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Traditional Chinese Fan, an Artistic Symbol of Literati and Social Status


Fan is in common use to drive away heat and stay cool during summer days. While traditional Chinese fan has a profound culture, which is closely associated with bamboo culture and Buddhism culture. China has always enjoyed the reputation of “Fan-making Kingdom”.




Chinese fan boasts a long history of over thousands years. As far back as in the Shang Dynasty, the embryonic form of Chinese fan has already taken shape. Originally, Chinese fan is not used for relieving summer heat, but for symbolizing the status and power of the user.


Real fan-making started during the Western Han Dynasty. The calligraphy on the fan cover was firstly recorded on the story of Wang Xizhi(most famous calligraphist in China)wrote calligraphy on some of the lady’s fans.


Folding fans appeared in the Song Dynasty and gained popularity among literati and officials during the Ming Dynasty. They wrote poems or even painted on the fans. These fans with poems or paintings on them serve as artistic symbol for social status. The paintings cover a wide range from landscapes, flowers, figures, and so on. In the Qing Dynasty, being widely favored by men of letters, Chinese fan was in full flourish.





According to the materials, shape and usage, Chinese fans can be divided into numerous cetegories. The listed below are some characteristic and common ones:


Feather Fan: The feather fan emerged in China around the Shang Zhou Dynasty over 3,000 years ago. The main and best materials used for this type of fan are feathers from large birds, such as quills of fleck willets, tail feathers of the black wide goose, tail feathers of the magnificent peafowl, wing feathers of the round fleck owl, tail feathers of the crane and the white or gray goose.


Bone Folding Fan: It is made of the buffalo rib and is mainly produced in Suzhou, Changzhou, Jiangxi and Guangzhou. After skiving, sawing, digging, blanching, shaping, carving and polishing, the bone looks exactly like ivory.


Bamboo Fan: It is usually woven of thin bamboo strips from the surface of a mountain. When the fan is finished, it is as smooth as silk. It can be square, round or hexagonal in shape, and usually acquires a reddish hue after five or six years.


Palm-Leaf Fan: The palm leaf fan is always round, big and strong, with a long handle and pea green in color. Local people turn the leaf upside down and put weight on it to make it smooth. They then cut it into a round and hang brocade thread along the edge. The handle of the palm-leaf fan is the stem of the palm leaf, which is why it is called a natural handle -- albeit a very rough one.


Silk Dancing Fan: Most silk dancing fans are used for drama and dancing. The frame of the fan is mainly made of bamboo, sandalwood or cow bone. The cover is always made of various kinds of silk with flower and grass patterns that are sometimes adorned with a flashing aluminum sheet. Some of them are decorated with silk lace along the edge and are mostly used by women.

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