Beds and Chinese Culture

Original content by: Dr. Paul Goodwin

zoomable artifact image here

About This Artifact

This Chinese bed was brought from Canton, China to Providence, Rhode Island in 1857 by William Gano Pierce (1825-1875).  This style of bed is common to the Ming and Qing Dynasties, and was important in all aspects of Chinese life.  These beds were not only used for sleep, but also social activities, such as conversation, drinking tea, and playing games such as Go.  Beds like this were considered central to family life and they were commonly passed down through generations.

Beds figured prominently in classical Chinese poetry, stories, and paintings.  For women, in particular, beds were symbols of their status within the household.  Included as part of a woman's dowry, an antique Chinese canopy bed is often referred to as a "wedding bed."  It was one of the few items that remained in a woman's posession throughout her life, even if her marriage ended in divorce.

Thousands of Chinese artifacts were brought into the United States as a result of the China trade.  Chinese paintings and other artworks, furniture, porcelain, china, lacquer ware, ivories, jade and textiles introduced Americans to Chinese culture.  At the same time, Chinese immigrants were discriminated against, and, as laborers, often abused.

Questions for Further Thought

  1. What influences did the China trade have on American society?
  2. How did Chinese artifacts, such as works of art, furniture, various kinds of ceramics and textiles, contribute to an appreciation of Chinese culture?
  3. How did British control of Hong Kong until 1999 influence Chinese society?