Chinese Tables & Chairs

The Chinese first started to use chairs and stools during the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 AD). By the end of the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279) all parts of society had moved away from the earlier mat level culture still prevalent in other Asian furniture to this higher level of seating. However, chairs were far less common than simple stools and reflected the status and authority of the user.

One of the earliest forms of Chinese chairs to appear were armchairs with protruding head rails, which can be seen in drawings from as early as the 6th century. By the Ming Dynasty, this style had been refined into the ‘Yoke-Back’ or ‘Official’s Hat’ armchair - a style that continued to be common throughout China for hundreds of years. This and the other most common type of Chinese chair – the horseshoe armchair – are included in our own range of furniture. Folding chairs also developed early on in Chinese history, and seem to have been used extensively during Ming times for travelling or for easy storage.

All types of chair would incorporate a footrest at the front to raise the sitter’s feet off the cold floor. Most Ming chairs also included soft seats made of matting, which was threaded through the frame. The same type of chair tended to be used for several different purposes, whether for dining, for sitting at a writing or painting table, or as a pair in a reception room.

Low level tables were used in ancient China, but with the arrival of stools and chairs came a variety of higher tables. Two basic classifications are often used for Chinese tables from the Ming period. These are the ‘An’ table, which has recessed legs such as those seen on our Altar Table, and the ‘Zhuo’ table, which has legs protruding from each corner, such as those seen on our Ming Console Table. As with most Chinese chairs, the same style of table was used in a variety of ways – as a dining table, as a writing desk or simply as a display table for ornaments or vases of flowers.

In the colder regions of China, a hollow platform known as a ‘kang’ was normally built into the main living room. Made of clay or brick, the kang would be heated from underneath and used as a bed and general living space. Chairs would not be used on the kang, only mats and cushions. However, low tables would be placed on the kang when needed to hold tea, meals, spittoons and other everyday items.

Read more:
An introduction to Chinese Furniture
Information on Chinese Cabinets and Wardrobes
Information on Chinese Trunks and Chests
Information on Chinese Screens and beds

See our resources section for a list of recommended books and for links to other websites about Chinese furniture.