There were many kinds of fans in ancient China, though only the Zheshan (folding fan) and Tuanshan (round fan) have grown to receive true appreciation from art collectors.
The folding fan is also known as the "head-gathering" style of fan because its ends meet together when folded. Such fans were first manufactured in the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and became popular in theMing Dynasty(1368-1644).
The birth of the round fan was much earlier than those of the folding variety. Its shape, like a full moon, signifies the auspicious meaning of a union and happiness. The round fan has many elegant names, like " Wan Shan", " Luo Shan", "Bing Mian" " Bian Mian" and "Zhang Mian."
Such fans were very popular in theHan Dynasty (202 BC-AD 204). The best ones had a surface covered by white silk from East China'sShandong Provincewhile the handles were crafted out of bamboo from Central China'sHunan Province.Fans sometimes were decorated on both sides with paintings, poems orcalligraphy. Those that held a famous artist's paintings or calligraphy were highly prized possessions. The famous calligrapher Wang Xizhi of theJin Dynasty (265-420)once met an old woman selling folding fans in the street. He wrote five characters on each fan. This made the woman angry because she thought all her fans had been ruined. But when people discovered the artist's words on the otherwise ordinary fans, they sold like hot cakes - and at high prices.Fans are not only tools for cooling oneself, but also artworks symbols for status and taste. 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.For aristocratic young women, fans made from silk or other precious cloth -- especially flat round ones -- were a kind of prop to show off grace and beauty. Whenever they met a strange man, they would use their fans to hide their faces. So women's fans also have another name: "Zhang mian," which means, "Hiding face."
Fans gradually came to have attachments, such as fan bags, fan pendants and fan boxes. Fans also spread to other countries in the world, especially to Europe, becoming "emissaries" for Chinese culture.
No one knows exactly how fans in China were invented. The invention or rather the discovery of the fanning function could have been as accidental as follows: a primitive man irritated with lots of flies and mosquitoes, picks up a big leaf off a plant next to him to drive the pests away. To his delight, his effort resulted in cooling air movements.
Before long, fans acquired ceremonial significance. More than 3,000 years ago, fans were made with bird's feathers and were an outstnading characteristic in imperial pomp. They lent infinite gracefulness and charm to court dancers, who achieved the appearance of heavenly phoenixes.
Along with the progress made in agriculture in the Han and Tang Dynasties, an ample supply of clothing material resulted. Silk and satin fans appeared and it became a fashion among scholars and artists to show their genius by writing and painting on fan surfaces. Fans soon acquired considerable social significance and became a part of the standard summer costume among the elite and the learned.
Tradition has it, folded fans were introduced to China from Japan and Korea about 1,000 years ago. They were usually made with fine paper mounted on bamboo. The scholars found it interesting to paint their poetic and artistic expressions on the surface.
A great variety of fans have been produced in China; sandalwood, ivory, even gold, silver and jade have been used as material.
Of particular interest is the sandalwood fan. Its most outstanding characteristic is the pleasant, fragrant scent that comes from the wood. Even in modern air-conditioned environment, it will certainly enhance the elegance and femininity of the lady holding it gracefully in her hand. It emits subtle fragrance which is as enchanting and refreshing as any expensive perfume.