It was in Ming and Qing Dynasties that the development of Chinese furniture was at its peak. Among the most prominent styles to emerge in this period was SuZuo Ming-style furniture known for its concise form and elegant lines. It has been produced since the middle of the 15th century. Historically, the furniture produced around southern Yangtze River region is collectively known as SuZuo. The exquisite frame, scientific mortise and tenon wood-working joint and the design concept of line modeling fully reflect the Chinese pursuit of perfection.
One of the representative works of Ming style furniture is South armchair. In addition to the practical purpose it serves, it also holds the “wisdom” of the ancients. For example, the design of chairs with high and low legs implies ‘rising step by step’; the encircling armrest protects the host from ‘leakage of wealth’; the back of the lower seat shows that the host accords the same respect to his guest as he would to his superior, thus reflecting the virtue of modesty.
The mortise and tenon woodworking joint is an important feature of ancient Chinese architecture and furniture. Woodworking joints attach two pieces of wood without use of nails. It is still widely used nowadays.
The first study of Ming style furniture was carried out by Gustav Ecke, a German scholar living in Beijing, in the 1930s. After Ecke published details of his decades-long study, the furniture style drew even more eyeballs.
Chinese President Xi Jinping once said, “The inheritance of Chinese culture is neither a copy of ancient wisdom nor does it reject traditions of other countries. Instead, it helps the past serve the present and we should also learn from the foreign countries. We should choose and replace the old with the new, abolish negative factors and inherit positive thinking. As the saying goes, ‘Improve creativity with the wisdom of the ancients.’ This would help us realize the creative transformation and innovative development of Chinese culture.”
In 2006, Ming style furniture (SuZuo) craftsmanship was selected as the national intangible cultural heritage. In September 2017, SuZuo Redwood culture and art heritage protection base settled in Changshu, Suzhou. In 2015, the redwood version of Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains jointly carved by artists from mainland and Taiwan Province was exhibited and became a major highlight of cultural exchange between mainland and Taiwan Province.
Generations of SuZuo redwood furniture makers continue wielding magic with their tools. The style has evolved to suit modern-day needs. It’s a piece of culture still in circulation which remains traditional while incorporatingthe fashionable vanguard modern design elements.