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Art of Chinese Fans

Updated: 2014-11-30 13:15:42

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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.he 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.

 Covering of a Fan

Water Lily


Plum Blossom



Water Lily


Reputed as a gentle flower, the water lily (or lotus flowers) has prevailed everywhere in Chinese people's lives since ancient times.Many scholars in different dynasties hold it in high esteem for its beauty. The famous philosopher and poet Zhou Dunyi of Song Dynasty once wrote a short essay "On the Love of Lotus" (Ai Lian Shuo) in which Zhou compared the character of chrysanthemums and peonies with the lotus and highly praise the plant's truth and sanctity.



The chrysanthemum also has the name of yellow flower, chongyang flower and so on. Reputed as a kind of flower with fortitude and adamancy, the chrysanthemum has always been loved and many artists have taken it as their subject in their works.

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