Chinese Fan — History, Classification, Utilization, Art, Culture, and Artifact

Chinese Fans, throughout history, have served as ritual wares, practical devices, carriers of traditional arts and literature, and representatives of one's aesthetic taste and social status. 

Silk Fan with Carved Ebony Handle of the Qing Dynasty (1636 — 1912)

Silk Fan with Carved Ebony Handle of the Qing Dynasty (1636 — 1912) — Palace Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

 

Origin, Classification, and Symbolization of Chinese Fans

 

The origin of fans in China has been believed something ancient people use to wave to create a current of air, such as broad leaves and birds' feathers, to stay cool in hot weather. 

 

Besides this basic function, however, there are some other main utilizations throughout history, which made fans valuable art pieces and eminent crafts.

Silk Fan with Carved Lacquer Handle of the Qing Dynasty (1636 — 1912)

Silk Fan with Carved Lacquer Handle of the Qing Dynasty (1636 — 1912) — Palace Museum

Wuming Shan or Zhang Shan — The Most Ancient Ritual Fan

Wuming Shan or Zhang Shan is a long handle, door-shaped fan for ceremonial uses, believed invented by King Shun (about 2294 BC — 2184 BC).

 

Wuming means enlightened, open-minded, and bright in all five directions, east, west, north, south, and the middle. 

 

The shape of the Wuming Shan changed to some extent over history, however, its ritual uses as the symbol of imperial power, and authority remained, until the fall of the last feudal Qing Dynasty (1636 — 1912).

Ritual Fans or Wuming Shan in Court Painting "Bunian Tu" about Emperor Taizong of Tang Receiving the Tibetan (Tu Bo) Envoy, by Yan Liben

Ritual Fans or Wuming Shan in Court Painting "Bunian Tu" about Emperor Taizong of Tang Receiving the Tibetan (Tu Bo) Envoy, by Yan Liben (601 — 673) — Palace Museum

Tuan Shan or Gong Shan — Moon-Shaped Fan with Artistic Values

 

Tuan Shan or Gong Shan is a round moon-shaped fan, which was originally used to shelter nobles from sun, wind, and sand, usually held by servants. 

 

Centuries later, the fan became smaller, and could be held and designed by nobles themselves, as artistic decorations. 

 

Usually, Calligraphy, Painting, and auspicious Patterns are the main artistic decorations for fans. 

Moon Shaped Bamboo Fan of the Qing Dynasty (1636 — 1912) Inlayed with Carved Agarwood and Silver Threads

Moon Shaped Bamboo Fan of the Qing Dynasty (1636 — 1912) Inlayed with Carved Agarwood and Silver Threads — Palace Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Another important use of both Wuming Shan and Tuan Shan is to hide one's face behind. 

 

Some sovereigns didn't want to reveal their faces to the public, such as Emperor Wang Mang (45 BC — 23 AD), who would command the servants to hold long-handle fans as screens. 

Other men, to show respect, and avoid impolite or unnecessary eye contact, also would use their fans to shield them in certain situations. 

 

Women in history mostly would use fans to hide their faces when they feel shy or unwilling to see certain people. 

Different Moon-Shaped Chinese Fans or Tuan Shan in Painting "Huishan Shinv Tu" by Zhou Fang of the Tang Dynasty

Different Moon-Shaped Fans or Tuan Shan in Painting "Huishan Shinv Tu" by Zhou Fang of the Tang Dynasty (618 — 907), On Hands of Imperial Court Lady and Her Servant — Palace Museum

Wedding Fan or Bridal Fan — Ceremony of Que Shan

 

In a Traditional Chinese Wedding, the bride would hold a fan, usually moon-shaped Tuan Shan, in front of her face, to hide her shyness, stay mysterious, and exorcise evil spirits.

 

When the new couple completed all other wedding ceremonies, after the groom impressed the bride, such as writing a good poem, the bride would remove her wedding fan and face the groom.

 

This is the Rite of Que Shan, an important ceremony of a traditional Chinese wedding.

Wedding Fan or Bridal Fan in Chinese TV Series "The Story of Minglan"

Wedding Fan or Bridal Fan in Chinese TV Series "The Story of Minglan"

Folding Fans or Zhe Shan — Aesthetic Arts Folded on Hands

 

Folding Fans or Zhe Shan originated relatively late, during the Han (202 BC — 220 AD) to Tang (618 — 907) dynasties, or were introduced from Japan. 

 

Until Ming Dynasty (1368 — 1644), Folding Fans were popularized rapidly.

 

Scholars wrote Calligraphy and draw Paintings on each side of exquisite folding fans, which became one of the most important accessories that could represent one's social status, aesthetic taste, and literary attainment. 

Folding Fans of the Qing Dynasty, Painting by Dong Bangda (1696-1769), Calligraphy by Qianlong Emperor (1711 - 1799)

Folding Paper Fans of the Qing Dynasty, Painting by Dong Bangda (1696-1769), Calligraphy by Qianlong Emperor (1711 - 1799) — Palace Museum

 

Materials for Making Chinese Fans

 

Feather, silk, paper, bamboo, wood, rattan, bulrush, straw, and bone are all common materials to make fans throughout history.

Feather Fan of the Qing Dynasty (1636 — 1912)

Feather Fan of the Qing Dynasty (1636 — 1912) — Palace Museum 

Luxurious materials like gold, glaze, jade, mica, and ivory, also have been used to make or decorate fans, mostly by nobles and wealthy people. 

Besides, exquisite fan bags, fan pendants, and fan boxes are beautiful art pieces as well. 

Folding Fans and Fan Boxes of the Qing Dynasty, Painted with Views of Mountain Resort Chengde and Calligraphy by Li Zongwan (1705 - 1759)

Folding Fans and Fan Boxes of the Qing Dynasty, Painted with Views of Mountain Resort Chengde and Calligraphy by Li Zongwan (1705 - 1759) — Palace Museum

 

Design, Drawing, and other Cultural Content of Chinese Fans

Including painting, calligraphy, and embroidery on fans, some motifs have been quite popular throughout history.

Chinese Characters with Cultural Meanings

 

Calligraphy, the supreme art form to write Chinese Characters, is one of the most popular fan decorations among scholars, in history and today. 

 

This is also considered the best representative of one's temperate, social status, literary attainment, and ambition. 

 

Characters, phrases, poems, articles, and artistic seal stamps, are all common content to write on fans. 

Click to Read Chinese Characters, Phrases, and Poems For:

Chinese Fan Drawing — Landscape, Bird, Flower, and Figure Paintings

 

In Traditional Chinese Paintings, landscape, bird and flower, and figure are the three main genres. 

 

Hence, these are also the most popular motifs of fan drawings and embroideries.

Auspicious Picture and Patterns on Ebony Handle Kesi Silk Fan of the Qing Dynasty (1636 — 1912)

Auspicious Picture and Patterns on Ebony Handle Kesi Silk Fan of the Qing Dynasty (1636 — 1912) — Palace Museum

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