Inventory no.: 1941

Straits Chinese Chanab


Exceptional Gilded & Lacquered Chanab

China for the Straits Chinese Market

19th century

height (when fully displayed): 33.5cm,

length: 41cm, width: 13cm

This is the finest chanab that we have had. The carving is superb and unusually fine and detailed and without losses.

Gilded and lacquered altar offering platforms or

chanabs such as this fine example were carved in China (in northern Guangdong) and then used locally, as well as being exported to Chinese communities in Southeast Asia.


chanab was placed in the centre of each Straits Chinese family’s sam kai altar, the most important altar in the family home. The sam kai altar was used for important ceremonies, particularly weddings.

Called a

beet-chien in Penang and a chien-arb or chanab in Malacca and Singapore, offerings such as crystallised papaya were placed on top of the chanab as offerings for the God of Heaven.


chanab, executed in black and red lacquered and gilded pinewood, is intricately carved with elaborate, almost three-dimensional scenes from Chinese legends on both sides. The ends of the cover also are carved with gilded Chinese scenes.

The top quality of this particularly

chanab is underscored by the top of the cover unusually being embellished in gold with a delicate spray of chrysanthemum flowers and a matching poem in fine calligraphy which translates approximately as ‘Autumn chrysanthemum / yellow flowers / on the floor like gold’.

The cover sits on a stand that is similarly carved and gilded and which has four feet, each of which sits on movable, splendidly carved Buddhistic lions.

The top of the cover is used for displaying the gilded offering platform and trays. There are six lacquered trays – all are present. Each is coloured cinnabar-red. The gilded offering platform is particularly delicate and unusually is carved with a series of bats amid foliage and blossoms.

When not in use, the offering platform and trays would have been stored inside the box.

The condition of this

chanab is very good given its age and the materials used. There are no significant losses to the elaborate carving around the cover. The top offering platform has warped a little from age but this might rectify in a more humid setting. The low gilded balustrade that runs around the stand does not have the small carved lotus bud finials that are present on most other chanabs. Possibly these are missing but if so they were removed long ago. Overall, this is the best chanab that we have seen and in the best condition.


Ho, W.M., Straits Chinese Furniture, Times, 1994.

Khoo J.E.,

The Straits Chinese: A Cultural History, Pepin Press, 1996.

Lee, P. and J. Chen,

Rumah Baba: Life in a Peranakan House, National Heritage Board, Singapore, 1998.

Tan, C.B.,

Chinese Peranakan Heritage in Malaysia and Singapore, Penerbit Fajar Bakti, 1993.


UK art market

Inventory no.: 1941