Like much traditional Chinese furniture screens have a very long history. The oldest existing screens date back to the 8th Century AD But Oriental screens were written about and depicted much earlier. The original use of screens was to place them behind an emperor's throne with weapon patterns on them to display the leader's might.
The most well known method used in making screens – "naciju" – involves applying multiple layers of lacquer. Lacquer originated as varnish resin derived from a tree indigenous to China, commonly known as the varnish tree. Masters applied up to 30 layers of lacquer and each layer had a unique gold leaf pattern. These lacquers produce very hard, durable finishes that are both beautiful and have a magical glowing finish
People believe that the knowledge of lacquer use spread from China to Korea and onto Japan, where it may already have been in use. Trade in lacquer objects started to spread to the middle East. Early products made with lacquer applied included, coffins, plates, musical instruments, furniture and ornaments. Due to the danger of VOCs included in some kinds of lacquer, recently craftsmen have been using water based colored lacquers. These lacquers are much less toxic and more environmentally friendly. Water based lacquers are used extensively in wood furniture finishing today.
Chinese screen depictions
The dragon is one of the most common animals to appear on screens. Nobility and royalty are represented by the dragon and as such it symbolizes masculinity, light, and growth. Dragons on the outer border of a screen point to prosperity, peace and happiness. Cranes are often featured in screen painting and symbolize longevity because of their long life span. They are also said to bear the souls of the departed to heaven. A pair of swans on a screen represent loving relationships, they too share the reputation of being able to travel between heaven and earth.
Screens as interior design
Particularly in open plan living the screen holds great value in giving depth, division, privacy, as well as aesthetic value. Screens are highly adjustable and mobile so they can adapt to any changes made in the interior decoration. They can break up the monotony of a plain wall with artistic beauty. Using a screen to divide a room enables one to appreciate both decorated sides of the room divider.
Where a door leads directly into a room screens can create a division and a sense of privacy. Folding screens can act as a divider between living and dining areas, they can close off a kitchen or create a quiet area for reading. Screens can also be used to hide a less attractive feature of a room.