Intimate Space

A Noblewoman's Bedroom in Late Imperial China

In the male-dominated society of imperial China, women were sometimes compared to flowers in an isolated garden: they were blossoms flowering only in shadows. For most of their lives, women were physically restricted to domestic spaces.

Literature and illustrations of the period regularly represent the bedroom as the center of female life and of femininity itself. It was a space in which women gathered or sat alone to work, or to pursue leisurely activities such as reading, writing, sewing and playing music.

The furniture, artworks, and antiquities found within a noblewoman’s bedroom reflected her social status and showed her to be educated and well-read. But they also very much reflected her reality as a woman living in a man’s world, from a dressing table at which she prepared herself for the male gaze, to a bed that signaled her position as the legitimate partner to her husband.