The word "fan" has the same sound as the "kindness" or "good" in Chinese language. Thus, fans are viewed as good luck charms and expressions of generosity. Chinese fans are very common items found across China, which spread to other countries in the world, especially to Europe, becoming "emissaries" for Chinese culture.
Chinese fans enjoy a long history of about 3,000 years in the Shang and Zhou dynasties. Fans, originally, were not used for cooling, but for sheltering from the sun and keeping off sands for emperors during their outgoing inspections. At that time, fan was usually made of feathers and called “feather fan,” which was only popular among the noble class.The fan was popularized during the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD) when the simple bamboo fan and the cattail leaf fan were invented. These fans were most popular among the common people during the Song Dynasty (420-479). Scholars would wave their fans to show off their grace as they composed poetry or sat deep in thought. When not in use, fans were sometimes concealed inside sleeves or hung from the waist. After several thousand years of development, Chinese fans were developed into hundreds of types, such as folding fans, feather fans, silk fans and sunflower fans. Usually, ribs of the fan were made of animal bones, wood or bamboo, while the handle was engraved with beautiful designs and decorated with jade pendants. Over the years, Chinese fans evolved into works of art, status symbols, props for theater and dance, romantic gifts, and memorials of the dead.
Regarding the shapes of the fan, there are rectangular, round, pentagonal, hexagonal and sunflower-shaped fans. However, the most popular shapes are round fan and the folding fan.
Deeply loved by young ladies, the round fan was popular in China for nearly 1,000 years, which was much earlier than those of the folding variety. Its shape, like a full moon, signifies the auspicious meaning of a reunion and happiness. The popularity of the moon-shaped fan even enhanced the development of painting itself. From the Song Dynasty on, fan painting became an independent art form.
Folding fan also came into fashion soon, because it could be easily folded and carried. Compared to other types of fans, the folding fans are more like a piece of handicraft. The ribs of folding fans were made from valuable materials, such as ox horn, ebony, mottled bamboo, elephant trunk, and jadeite. And the different sizes of folding fans are classified by the number of ribs the fan has, usually 7, 9, 12, 14, 16 or 18.
Four Kinds of Famous Fans in China
Today, there are over 500 kinds of fans in China, of which the sandalwood fan from Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, the silk fan from Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province and the fire painting fan from Guangdong Province and the bamboo-knitted fan from Sichuan are known as the four most famous fans of China.
Sandalwood joined the family of fans only in modern times. It is made by sandalwood, which has a natural fragrance. Even after many years, then sandalwood fan is also fragrant. It is very popular with people for its unique craft and style.
The silk is commonly used to make the cover of the round fan before the coming of folding fans. And nowadays, it is also used to make the cover of the folding fans. All the fans that with the cover of silk can be called silk fan. The person who holds the silk fan always appears gentle and cultivated.
The fire painting fan is first produced during the late period of Tongzhi in Qing Dynasty. Then the techniques of making the fire painting fan was developed. When making the fire painting fans, the workman combines two thin glass fans together and then paints on the fan with a tailor-made pen. The painting is comely, and will never fade. It is a competitive product to collect.
The bamboo-knitted fan gets the fame that as colorful as rosy clouds, and as thin as the wings of cicada. And it is always peach shaped. It is light yellow with delicate cover. It seems as a piece of brocade. With the handle made by ivory or ox bone, and decorated with pendant made from silk, the fan is with surpassing brilliancy.