What Do Chinese Fans Symbolize? -20+ Types Meaning & History

You may have come across a hand fan especially during the hot summer weather. They are a common tool for cooling down and can be found in many different regions and cultures, from Europe to Asia.

In China, however, the fan is an integral part of the culture. Chinese fans have over time evolved from daily use accessories to important artifacts. You’ll even find them depicted in many Chinese paintings.

To understand the meaning these fans hold in Chinese culture, we’re going to look at the history, what the fans symbolize, the different types that exist, and what they are made of. We’ll also cover how to make the Chinese fans and perform the Chinese fan dance.

what is a Chinese fan?

A Chinese fan, also known as an “Asian fan,” is a traditional handheld fan that originated in China and has been used for centuries. It is a common accessory in Chinese culture and is often associated with elegance, grace, and practicality. Chinese fans are typically made of various materials, including bamboo, wood, silk, paper, or feathers.

The design of a Chinese fan usually consists of a folding frame with thin strips or spokes that hold the fan together. The fan can be opened and closed, allowing for easy carrying and storage. The surface of the fan is often decorated with intricate paintings, calligraphy, or embroidery, showcasing Chinese artistic craftsmanship and cultural elements.

Chinese fans serve multiple purposes. They are not only practical tools for creating a cooling breeze on hot days, but they also have symbolic and cultural significance. Chinese fans are commonly used in traditional dances, theatrical performances, and various ceremonial occasions. They can convey messages, emotions, and meanings through the graceful movements of the fan.

In addition to their functional and artistic value, Chinese fans are also considered decorative items and collectibles. They come in different sizes, shapes, and designs, reflecting the diversity and richness of Chinese culture. Chinese fans have become iconic symbols of Chinese tradition and aesthetics, representing elegance, beauty, and sophistication.

what is a Chinese fan called?

Fans called Shanzi in chinese,The alternative names and elegant terms for a Chinese fan include:

凉友 (liáng yǒu) – Cooling Companion

摇风 (yáo fēng) – Wind Shaker

仁风 (rén fēng) – Gentle Breeze

便面 (biàn miàn) – Convenient Face

屏面 (píng miàn) – Screen Face

圆轻 (yuán qīng) – Round Light

箑 (shā) – Sedge Fan

五明扇 (wǔ míng shàn) – Five-Bright Fan

翟扇 (zhái shàn) – Zhai Fan

羽扇 (yǔ shàn) – Feather Fan

折扇 (zhé shàn) – Folding Fan

翣 (shà) – Sha

Translated into English, they would be:

Cool companion

Breeze shaker

Gentle wind

Convenient screen

Round and light

Sha (a specific type of fan)

Five-bright fan

Zhai fan

Feather fan

Folding fan


Chinese Fans History

The use of Chinese fans dates as far back as 3000 years ago during the Shang dynasty. The earliest known fan at the time was known as Shanhan. It was different from the other fans. Instead of being handheld, it was tied to a horse-drawn carriage and used to protect the passengers from the hot sun or rain.

Over time the Shanhan evolved to Zhangshan, a long handheld fan made of thing tough silk and bird feathers. Given that it was extremely costly to produce, these fans were seen as a symbol of wealth and authority. It was mostly used by aristocrats and the emperor’s honor guard as a decoration. During the Zhou dynasty is when most people started using handheld fans as a cooling down tool.

During the Han Dynasty, more affordable handwoven cattail-leaf fans and bamboo fans were invented. That increased the popularity of fans among common people all through to the Song dynasty. Around this time a new type of silk fan was introduced. The silk fan was circular and shaped like the moon, it would later evolve to take many shapes like the Chinese plum flower.

The women of the imperial palace favored this type of silk fan. They were made either of animal bones or bamboo with decorative patterns engraved on the handles. The face of the fan was embroidered or hand calligraphy and sceneries like mountains birds and flowers hand-painted on it. To this day, these fans remain popular and have become an important part of Chinese culture.

Traditional Chinese Fans

Over time, the value and meaning of Chinese fans have evolved. Each type of fan symbolizes something different based on the time it was invented. For example, the round silk fan symbolizes happiness and union because it is shaped like a moon and that is what the moon represents in Chinese culture.

Before they were invented, while the bird feather fans were still popular, fans were seen as a symbol of wealth and authority. That is because the fans were very expensive to make and therefore only nobles would be spotted with them.

During the Song dynasty when the fans became popular among the commoners as well, the paintings on the fans were gave meaning to the fans. For example, those with paintings of birds and flowers symbolized gracefulness and beauty. As such, they were favored mostly by young women. Others had calligraphy and depictions of ancient knowledge, this symbolized wisdom, and was mostly favored by scholars.

