The Luxury of Chinese Lacquer
The creation of objects from the dried sap of lacquer trees (Rhus verniciflua), like silk and porcelain, was a medium invented by the Chinese people. From the dawn of their civilisation, dating back to Neolithic times, the Chinese used it to great effect, creating some of the most astonishing works of art in the history of mankind, and it is not until the first century B.C. do we find evidence of it being produced by other peoples.
However, unlike silk or ceramics, producing lacquer wares was not only extremely labour intensive but also poisonous to the craftsmen (although the Chinese discovered antidotes to relieve this from very early on), therefore the scale of production was relatively small, and they were always highly valued luxury items. Lacquer’s preciousness meant that unlike silk or ceramics, it was not widely exported but remained largely for local use.