palette will instantly add a cosy feel to any home.

Much Oriental and Chinese furniture uses colours borrowed from autumn. Some of my favourite pieces from the Shimu collection are those in muted reds and oranges. I particularly like this antique painted grain cabinet dating from around 1900. The original lacquer remains and the original paintings can clearly be seen, showing figures in bright silk clothing including one who appears to be begging not to receive a flogging!



As well as antiques, Shimu stocks a range of reproduction pieces, and our ‘China Seasons’ collection includes many pieces which suit the shades of this season.

This range is made up of gorgeously lacquered and painted Chinese cabinets, each one handcrafted and finished using traditional techniques. Every item is unique – both individual and beautiful.

I love this pair of lacquer cabinets in a classic Chinese red. The doors and drawers are in a contrasting soft cream, decorated with monochrome paintings of a mountain landscape.

seasonsIf buying new furniture is beyond your budget, why not mark the change of the season with an accessories update? Add warm rugs, throws and textiles, choose metallic vases and fluid ceramics, as well as shimmering bronzes like the selection featured below and all available online at shimu.co.uk?


You’ll find lots more inspiration for autumn online at shimu.co.uk, and why not visit our Pinterest page for seasonal boards?

The Origins of Kung Fu

Chinese culture is endlessly rich and fascinating, and we occasionally like to dip in and focus on a subject we think you will find interesting. Today we’re taking a look at the ancient art of kung fu.

Chinese kung fu, also known as wushu or Chinese martial arts, is well known in the West as an example of traditional Chinese culture. It is probably one of the earliest and most long-lasting sports that uses both brawn and brain.

The origins of kung fu

The theory of kung fu is based upon classical Chinese philosophy. Over its long history it has developed as a unique combination of exercise, self-defence, self-discipline and art.

Chinese kung fu can be dated back to primeval society. At that time people used cudgels to fight against wild beasts but gradually gained more experience in self defence. When the Shang Dynasty (1600–1046 BC) began, hunting was considered an important part of kung fu training. 

The theory of kung fu

Chinese kung fu is a structure of theory and practice and combines the techniques of self-defence with an emphasis on well being. A distinction is made between ‘external’ and ‘internal’ kung fu. It is said that in external kung fu, you exercise ‘your tendons, bones and skin'; in internal kung fu, you train ‘your spirit, your qi, and your mind’. For this reason it is said that internal kung fu can continue later in life, even when the external body starts to let us down.



Taijiquan (pronounced tie-jee-chwen), and also known as tai chi, is a Taoist internal martial art and is popular in Western culture. It is said that taijiquan was developed by the Taoist immortal Chang San-Feng, who is said to have drawn inspiration for the art by watching a fight between a snake and an aggressive eagle (history does not tell us who won!).

Chinese Qi Gong

Qi gong (literally ‘breath exercise’) is an invaluable part of traditional Chinese medicine. Its primary aim was the search for longevity of life, with the ultimate aim of immortality. This is a concept which has captured the Chinese imagination for centuries.

Kung fu heroes in the West

For many of us in the West, our ideas of kung fu have been shaped by the popularity of actors in Hollywood films. Here are a few of our ‘Hollywood heros’.

Bruce Lee (1940 – 1973) was a Chinese-American martial artist and actor, who is considered by some as the most influential martial artist of the 20th century and an important cultural icon. He used Wing Chun, a branch of Chinese kung fu, as his base, learned from the influences of other martial arts, and later created his own martial art philosophy called Jeet Kune Do. His most famous films are The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, Way of the Dragon, Enter the Dragon, and Game of Death.

Jackie Chan (1954) is a Hong Kong martial artist, actor and singer. He began his film career as a stuntman in the Bruce Lee films. Now a cultural icon, he is widely known for injecting comedy and stunts into his martial arts performances. In 2008 he sang at the closing ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. He has starred in over 100 films – some famous ones include Rumble in the Bronx, Rush Hour, and Who Am I.

Jet Li (1963) was born in Beijing and is a five-time national wushu champion. After retiring from wushu at the age of 17, he went on to star in many martial arts films, of which the most notable are the Once Upon A Time in China series, portraying famous folk hero Wong Fei Hung. His roles in Hollywood films include being a villain in Lethal Weapon 4, acting alongside Sylvester Stallone in The Expendables, as well as Hero, Fearless, and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.

And finally… Kung Fu Panda: the much loved cartoon panda, voiced by Jack Black, who is now starring in his third film.