Other fans had depictions of mystical creatures that were also popular. Men would often be seen with fans containing paintings of the dragon, while women preferred the ones painted phoenix on them.

Types Of Chinese Fans

Ever since the first fan was invented in China, there have been many evolutions. Today there are a variety of different Chinese fans most of which are still accessible. Here are the types of Chinese fans:

Folding Fans

These fans are characterized by how they can be folded into a shape that is easier to carry. They were invented by the Japanese and introduced to China in the 8th century through trade. They became especially popular during the Song and Ming dynasties and today are an important part of Chinese heritage.

Silk Fans

These types of fans were popular for their characteristic moon shapes. They were especially favored by the women of the imperial palace and hence considered a feminine shape and design.

Feather Fans

This type of fan was introduced during the Zhou dynasty. It was expensive because it used bird feathers. As a result, only aristocrats and noble were seen with them. As such, they were a symbol of wealth in ancient China.

Bamboo Fans

Also known as the commoner’s fan, became popular around the Han dynasty period. They were invented as a more affordable option that allowed common people to own fans as well. That was possible because bamboo fans were significantly cheaper to produce.

Inscribed Fans

These types of fans are popular among scholars for their symbolism of Wisdom. They are characterized by inscriptions of numbers, mandarin, calligraphy, and other ancient characters.

Palm-leaf Fans

These are big heavy fans, colored green to resemble a palm leaf. They are characterized by long and heavy handles and were also popular among commoners.

Fan Styles

Ripple Style: The fan ribs are curved in a wavy pattern resembling water ripples. The adjacent ribs have peaks and valleys that interlock, creating an interesting visual effect. This style is commonly seen in large fans with nine to sixteen ribs, often made of bamboo or ebony. While it used to be a unique and finely crafted style, its popularity has declined over time.

Silk Folding Fan: This type of fan belongs to the folding fan category but with different treatments on the fan face and ribs. The ribs can be intricately carved or machine-embossed, and the fan has a unique and delicate design. The hollowed-out parts of the ribs add to the overall aesthetic. Silk folding fans typically have 28 folds, with even and smooth layering of the fan face and symmetrical arrangement of the edge ribs and the fan core. The name “silk folding fan” originated from the Anhui Province, where the “Aizi” brand transformed the traditional craft by using silk fabric.

Monk’s Head: This style has a history dating back to ancient times. The joint part of the fan ribs forms a round ball resembling a monk’s head, hence the name. It was also known as “round head” or “big round head” in the Ming Dynasty. Nowadays, with the prevalence of fan ribs in an arc shape, this colloquial name is used to differentiate this style. Monk’s Head style is commonly found in large fans with sixteen ribs, although it can also be seen in fans with nine or eleven ribs. It is rare to find this style in smaller autumn fans. Monk’s Head fans can be made entirely from a single material, or they can have two pieces of different materials inlaid at the fan nail, such as bamboo ribs inlaid with ebony, ivory, or rosewood. Monk’s Head fans tend to be relatively expensive, even in their plain form, often surpassing the prices of other fan ribs made from the same material.

Patchwork Style: Patchwork fans can use regular fan faces and ribs, or they can have specifically designed patchwork-style ribs. Instead of being inserted into the fan face, the ribs clamp onto the fan face, serving as visible separators. However, not all ribs are exposed on the outside; instead, every few ribs are exposed to achieve the desired segmentation of the fan face.

Pointed Style: This style has pointed ends at the joint part of the fan ribs, resembling a spearhead. It was called “pointed root” in the Ming Dynasty. This style is only seen in large fans with sixteen bamboo ribs and is known for its intricate and delicate craftsmanship. The quality of the bamboo material is crucial for this style.

Japanese Style: Japanese-style fans typically have nine or eleven ribs. The large ribs are narrow and similar in size to the small ribs. When the fan face is attached, the sides of the fan face are exposed outside the ribs. Although the large ribs are narrow, they can still feature various carvings.

Ru Yi Head: This style is only found in nine or eleven rib large fans. The joint part of the ribs resembles a ru yi, a ceremonial scepter symbolizing good fortune. Common materials used for this style include ebony and boxwood, often with intricate carvings and hollow designs.

Praying Mantis Leg: This style is named after the shape of the large ribs, which are thick at the top and thin at the bottom, resembling the legs of a praying mantis. This style is relatively common and is almost exclusively made from bamboo.

Fine Tip Style: This is a distinctive fan rib style found in autumn fans. The tips of the ribs that penetrate the fan face are thin and sharp, while the exposed parts are wider and rounded. The fan ribs are closely spaced without visible gaps. This style is commonly used in twenty-rib fans and can be made from bamboo, rattan, ebony, tortoiseshell, bone, or ox horn, among other materials.

