The first chairs came from outside China in about 2nd century C.E. Initially it was a status symbol used by higher members of society or at religious ceremonies. With growing popularity, by around the 12th century chairs usurped the mat as the preferred form of seating across all levels of society. In fact China was the only Asian society to fully adopt the chair-level of living.
This new level of seating had consequences for the way people lived. Chairs saw a proliferation of other furniture. This included tables around which people sat for work or entertainment as well as sideboards and cabinets.
There were also flow-on consequences for houses and interior decor. Houses became grander in design and the higher walls and ceilings saw an increase in interior decoration.
During the transition from the mat, China developed its own unique chair designs. One of these is the circular or horseshoe back armchair. The very elegant fluid sweep of the arms allows the person to sit back and relax in quiet conversation with friends. The design naturally lifted the sitter’s arms and encouraged airflow around the body, an especially welcome feature during the hot summer months.
This beautiful design became the inspiration for a range of modern chairs developed by Western furniture designers including Hans Wegner. Good design has a timeless appeal and Chinese chairs comfortably blend with contemporary homes. Humble House gallery has a large range of authentic Chinese chairs and other traditional seating forms including stools and benches.
See also our page on evolution of the chair