Antique Lacquer and Gilt Straits Chinese (Peranakan) Shrine Cabinet, China


This beautifully carved and heavily gilt antique cabinet is a fine example of Straits Chinese furniture made in Guangdong for the Southeast Asia market.  Double hinged vertical doors with wood pegs are composed of three carved openwork panels: horizontals on top and bottom and a tall one in between. Each door has a phoenix flanked by peonies in the center panel. Above and below the doors are open-work panels with florals running horizontally. The shrine rests on a low pedestal with curving gilt lines and florals. Above and below the tall panels are thin horizontal panels centered with a pod filled with seeds expressing a wish for many sons. The inside rear wall has a painted outline of a gilt table holding a finely painted gold, black and grey Chinese screen.


Peranakan refers to mixed-blood Chinese living in former British settlements in Penang, Malacca, Singapore, southern Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia whose forefathers were early Chinese traders, sailors and laborers. Also called Straits Chinese, this population of local born persons of mixed Chinese and Malay/Indonesian heritage flourished in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Chinese traders, sailors, laborers and merchants remained in Southeast Asia during monsoon season before returning home often married local women and many lived a two-family life. This wealthy population favored Chinese vernacular furniture, characterized by an ostentatious show of wealth with auspicious symbols with a lacquer coating. The phoenix,  “king of birds”  was a popular symbol for Chinese in Southeast Asia since as one of the four divine animals it presides over the southern quadrant.  A pair with outstretched wings represent harmony between a husband and wife and a wish many sons. When the “king of birds” is paired with peonies, the “king of flowers,” it symbolizes harmony, blessings, good fortune and prosperity. The inside rear wall has a painted outline of a gilt table holding a Chinese screen with two scholars admiring a natural setting of mountains, water, trees and other vegetation and a scholar in his studio contemplating scholars objects. Knapp (p. 99) observes that pairs of similar ancestral shrine cabinets were placed on home altar tables containing two generations of spirit tablets. Others describes these shrines as containing a gilt lacquer table, which here is represented as a painted design on the back inside wall   Covered with marriage and blessings symbols, it probably was a gift for newlyweds to be used later as an ancestral shrine. A symbolic wish for a long and pleasant life with many male children, this is a perfect gift for newlyweds. This fine work is in very good condition despite expected signs of age and use: minor chips, wood losses, cracks, lacquer losses, and dings; a crack on the vertical length of the painting on the rear wall.


Maria Khoo Joseph, “Auspicious Designs: Batik for Peranakan Altars,” Be Muse, Volume 7, Issue 3 – Jul to Sep 2014

Ronald Knapp, The Peranakan Chinese Home: Art and Culture in Daily Life, Singapore, Tuttle Press, Singapore, 2017.

Additional information

Place of Origin



Antique, Qing Dynasty


19th Century

Materials and Technique

Wood, polychrome, lacquer

Dimensions (inches)

Ht: 16.375" W: 13.625 D: 5.75"

Dimensions (metric)

Ht: 41.59cm W: 34.61cm D: 14.60cm


4lbs 12oz


Very good, no repairs/restorations (see description).

Reference Number


Shipping Box Size


12” to 17.9”