Fish Tail: The large ribs in this style are thick at the base and taper to a thin end, resembling a fish’s tail. This style is exclusive to bamboo ribs, which need to be heat-bent. The handle part of the ribs is extremely thin, so dense and durable bamboo is often selected to maintain the elasticity required to hold the fan face firmly. This style is considered quite rare, and it has not been produced since 1949.

Straight-Sided Square-Head Fan: Straight-sided square-head fan ribs were among the earliest in the history of folding fans and are widely used. The shape is a long and narrow trapezoid, extremely simple in design, and sometimes slightly inwardly curved on both sides. Folding fans produced during the Republic of China period were often referred to as “antique-style elegant fans.” One advantage of straight-sided fans is that they do not require careful consideration of the length of the fan face during assembly. Other styles of fan ribs have specific length requirements: too short is not aesthetically pleasing, and if they are too long, they need to be trimmed. Many collectors prefer to maintain the integrity of the fan face paintings or calligraphy and would rather extend the fan face than cut it, which is not visually appealing. Straight-sided fans do not have this issue.

Wooden Travel Fan: These fans have wooden or bamboo ribs, with scenic patterns, figures, or other designs directly printed on the wooden ribs. The ribs are connected by fabric at the end, and the patterns are clear and three-dimensional. There are 23 ribs in total. These fans have certain tourism and collectible value and can also be given as gifts. They were officially introduced to the domestic market in 2013.

Fan Classification

Gong Fan

Gong Fan originated during the Qing Dynasty in the period of Tongzhi and is produced in Zigong City, Sichuan Province. Gong Fan is made from naturally grown yellow bamboo, aged one year (each section is approximately 75 centimeters long), which is cultivated in the Yinshan fertile soil. Skilled craftsmen use unique techniques and superb skills to transform the bamboo into bamboo silk, which is 0.01-0.015 micrometers thin. The bamboo silk is then woven into a peach-shaped fan with a diameter of 26 centimeters. Gong Fan is commonly known as such because it was invented by Gong Juewu, the founder of the first generation of Gong Fan.

Xuan Fan

“Xuan Fan” is an intangible cultural heritage and a folding fan named after its place of origin, Xuan Cheng, Anhui Province. Xuan Cheng has a long history and is known for its rich cultural heritage. It has been a major county in the Jiangnan region since the Western Han Dynasty, and during the Yongjia period of the Jin Dynasty, it became a center of cultural prosperity. Throughout the Six Dynasties, the Sui, Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties, Xuan Cheng witnessed the development of culture, making Xuan Fan the crystallization of traditional craftsmanship and culture.

Xuan Fan originated in the Song Dynasty when folding fans were commonly referred to as “Ju Gu Shan” (literally meaning “gathered bone fan”). It was during the period when Xuan paper-making techniques matured that Xuan Fan emerged. During the Ming and Qing Dynasties, Xuan Fan reached its peak and various techniques excelled. It was highly favored by literati and scholars. Famous artists like Wen Zhengming in the Ming Dynasty and Shi Tao in the Qing Dynasty created works using Xuan Fans as a medium. Xuan Fans are exquisitely crafted, elegant in appearance, symbolize auspiciousness, and carry rich cultural, artistic, and collectible value. Each step of the production process requires high precision and strict requirements. Xuan Fan is a true embodiment of traditional craftsmanship and culture.

Dance Fan

Zhejiang is the largest industrial base for dance fans. Although the history of fans as dance props is not very long, the production of dance fans was traditionally dominated by the northern regions. However, due to limitations in bamboo production in the north, lack of fine craftsmanship, and limited product innovation, dance fans produced in Zhejiang gained unanimous recognition nationwide with the development of the internet. You may still see a group of ladies dancing with dance fans under the sunset, showcasing their graceful movements. Zhejiang dance fans, especially those produced by “Nv Ya Craft,” are known for their cost-effectiveness and are essential for theater performances and square dances. “Nv Ya Craft” established the first B2B platform for fans in China and is loved by distributors. It is also the earliest factory in Zhejiang and even in China to transform fan enterprises through the internet.

Silk Fan

Anhui is the birthplace of silk fans, with a history of over four hundred years. Anhui Ailan Bamboo and Wood Craft Co., Ltd. has adopted unique methods for handling silk fabrics and printing. Silk fans are made from high-quality silk satin fabric, suitable for both appreciation and gifting. The production process of silk fans is complex and requires high craftsmanship. The fan bones are made from high-quality natural mountain bamboo, such as Mao bamboo, purple bamboo, and fragrant bamboo, which are more than six years old. The bamboo bones undergo several processes, including polishing, carving, and planing. The fabric is processed by starching and drying, followed by dyeing and printing. Finally, the fan faces are assembled and shaped, with a total of around 70 procedures. Silk fans are handmade and have been preserved as traditional crafts in Anhui. They are truly exquisite, with a beautiful appearance, fine craftsmanship, and are highly favored by people from various countries.