Some wonderful finds in Beijing

I spent most of Tuesday with the other main antique dealer that I use in Beijing who continues to source a wonderful selection. These are mostly from Shanxi province but he also always has some lovely rustic tables from Henan along with the odd painted sideboard from Gansu and carved pieces from Shaanxi. The finish that he specialises in is very natural – not at all over-restored or heavily varnished – and my favourite pieces on each of our containers tend to be from him.

This time around I lined up plenty to go on our next container and probably the one after that, with the highlights being a gorgeous old altar table from Beijing, stripped back to its natural wood colour. At around 250 years old and with a beautiful deep grain in the elm wood, it oozes character. There are still old burn marks on the top – signs of its use to hold ancestor offerings – and the offset tenons that secure the table top are an indication of its age, as these are a feature not seen on later pieces.

An unusual and very elegant pair of side tables from Shanxi was another favourite. Also in elm, these each have three drawers and narrow, elongated legs that end in delicate ‘horse hoof’ feet. I also selected a couple of very old Shaanxi pieces with wonderful carvings. These are becoming few and far between these days and prices have increased considerably over recent years but they are beautiful items. The relief carvings on the drawers of one table in particular are stunning – showing four Chinese lions and stylised dragons.

There is still time to choose a few more pieces before I leave Beijing tomorrow evening, but I’m delighted with what we have lined up so far. As ever, I’m looking forward to sharing my finds with you on the website over the coming weeks and receiving everything soon for display in our showroom. We’ll be posting a few highlights on our Facebook page once I get back too so if you want a sneak preview of more of my selection be sure to ‘like’ us for updates.

Antique hunting in Beijing

I’ve been in Beijing for the past few days after saying goodbye to the team in Shanghai on Saturday. Whilst it is always good to see the people there and to check on the latest furniture coming out of production, I look forward to my time in Beijing as this is where I get to visit various showrooms and warehouses to select most of the Chinese antiques that we will ship to the UK over the coming months.

I’ve noticed a big difference in the antiques market in China over the past few years. When we first started sourcing and selling Chinese antiques twelve or so years ago, there was still a good selection both in Shanghai and Beijing. Nowadays suppliers in Shanghai have pretty much all dried up, whilst in Beijing the number of workshops restoring and selling antiques has dwindled down to just a few good ones. This is partly down to supply – it has simply become more difficult and more expensive to find good quality pieces from across China – but also due to many of the factories identifying new furniture aimed mostly at the domestic Chinese market as being the future for their business.

More recently, many of the smaller workshops have been forced to close in Beijing due to government policy. In an effort to tackle the serious pollution problem in the capital the government issued an edict last year that essentially means that most factories are no longer allowed to be located within the Beijing outer city limits. Faced with an expensive relocation to a nearby province such as Hebei at short notice, many businesses simply couldn’t afford to keep going.

Some factories saw the move coming and have used it to their advantage with some forward planning. One of my antique suppliers here moved their production to Shandong province a few hours’ drive to the south of Beijing about six months ago, where labour and rent is a lot cheaper. They still plan to keep a showroom in the capital, but are also building a larger one at the new factory and hope to tempt customers there in the future.

I wanted to see the new set up and check out some samples that they have produced for Shimu, so we spent a long day travelling down to Shandong. The fastest part of the journey was an hour spent on one China’s high speed trains (CRH), speeding through the countryside at around 300km/hour. Looking out of the window I was struck by how flat the countryside in this part of China is, with agricultural fields interspersed with industrial complexes. Arriving at the station in Shandong everything looked new, with four lane roads largely devoid of traffic – in stark contrast to Beijing and Shanghai centres.

As in other parts of China, the amount of construction is incredible, with new tower blocks, huge office complexes and factories sprouting up everywhere. The odd thing is that most of these seem to be empty, built perhaps to continue fuelling the economy and to provide employment but with little hope of being occupied in the near future.

Our supplier’s new factory is very well set up, with plenty of space and good facilities. They have also already started to build the large new showroom in the centre of the complex, so I look forward to seeing that completed the next time I am over here. I chose a few painted and lacquered cabinets for our next shipment from those they had just restored and refinished, but will visit their Beijing showroom tomorrow to view most of their current stock.


More from my China trip: the food of Shanghai!

I said I’d tell you more about the restaurants of Shanghai, and it’s certainly a more interesting topic than traffic!

I am always very well entertained and well treated on my visits. Food is such an important part of Chinese society and business relations and I am certainly happy to be the benefactor! There is such a wide variety of restaurants and dishes as each part of China, even down to districts within a region, has its own particular cuisine.

The vast majority of Chinese food that we are used to in the UK is based (quite loosely) on the cuisine of Guandong near Hong Kong and is quite sweet compared to the more robust, salty food of the north or the spicy, piquant food of Szechuan in the South West. It amuses me that when I am sat with staff from our suppliers, who usually hail from many different parts of China, they will often comment that the food we are eating is not hot enough for them (Hebei natives) or too sweet (Shandong natives) and they will always claim that the food in their region is the best!

