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, cabinets, beds and sofas.
Chinese furniture includes Chinese antique furniture and Chinese classic furniture, usually, the former is made in softwood and the latter is made in hardwood.
What is now considered the Chinese aesthetic had its origins in China as far back as 1500-1000 BC. The furniture present in some of the artwork from that early period shows woven mats on elevated floors, sometimes accompanied by arm rests, providing seating accompanied by low tables. In this early period both unadorned and intricately engraved and painted pieces were already developing.
Buddhism, entering China around AD 200, brought with it the idea of (the Buddha) sitting upon a raised platform instead of simply mats. The platform was adopted as an honorific seat for special guests and dignitaries or officials. Longer versions were then used for reclining as well, which eventually evolved into the bed and daybed. Taller versions evolved into higher tables as well. The folding stool also proliferated similarly, after it was adapted from designs developed by nomadic tribes to the North and West, who used them for both their convenience and light weight in many applications such as mounting horses. Later, woven hourglass-shaped stools evolved; a design still in use today throughout China.
Some of the styles now widely regarded as Chinese began appearing more prominently in the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). It is here that evidence of early versions of the round and yoke back chairs are found, generally used by the elite. By the next two Dynasties (the Northern and Southern Song) the use of varying types of furniture, including chairs, benches, and stools was common throughout Chinese society. Two particular developments were recessed legs and waisted tables. Newer and more complex designs were generally limited to official and higher class use.
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It was from this basis that more modern Chinese furniture developed its distinguishing characteristics. Use of thick lacquer finish and detailed engravings and paintings as well as pragmatic design elements would continue to flourish. Significant foreign design influence would not be felt until increased contact with the West began in the 19th century, due to efforts on the part of the ruling elite to limit trade.
During the Ming and Qing dynasties previous bans on imports were lifted, allowing for larger quantities and varieties of woods to flood in from other parts of Asia. The use of denser wood led to much finer work, including more elaborate joinery.