You are using an outdated browser. Please upgrade your browser to improve your experience
This is a C19th high back yoke back chair. The high back and round back are two of the earliest forms of chairs, with basic form not much changed over two millennium.
China was unique among its east Asian neighbours in its adaptation of raised level living, in particular the chair, used with legs pendant, in the western manner, and abandonment of the “wei-tso” leg kneeling position.
The earliest extant chair was found in 1919, dated by contemporaneous events to around 1110AD. It is a recognisable a fully formed yoke back chair, without arms. The evolution to the chair from the hu chuang folding stool and other stools can only be explored by the appearance of furniture in woodblock prints, literature, and tomb artifacts.
The evolution to the chair from the hu chuang folding stool and other stools can only be explored by the appearance of furniture in woodblock prints, literature and tomb artefacts. The evidence and its implications are not however consistently agreed or interpreted. For example, in her 1952 booklet “The Chair in China” Louis Hawley- Stone argues that the original hu chuang arrived in China with a version complete with reclining backrest and arms. Her evidence is a drawing and accompanying text from a manuscript dated 1607, referring back 1400 years to 168-187 AD drawings of a folding chair.
A doctoral thesis by Jan Chapman in 1975 rebuts this, citing major differences in translation of the text.
Likewise Hawley-Stone speculates that the four legged fixed frame that is the basis of the yokeback and others could be derived from a C3rd Indian chair base, an of which was example excavated by Aurel Stein at Niya in Chinese Turkestan, on the route Buddhism and trade took to China.
Similarly C P Fitzgerald in “Barbarian Beds: the Origin of the Chair in China”,1965 writes that based on written records and etymology (particularly of the word Yi for frame-based chair being a homonym with “to lean”) the hu chuang as a simple backless folding stool was introduced from Eastern Roman Empire in C2AD, and that no back was added to it until the C12th, and that this was endogenous rather than imported, probably copied from an independently developed frame chair similar to that discovered in 1919 from 1110 AD
Fitzgerald observes “no explanation of the introduction of frame chairs to the house and the displacement of mats exists in written records.”
He also notes that the first conclusive evidence that raised level living was widespread and all furniture types had adapted to it was in 960AD, shown in illustrations by Ku Hung Ching “Han Hsi-Tsai Yeh Yen.” He correlates this date to the beginning of the Sung Dynasty, ending the partition known as the Five Dynasties.
Sung literature makes multiple references to fixed frame chairs, and by 1101 AD the painting Ch’ing Ming Sha Ho shows a general urban population celebrating Spring, with everyone, from prince to pauper, using raised furniture.
More recently the eminent Sinologist and furniture historian Sarah Handler writes that the first evidence of a chair is within the cave paintings in DuHuang, dated to 538AD, but with the monk in the “wei-tso” position. Handler’s view is that the evolution of the chair to this point had “insufficient evidence to prove earlier chairs (as opposed to stools) were imported or based on foreign prototypes.”
Given this, it is wiser to view the evolution of the Chinese chair as endogenous, most likely with the various individual arm and back rests used on the kang or raised domestic platforms to make the “wei-tso” position more comfortable being integrated and adapted to a frame based stool, with its firm seat, and Hu Chuang, with its folding woven seat.
Taking this approach suggests that from the Hu Chuang and stool era (roughly contiguous with Han Dynasty to C6th, the chair developed, associated principally within narrow religious and aristocratic usage.
That the use of the chair and its two principle formats (frame and folding) became widespread outside the elites after C10th is accepted, but reasons for it are speculative. It is worth noting however that raised level living allowed the perfect expression of hierarchy so rigidly inherent in Confucian culture.
“China was unique among its east Asian neighbours in its adaptation of raised level living, in particular the chair, used with legs pendant, in the western manner, and abandonment of the “wei-tso” leg kneeling position.”