One thing that always surprises me about the phenomenon of chinoiserie is that people in the eighteenth century were so extremely keen to use East Asian elements in their houses and gardens. China was so much more remote and incomprehensible then than it is to us now, and yet Asian products were used to decorate the most intimate domestic spaces.
The seventeenth- and eighteenth-century English tended to be virulently anti-catholic, and yet they were happy to embrace objects from a culture that was not just non-Protestant, but entirely non-Christian.
And what continues to amaze me as well is the flexibility with which chinoiserie garden pavilions were mixed with classical pavilions and monuments without any sense of incongruity, as for instance at Shugborough, Stowe and Stourhead. In some ways our mid-eighteenth-century ancestors were much more broad-minded than we are.
I am aware of all the usual answers: that people loved the beauty and glamour of lacquer, porcelain and silk, and that they misinterpteted the meaning of the motifs to suit their preconceptions, etc. etc. – but that still doesn’t entirely take away my astonishment.
More about the deployment of chinoiserie in the English garden here (pp. 9 & 10).