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Small Red Lacquer Shrine Table
Item No. 5697

19th Century, Buddhist, China
Lacquer over Wood
10" x 21.5" x 11"
( 25.4 x 54.61 x 27.94 cm)
(H x W x D)

This red lacquer shrine table is elaborately decorated with intricate carving highlighted with gold accents. It was used to hold spiritual images, which may have been Buddhist, Taoist, or popular religion or ancestor figures, although the guardian fu lions make the use of Buddhist images more likely. The lion had long been used as a Buddhist symbol as defender of the law and protector of sacred buildings, and his roar was likened to his great effort at spreading the Buddhist dharma throughout the land.

The footed table has five drawers, each with its original decorative metal pull, used to store objects related to offerings, such as matches, candles, and incense. It is decorated on the top with a four sided carved railing with seated fu lions on elevated posts at each corner. Fu lions are also symbols of superhuman strength and protectors and mounts of holy beings. Red is often used on altars and furniture, since it symbolizes good fortune, fame, joy and riches. It is a life-giving color, as it is associated with blood, the color of life. It is also associated with yang, the male, positive life-giving force in the Chinese yin-yang polarity which is correlated with summer, the time of life giving and the period of maximum yang. All yang elements protect against evil and so reinforce life, and as far back as the Shang (16th-11th Century B.C.) period the color red was placed as an offering in tombs in the form of cinnabar, presumably for its life-sustaining properties. The Chinese have for centuries painted walls and gateways red or hung red strips of paper inscribed with good luck poems in an effort to ward off evil and protect themselves from malevolent spirits.


Nancy Zeng Berliner, "Chinese Folk Art," Boston, Little, Brown and Company, 1986.

Ronald Knapp, "China’s Living Houses: Folk Beliefs, Symbols, and Household Ornamention," Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 1999.

C.A.S. Williams, "Chinese Symbols and Art Motifs," New Jersey, Castle Books, 1974.

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