The Chinese own a long and distinguished history of Oriental furniture manufacture that far surpasses other Asian countries. Chinese furniture was commissioned largely by the aristocracy, but was also created for religious, governmental and domestic use. The large populations and crowded cities of most places wealthy enough to own beautiful Chinese and Oriental furniture restricted ownership to those from wealthy and aristocratic families. Most temples and religious venues used Oriental furniture only for storage.
In rural locations, Chinese furniture was constructed of locally available materials, often reeds, bamboo and woven grasses. Interestingly, Central Asian nomadic cultures did not make or use Oriental furniture, however, while other cultures, such as Japan, emphasized the use of Oriental furniture for storage. The preferred cabinet woods in Asia, of Asian furniture, were both softwoods and hardwoods. The use of elm, pine, cypress, cedar, varieties of rosewood and many tropical hardwoods were all used in the manufacture of Asian furniture.
Chinese furniture and Oriental furniture in general, was also constructed of rare and expensive materials, such as bronze, stone and ivory - working with costly material originated from ancient Rome and continued under Byzantine rule. Wood was also used for crafting small utilitarian or decorative objects, of which some were small pieces of Oriental furniture and others works of art. At an early date during the process of crafting Chinese furniture, it was learned that lacquer, a protective sap, could improve the durability of objects created with wood. The Chinese also discovered that by mixing tinted pigments with lacquer, Oriental furniture would not only be protected, but the appearance enhanced as well.
Over time, lacquer artisans developed a broad array of techniques for applying working lacquer to Asian furniture, making it an independent art form. Chinese furniture made of pine or softwoods is often protected by lacquer; most lacquered furniture is burgundy colored, bright red or black. Chinese furniture types are standard forms familiar to most people: chairs, tables, cabinets and beds. But there are some less standard forms of furniture from the Chinese as well, such as garment racks designed for holding long robes, document and other boxes, weiqi containers, games tables and reversible game boards and a variety of circular and rectangular pedestals.
Korean furniture has an ancient tradition extending back over one thousand years. Many of the basic forms of furniture from Korea are little changed from examples dating back to the 17th century. The main cabinet woods of Korean furniture are pine, paulownia, bamboo, limewood, persimmon, elm and gingko. Often Korean furniture is enhanced with either black or red lacquer. Most Korean furniture was created for storage and a variety of storage cabinets were made.
Large tansu or storage cabinets were common in Japanese wood furniture. The cabinets were used for clothing storage and for the storage of personal or household articles. Most Japanese furniture is made from pine, elm or cryptomeria and possess large, decorative iron mounts. Other woods common to Japanese furniture are cypress, hinoki, yew, mulberry, chestnut and a variety of imported Asian tropical hardwoods. Often, the furniture of the Japanese was designed for several functions. Space was limited in most houses and so storage cabinets were often built into an interior wall and covered by beautifully-painted large sliding panels. In the late 19th century, Japan underwent an industrial expansion and many traditional crafts, including Oriental furniture making, were exported to Western markets.