The world-record price for a camping chair more than doubled this week when Christie’s Hong Kong sold a 17th Century Chinese Folding Horseshoe-Back Jiaoyi for HKD$65,975,000 (US$8,502,370), far exceeding the highest price previously fetched by a Chinese Jiaoyi of RMB27,370,000 (US$3,979,065) set by Poly Auction in Beijing in December 2018.
The Jiaoyi developed from the “huchang“ folding stools carried on horseback for millennia by the Mongols (in Chinese, “huchang” means “barbarian bed” – a hint at the lingering enmity between the two countries). But once introduced to China during the Han dynasty (206 BCE to 220 CE), they evolved to become an important identifier of rank that could be easily transported by the servants to allow their master to be comfortable in public meetings and on hunting trips.
The chairs were most famously carried when the emperor went on his annual hunting excursions, where his massive entourage of bodyguards, concubines and servants carrying all the things he might need while “in the wild” would often stretch for many miles. Thus, the Jiaoyi was also known as a “Hunter’s chair.”
References to such chairs have even become part of the Chinese language – the “first folding chair” (di yi ba jiaoyi) is a well-known Chinese saying and refers to the most honored seat in a public room.
The most ornate and prestigious Jiaoyi were the horseshoe-back design and the auctioned item is one of less than 100 extant that were designed for the aristocracy during the Qing and Ming Dynasties.
The $8.5-million chair is notable for its exceptionally handsome Qilin motif carved in relief. The Qqilin is an imperial symbol for prosperity and good fortune, corresponding to rank badges of the Ming (1368 to 1644 CE) and Qing (1644 to 1912 CE) dynasties. As decreed in 1391, badges featuring the Qilin were worn by dukes, marquises, earls, and sons-in-law of the emperor.