Inventory no.: 524

524. Straits Chinese (Baba Nonya) Chest of Drawers


Straits Chinese Red & Gold Chest-of-Drawers

Southern China but made for the Straits Chinese Market

late 19th century

length: 87cm, width: 52cm, height: 52cm

Red and gold furniture was commissioned from artisans in southern China by wealthy Straits Chinese merchants in the Straits Settlements of Singapore, Malacca and Penang in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Straits Chinese (also known as the babas and nonyas and also as the peranakan) were distinctive from most of the Chinese on the Malay peninsular at that time. Their families had been on the peninsular for at least several generations and often they were the product of intermarriage between local Chinese and Malay population. Their customs were a curious blend of English, Malay and Chinese customs. Weddings were very important. For these, furniture for the bridal chamber often was commissioned from China.

The chest-of-drawers shown here is one such example. It comprises two top drawers and one larger bottom drawer, the fronts of which are elaborately carved in high relief with what appear to be courtly scenes (see detail below), painted in red and brown and gilded. The chest-of-drawers sits on four rococo cabriole feet with an elaborate gilded floral and foliage lower aprons to the front and sides.

Ho Wing Meng in his book

Straits Chinese Furniture: A Collector’s Guide comments that chest-of-drawers: “may also be included in the list of rare furniture of the red and gold variety. But I rather think that chests-of-drawers have always been scarce because their inclusion in the traditional bridal trousseau was optional and not obligatory: the more well-to-do Baba families might have insisted on having them, but the less well-off ones did not. For this reason, chests of drawers are not found in many old Baba homes.”

The chest-of-drawers has some later but nonetheless old additions to the lower aprons .


A similar example is illustrated in Ho Wing Meng, Straits Chinese Furniture: A Collector’s Guide, Times Books International, 1994, p. 106.

Inventory no.: 524