I have to say that Shanghai food is one of my favourites – I love the shrimp and pork dumplings that the area is known for but on this trip I have also had some delicious fish, pork belly, seafood and countless other dishes (including frog – and yes it does taste much like chicken).

On a footnote, my Chinese has unfortunately improved very little over the years as there is usually at least one person around who speaks good English and will translate to everybody. However, last night we found ourselves in a situation where, between four of us, there was very little common language. The solution? Lily, one of the staff I was having dinner with, Facetimed her boyfriend who currently works at a restaurant in London, so that I could chat with him and he could act briefly as interpreter from thousands of miles away! Quite a surreal experience and one that I’m sure Lily’s boyfriend wasn’t expecting.

An update from Shanghai: part 1

I’m in China this week, sourcing antiques and checking on the workshops which make our handcrafted ranges.

It has been a rainy few days in Shanghai but good to catch up again with old friends and check on progress for our next shipment – a 40 foot container due to leave here at the beginning of June. The supplier we use in Shanghai for much of our new furniture including our Classical Chinese range has moved recently to a larger factory, so this was the first opportunity for me to visit the new premises.

Compared to many of the workshops I have seen in China, particularly many of the little ateliers in Beijing, it is roomy, light and well equipped – a good balance between handcrafted, traditional techniques and modern efficiency.

I was very pleased with the quality of everything I saw, particularly the finish on the pieces that were already completed as the factory is using a new, more hard-wearing lacquer for the range and this is the first time I had seen the results. It gives a lovely, silky finish that is nice to the touch but is more durable than other lacquers.

Whilst some of the 150 or so pieces of furniture that will go on the container were already finished other than having hardware fitted, the majority were completed only to the woodwork stage. This gave me the chance to inspect the quality of the carpentry on the furniture, including several ‘made to order’ presold pieces.

I love to see much of the traditional Chinese joinery still in use in our furniture, although these days the carpenters also use some more modern techniques such as machine cut dovetail joints on some of the larger drawers for added strength.

Between visiting the factory and checking out one or two of the local markets in Shanghai much of my time here has been spent, as ever, either sitting in traffic or sitting at a restaurant table. The traffic here never ceases to amaze me and, despite fairly stringent restrictions by the local government on granting new car licenses, is only getting worse as a few more thousand cars enter onto the roads every month.

Shanghai has an excellent and cheap underground system that I tend to use when I’m out and about by myself but my contacts here will always drive. I can’t help but wonder at the hours, days and weeks that mount up sitting in gridlock that could be spent more productively.

Anyway, enough of traffic. In my next post, I’ll tell you a little more about my time spent at the restaurant tables of this city….

Summer blooms are always in style

Florals needn’t be fusty and old-fashioned. Forget chintzy prints and boring pastels and go bold with blooms. Here are some of our favourite ideas from across the web.


There’s nothing shy and retiring about this floral wallpaper! Go to the dark side with this amazing print and team with simple white wood to keep the look modern.

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Bright blooms look super modern against neon furniture.

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If you’re of a creative bent, why not paint your own bold floral wall for a totally unique look?

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If an entire floral wall is too much for you, why not take a tip from Shimu and try a framed panel? These gorgeous wall panels are hand painted onto silk and backed with rice paper and feature exquisite detail of flowers, birds and butterflies.

They are ideal for bringing bring a touch of oriental style into a room without having to paper an entire wall. Find more silk panels and floral wall art on the Shimu website.

Global fusion style for your home


Since air travel became popular in the seventies, global chic has been a perennial trend. And the internet age means we can mix treasures picked up on our own travels with exotic furniture, accessories and art purchased from around the world at the click of a mouse.

Designs from Moroccan bazaars, Mediterranean markets and Stockholm studios are at our fingertips, but with so much variety it’s important to take care in putting this well-travelled look together. Here are some tips on how to master global fusion.

1) Keep things fresh and contemporary with a neutral colour palette, especially if your ethnic goods are bright and colourful.

2) Incorporate pieces that tell a story about your life. Whilst on holiday, be sure to look out for special artefacts and the work of local artisans.

3) When it comes to flooring, choose natural materials like wood, brick or tiles. If you want carpet, pick a hand woven rug perhaps from Morocco,  China or India.

4) Have fun with textiles and incorporate them into every room of your house. For instance, a dining room looks wonderful with a table-runner made from bright Japanese kimono fabric.

