16th C, Elm, Shanxi. Important as table for holding Buddha figure in ancestral worship; rare as coffers disappeared after Ming period.
This kind of small table was often used to hold the statue of a Buddha in ancestral worship, thus it is called a “Buddha Table”. It could also be used for serving food and drinks since houses were small and much of the furniture had to be used for multiple purposes. A kang table was usually placed on top of a ‘kang’ bed, a hollow brick platform built into a room and heated by a fire piped in from the kitchen next door providing heat in the cold northern country.
This kang table has the characteristics of a coffer, which is a chest built with a hidden space below a drawer to hide valuable personal belongings. It is constructed in the traditional mitered, mortise-and-tenon method. The top has a central floating panel formed by several planks. It is strengthened below by transverse braces. Below this top is a drawer with a deep-carved floral rosette flanked by a pair of confronting dragons with scrolled bodies. The rosette is fitted with an original hasp plate which can latch and secure the drawer to a locking loop in a cross slat below. The locking devise is missing. The legs are visibly tenoned to the table top. Around the deep-carved panel front is a row of hand-hammered boss-head nails inserted there as an expensive decoration. (Metal was an expensive commodity, afforded by only the very rich ). A concealed storage space is beneath the drawer, making this small table a coffer. This hidden space is fronted by a carved panel with relief floral carving. All the carvings seem to be gilded at one time though this elegant touch has largely faded.
This frontally oriented piece is decorated with long scrolled spandrels and aprons. The vertically molded front legs are interesting in that some Chinese writing seems to have been inscribed there, probable wishing the person gifted with this table long life, happiness and prosperity. The writing is faded and hard to read. As coffers were frequently presented as part of a dowry, this elaborately constructed little table might be given as a wedding gift to a member of high society. The table is valuable as coffers largely disappeared after the Ming Dynasty when the merchant class emerged, along with banks. It survived in excellent condition. As a testament to the fantastic craftsmanship of that era, this little coffer is rare and valuable.