Whether it's simply an expensive hand-crafted product or a reflection of the way consumption at the highest end of China's luxury industry is trending towards the private, this week a 28.9 million yuan (US$4.6 million) carved Arhat Bed caused a stir in the city of Xi'an. Interestingly enough, much of the buzz about this bed has come not from the extravagance of its price tag but rather its understated in-store display. Discovered by a Huasheng Net reporter at a local mall, the traditionally styled bed sat quietly in the corner of a furniture store, absent the usual banners and promotional materials. Flanking the bed was a set of carved Huanghuali chairs priced at around 5 million yuan (US$793,000) apiece.
Asking a staff member who the store expects to see buying such an expensive item, the reporter was told, "For one, it'll be someone with strong purchasing power, and second, it'll have to be a person with a considerable understanding of cultural heritage." Strong purchasing power is obvious, considering its price tag, but pressing the salesperson about the cultural side, the reporter noted that the bed is constructed of Huanghuali wood from a thousand-year-old tree from Hainan province. A member of the rosewood family, Huanghuali -- literally "yellow flowering pear" -- is among the rarest and most prized woods in China, having been reserved for royalty in dynastic times.
With supplies of Huanghuali in traditional growing areas in southwest China dwindling, the majority of wood now used in China comes from Hainan island. According to Chinanews (Chinese), booming demand for the rare wood has sent prices skyrocketing, from around 20,000 yuan (US$3,170) in 2002 to more than 10 million yuan (US$1.6 million) today -- a more than 400 percent increase. In the Chinese furniture industry, due to its staggering price increase, Huanghuali is now known as "Crazy Wood" (疯狂的木头).
Despite the "crazy" prices of furniture made of rare woods like Huanghuali and Zitan (another Chinese rosewood), demand remains considerable, particularly among China's newly wealthy, many of whom are now outfitting their houses and offices with traditional pieces inspired by the Ming Dynasty. This has been a boon not only for companies creating replicas of Ming Dynasty furniture out of these rare woods, but also up-and-coming brands like Shang Xia, which offer more modern interpretations of traditional Chinese furniture. As Jiang Qiong'er, CEO and artistic director of Shang Xia told Jing Daily last fall:
I think [our furniture appeals to wealthy Chinese] because we’re based on Chinese culture — they all love jade or zitan, or they all drink tea. But if you look at the market, you have few quality options in this field. You have replicas of Ming Dynasty furniture, with zitan wood, greatly done, or antiques. But you don’t have traditional know-how, great quality, and contemporary design. So we are quite unique in this market. People from all over China, even from Hong Kong or Taiwan, share a lot in common in terms of appreciation of our collection in general.