5) Get creative with accessories. Ethnic jewellery such as our Miao silver necklaces look stunning on their stands, Chinese silks add drama when framed and antique window panels make unusual wall hangings.

6) Add pizzazz to dinner by serving food on a mix of exotic crockery.

7) Mix contemporary furniture with simple lines with accent pieces like dramatic Chinese cabinets in bright lacquers.

Image by shutter fly.com

Easter entertaining

We can’t believe that Easter is here already. It doesn’t seem a moment since we were getting excited about Christmas and the Chinese New Year! But it does give us a great excuse (not that we need one) to plan a beautiful table setting for a scrumptious family feast.

First, the basics. At Shimu, you’ll find a great range of dining tables and chairs online, from black lacquer to rustic elm to quirky antique. We also have some show-stopping sideboards, which are great for giving a dining room the wow factor. Pictured below is our Ming dining table and chairs, decorated to great effect with a minimalist arrangement of white hydrangeas and anemones in a  simple fishbowl.


Whether your style is minimalist, boho, chic or rustic, set the right tone for your Easter gathering with an unforgettable, easy-to-make tablescape. If the weather’s good, why not take your dining table and chairs outside and dine alfresco? In the table setting below, florals are combined with citrus accents to create an elegant Easter tablescape that harks to spring.

Alfresco dining

If the weather’s not up to it (and let’s face it, alfresco dining seems unlikely), bring the outside in with beautiful spring flowers to add colour to your table (see left).

For a theme harking back to the winter months, try the simple yet dramatic tablescape pictured right.

Fill a tall clear glass vase with manzanita branches for a dramatic statement. Decorate with blue eggs and accessories to make impact against the stark white tableware.
spring inspiredsimple


















For a more eccentric arrangement, we love this setting of pears in delicate floral glass teacups. The green shade of the pears contrasts beautifully with the duck egg garland, and the gently illuminated bunny adds a quirky finishing touch.

nature inspired

Once the table is set, all that’s left to consider is the meal. We think there’s nothing better than delicious spring lamb, and we’ve found this foolproof recipe by Delia Smith to make things easy for you. Enjoy this mouthwatering recipe for spring lamb cooked in butter and herbs, with redcurrant, orange and mint sauce.

Happy Easter everyone!

Delicious Spring Lamb

1 leg of lamb, weighing about 4 lb 8 oz (2 kg)
1½ oz (40 g) butter, at room temperature
2 level tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 level tablespoons chopped fresh curly parsley
1 level teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 level teaspoon salt
freshly milled black pepper
For the gravy
1 level dessertspoon plain flour
3 fl oz (75 ml) dry white or red wine
10 fl oz (275 ml) vegetable stock
salt and freshly milled black pepper
For the sauce:
4 tablespoons authentic redcurrant jelly (one with a high fruit content), eg Tiptree
zest 1 orange (use a zester)
1½ level tablespoons chopped fresh mint


Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 5, 375°F (190°C). Begin by chopping all the herbs as per the instructions given in the ingredients list, then mix the butter, herbs and garlic together, adding a level teaspoon of salt and some freshly milled black pepper.

Now stab the joint in several places with a skewer, and rub the herb butter all over the upper side – this will allow the butter to run into the joint during cooking.

Next, wrap the joint loosely in foil, allowing a bit of space to let air circulate, then fold the edges and seal well. Now place it in a large roasting tin and cook for 2 hours on the centre shelf of the pre-heated oven, then open out the foil and cook it for a further 30 minutes, so that it browns nicely.

With these cooking times the lamb will be slightly pink. If you like it well done, give it a little extra time in the foil before opening it out.

When it is ready, remove the joint to a warm serving dish and keep in a warm place while you make the gravy. Empty the juices from the foil into the roasting tin, then tilt the tin slightly.

You will see that the meat juices and fat will separate, so spoon off most of the fat into a bowl and discard, and leave the juices in the tin.

Now place the tin over a medium heat, and when the juices start to bubble, sprinkle in the flour and work it to a smooth paste, using a wooden spoon, then cook for a minute or so, to brown.

Now pour in the wine and let it bubble, then gradually add the stock by degrees, to make a thin gravy. Taste and add seasoning, if it needs it, then pour into a jug.

Place the redcurrant jelly in a small basin, break it up with a fork, then mix in the orange zest and mint – and that’s it. This must be one of the quickest sauces in the world, and it’s absolutely delicious.

Pour it in a jug and serve with the lamb and the gravy. Bon appetit!

For a more eccentric arrangement, we love this setting of pears in delicate floral glass teacups. The green shade of the pears contrasts beautifully with the duck egg garland, and the gently illuminated bunny adds a quirky finishing touch.