Chinese red, or vermilion, has been regarded as the color of life in Asia since ancient times. It is used to paint temples, furniture, the carriages of the Emperor, and lacquerware.
The lacquer initially came from the Chinese lacquer tree, or Toxicodendron vernicifluum. The resin of the tree, called urushiol, was caustic, and caused a reaction similar to poison ivy. Painted on wood, it hardened into a natural, very hard surface. The pure sap was dark brown. About the 3rd century BC, artisans began coloring the sap with powdered cinnabar or with red ochre (ferric oxide), giving the sap a red-orange tint. A synthetic vermilion, made from mercury and sulfur, was much cheaper, and allowed large scale production of Chinese lacquerware starting in the 8th century BC.