In the traditional Chinese domestic setting, the bed is among the most important pieces of furniture. Its large size meant that it would dominate the bedroom, and was probably the most expensive item to commission, due to the large amount of timber used. In contrast to the day-bed (ta) or couch-bed (luohanchuang), which were often found in scholar’s studio or bedroom, the canopy bed was generally associated with the female setting and would have been the most important part of a woman’s dowry when she wed.
Canopy beds appear to have been closely influenced by architectural construction. They are the only form of furniture noted in the Ming dynasty carpenter's manual Lu Ban Jing to have used auspicious measurements that were also employed for buildings. It was common practice to use drapery to create a private world within a closed curtain, and examples can be seen in Ming and Qing woodblock prints. As noted by Sarah Handler in her discussion of the form in Austere Luminosity of Chinese Classical Furniture, London, 2001, pp.139-58, canopy beds occupied a central and dominant position in the Ming dynasty household. During the daytime they would be used, with curtains drawn, for entertaining guests, often seated around small items of furniture designed to be accommodated on the beds. At nighttime, the curtains would be closed and the bed would become a private world of rest and intimacy. The current example is carved with auspicious symbols such as the lingzhi fungus and chilong, thought to bring longevity and peace to the owner.
A closely related canopy bed, but with cabriole legs, was illustrated by N. Berliner in Beyond the Screen, Boston, 2000, no. 16. Two other related examples are known: one from the Great Mosque in Xi'an and the other in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 53 - Furniture of the Ming and Qing Dynasties (I), Hong Kong, 2002, pp. 6-9, no. 2. It has been suggested that their production was from a specialized workshop in northern China over several generations, see Curtis Evarts' article in Beyond the Screen, Boston, 2000, pp. 58-59.