Jiao Yi, Folded Arm-Rest Chair

It is not uncommon for someone to ask an official the often-repeated question: “Which Jiao Yi are you in? ” The question is meant to clarify the man’s exact position in the leadership of his institution. In the eyes of most people, Jiao Yi is synonymous to power.

Jiao Yi General 2But what is a Jiao Yi? The word refers to a folded arm-rest chair in use in ancient China. The predecessor of JiaoYi was the folded stools of the northern Huns. Images of such stools can be seen in the frescos in the Thousand-Buddha Grottoes in the Tuyu Gully of Turpan.

Jiao Yi falls roughly into three categories:

Armchair with a round back. This belongs to the highest grade of Jiao Yi and was for the exclusive use of members of the imperial family. When folded, such chairs could be carried on a journey, and this is why they were also known as “ travelling chairs ”. When the emperor went on a hunting excursion, his bodyguards would follow in tow with the folded chairs on their shoulders. Thus Jiao Yi was also known as “Hunter’s chair”.

Armchair with a straight back. This type of Jiao Yi features arms that are longer than usual, and is mostly made from hardwood. A tiny number of them were made of Onmosia henryi(Huanghuali in Chinese), a precious hardwood. Such Jiao Yi was usually for the enjoyment by the learned and upper-class in their studies or courtyards.

    Jiao Yi 2       Jiao Yi 3

Chair with a straight back but no arms. This type of Jiao Yi is relatively simpler in structure and usually made of some cheap materials. Many of them are still in use in the rural areas of north China.

High-grade Jiao Yi could be found in museums at home and abroad; there are few of them in the hands of private users. By far there are only about 100 folded Onmosia Henryi (Huanghuali in Chinese) arm-rest chairs with a round back that date back to the Ming and Qing dynasties.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply