Beautiful colorful fans, made out of paper, silk, sandalwood, ivory, and many many more.materials. These are small pieces of art. Each movement of the fan is of great elegance and femininity. Simple fans, which in the hands of women become a tremendously beautiful accessory, but can also be used as a powerful deadly weapon.

In traditional Chinese operas, fans are always indispensable prop. Waving their fans in different ways, characters can reveal their inner character in different situations.

The history of Chinese fan can be dated over 3,000 years ago, somewhere around the Shang Dynasty (16th-11th B.C.). The Shanhan, can be assumed to be the first known type of fan, which was tied to a horse-drawn carriage to shut out the strong sunshine and shelter the passengers from the rainfall. The Shanhan was a bit like today’s umbrella.

Later this Shanhan became a long-handled fan made of thin and tough silk or birds’ feathers, called a zhangshan fan, which was mainly used by the emperor’s honour guard as decoration.
Before long, fans acquired ceremonial significance. Fans made with bird’s feathers were an outstanding characteristic in imperial pomp. They lent infinite gracefulness and charm to court dancers, who achieved the appearance of heavenly phoenixes.

In fact, the fan was not used to help cool people until the Zhou Dynasty, more than 2,000 years ago. At that time, fan was usually made of feathers and called “feather fan,” which was only popular among the noble class.

The fan became popular during the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.) when the simple bamboo fan and the cattail-leaf fans were invented. These fans were most popular among the common people during the Song Dynasty (420-479).

Around the same period, a silk fan in the shape of the moon, called a “round fan,” became the favorite of young ladies, especially those in the imperial place. Later, this moon-shaped fan took on many other shapes, such as oval flat round, or sometimes the shape of Chinese plum flower or sunflower.

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. Beautiful scenes of mountains and waters or flowers were also embroidered on the face of a moon-shaped fan. Deeply loved by young ladies, the round fan was popular in China for nearly 1,000 years. 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. The typical composition used in fan painting could be seen in many landscape paintings and figure paintings at the time.

When talking about fans today, we usually refer to the exquisite folding fan, which is said to be introduced to China from Japan during the late Song Dynasty. It is rumored that the Japanese invented the folding fan after being inspired by bat’s wings. As this fan could be easily folded and carried, it soon came into fashion. Compared to other types of fans, the folding fans more like a piece of handicraft. The ribs of folding fans were made from valuable materials, such as hawks-bill turtle, ox horn, ebony, mottled bamboo, elephant trunk, and jadeite, carved into different shapes, for example a grasshopper’s legs. The number of ribs the fan has, usually seven, nine, 12, 14, 16 or 18 classifies the different sizes of folding fans.

However, the most interesting of a folding fan is usually made of xuan paper or silk and beautifully painted. If a famous artist painted the fan, it could be worth a lot of money.

Today, there are over 500 kinds of fans in China, of which the sandalwood fan from Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, the damask silk fan from Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, the fire-painting fan from Guangdong Province and the bamboo thread fan are known as the four most famous fans of China.