The luohanchuang, or couch bed, is found in both the private chambers of women and the studio of a literati gentleman. A woodblock print from the Ming dynasty novel, Jin Ping Mei, shows Pan Jinlian, the principal female character, reclining on a luohanchuang with solid rails and inward-curving legs, similar to the present example. In the north, kang platforms were used for sleeping; however, literary texts suggest that luohanchuang were also considered part of the everyday furnishings, as described by Cao Xueqin in Dream of the Red Chamber: “Aroma could see that Parfumee was extremely drunk. Fearing that any but the slightest movement might make her sick, she lifted her up very, very gently, and laid her down beside Bao-Yu on the kang. She herself lay down on the couch opposite” (Penguin Classics, vol. 3, p. 231) (fig. 1).
A luohanchuang was also considered an essential furnishing for the master's studio. Wen Zhenheng dedicates a chapter to tables and couches in his Treatise on Superfluous Things, writing "when men of old made tables and couches, although the length and width were not standardized, they were invariably antique" (gu), which according to Craig Clunas (Chinese Furniture, p. 11) does not just mean ‘chronologically old’ but implies ‘morally ennobling’. Wen goes on to say, “There is no way that they are not convenient, whether for sitting up, lying down or reclining. In moments of pleasant relaxation they would spread out classic or historical texts, examine works of calligraphy or painting, display ancient bronze vessels, dine or take a nap, as the furniture was suitable for all these things. The men of today make them in a manner which merely prefers carved and painted decoration to delight the vulgar eye, while the antique pieces are cast aside, causing one to sigh in deep regret” (Craig Clunas, Superfluous Things, Material Culture and Social Status in Early Modern China, p. 42).
The elegant simplicity of this unadorned luohanchuang is derived from its pure form and balanced proportions and represents a true interpretation of the concept of gu, as defined by Wen Zhenheng.