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...hangers have elaborate decorative themes...

The garment hanger is one of the oldest items of Chinese domestic furniture, with visual representation on woodblocks claimed to be as early as 770 BC. Unlike so much Chinese furniture, the hanger did not have to evolve from the floor level living era to raised living: it was always a prerequisite to have somewhere to hang the day’s clothes and robes at night.

Once again, however, it owes its existence to the absence of inbuilt storage in the Chinese home. The need to store robes and furs folded flat has been described in About Cabinets and About Chests.

Likewise, there existed no wardrobes to hang daily robes, hence rather than place them every night in a large longer term storage piece, the garment hanger was designed to allow robes to be hung without creasing, ready for use the next day.

The top rail has uplifted ends to keep the robes in place, while the structure is post and rail design, often with elaborate decorative themes, either in the use of lattice work between the cross rails, or the use of symbolic animals or shapes in the upturned ends of the top rail. The magnificent example of a lion’s head features here in the Collection.

There is a particularly good pictorial representation of these hangers in use in a painting on a silk scroll dating from the 10th century, The Night Revels of Han Xizai. The garment hanger is clearly visible in use behind the bed.

Today these garment hangers can serve very much the same function, while bringing a light, delightful Chinese accent to the modern bedroom.

Wash stands and Racks

Unlike the garment hanger, a number of stands did have to evolve to chair level living. These include stands for incense, lamps, braziers and washing.

Candlestick Stands & Hangers

Washing was seen as both a hygienic and a ritual and spiritual necessity. Customs for washing were developed in the Eastern Zhou period (770-221 BC) and were deeply prescriptive. They also remained largely unchanged to the end of the Qing dynasty. A bath, for example, was required every fifth day; hair was to be washed every third day; hands would be washed five times a day. The contrast between this and the hygiene prevalent in Post Roman Empire Europe could not be greater.

Bodily purity was equated with moral purity, and thus ritual washing was equated with ritual and spiritual purification.

During the floor level era, washbasins could rest on the ground, or on small low stands. With the introduction of raised level living came the raising of the wash bowl, and the development of both a holder for the wash bowl and a rack for the towel.

The wash bowl holder was, at its best, a six cabriole legged structure, into the top of which fitted the water bowl. Behind this, either separately or integrally attached, was a tall narrow towel rack, which was structured in much the same way as the wider garment rack already described.

Being narrower, and in some cases taller, the towel rack required a larger base relative to its overall size to to provide stability. These large bases are often disguised by the use of lattice work or other decorative carving, which is also mirrored between the cross rails. The top rail, as with the garment hanger, has upturned ends to keep the towel in place.

The fragility of the washbasin stands makes them exceptionally rare, almost impossible to find. But the rack that stood behind it was much more robust, and can still be found and used for its original function, or perhaps as a smaller garment hanger.