Sandalwood Fan

Sandalwood fans are a specialty of Suzhou, made from sandalwood, a hard and fragrant wood. The wood can be white sandalwood, and if the color is purplish, it is called purple sandalwood, with white sandalwood being the preferred choice. Sandalwood fans have a natural fragrance, and when gently shaken, the fragrance permeates the air. These fans have the characteristic of retaining their fragrance even after ten or more years of storage, making them refreshing and useful for warding off insects and moths when stored in wardrobes after summer. There are various types of sandalwood fans, including carved, embossed, painted, printed, and bone-inlaid fans. The manufacturing process involves more than ten steps, such as cutting, assembly, engraving, mounting, painting, and attaching tassels.

Fire Painting Fan

“Fire Painting Fan” was created at the end of the Tongzhi period in the Qing Dynasty and is a famous traditional handicraft from Xinhui, Guangdong. The craft gradually developed, and it involves selecting two thin glass fan handles, combining them into a double-sided fan, and then painting them with a special fire pen. The resulting fans are exquisite and permanent, never fading. They are considered fine artworks for appreciation and collection.

Bamboo Silk Fan

Bamboo Silk Fan, commonly known as “Gong Fan,” is praised for its splendid and delicate appearance, resembling cloud brocade and cicada wings. The fan faces are often peach-shaped, resembling silk fans, and are carefully woven with bamboo silk as fine as silk threads. The color of bamboo silk fans is tender yellow, thin and translucent, soft and delicate, resembling brocade. The patterns on the fans can depict landscapes, figures, flowers, birds, insects, and fish, vividly reflecting exquisite craftsmanship. The fan handles are made of ivory or ox bone, and the fan tassels are made of silk threads, making them transparent and exquisitely beautiful. Gong Fan is hailed as a masterpiece of ingenious craftsmanship.

Lingjuan Fan

Lingjuan Fan, also known as “Tuan Fan,” is one of the traditional handicrafts. It belongs to the category of palace fans and is produced in Zhejiang Province. Lingjuan Fan is made from delicate fabrics such as silk, gauze, and satin. They are mostly circular in shape, hence also known as “Tuan Fan” (meaning “round fan”). Lingjuan Fans have a light and delicate fan face, as thin as cicada wings, with a bright luster, giving people a sense of elegance.

Folding Fan

Also known as a folding fan, cluster-head fan, or scattering fan. Varieties include paper folding fans, ivory fans, shell fans, sandalwood fans, peacock feather fans, etc., with paper folding fans being the most common. Paper folding fans are made by arranging numerous slender bamboo strips into fan ribs, folding the ribs together at the lower end, and spreading them out into a semi-circular shape. The ribs are fixed with nail hinges at the bottom, while the rest expand to form the fan’s face, which is then pasted with paper and adorned with poetry and artwork. The best materials for fan ribs are palm bamboo, Xiangfei bamboo, and blackwood, with a fan typically consisting of 7 to 40 ribs, although most commonly 14 or 16. Folding fans with 40 ribs have slender and elegant fan ribs and were specifically designed for women in ancient times. Ivory fans, shell fans, and sandalwood fans are made by using ivory, shells, and sandalwood as fan ribs, respectively. They are directly connected into a semi-circular fan face using silk threads and intricately carved with delicate patterns. Sandalwood fans have hollowed-out patterns on the fan face and are adorned with pyrography or pasted with thin silk to depict colorful flowers, birds, and ladies, making them favored by women. Suzhou folding fans are famous for their use of water-milled bamboo ribs, which involves repeatedly polishing the bamboo ribs with fine sandpaper, wet horsetail grass, and elm leaves, followed by waxing to achieve a smooth and delicate texture resembling white jade.

Feather Fan

Feather fans are typically made by weaving the wings and tail feathers of wild birds such as geese, eagles, storks, pheasants, eagles, and green-legged partridges. Traditional high-block feather fans have handles made of egret or goose feathers split into strands and woven with agate, sandalwood, or copper wire with chains. They are exquisitely crafted. Various types of feather fans include Zhuge fans, peach-shaped fans, round fans, crescent-shaped fans, and velvet folding fans. They are not only used for cooling and decoration but also served as ceremonial items in ancient Chinese imperial courts. Most Chinese feather fans are made with 3-4 goose feathers, presenting a peach-shaped appearance with a pointed top and a round bottom. They are adorned with embroidered longevity peaches and other patterns using colorful satin or silk threads in the center of the fan face. The fan handles are sometimes made of wooden shafts, while in other cases, the goose feather quills are split into strands to create decorative patterns resembling ancient coins. Feather fans are lightweight and produce a gentle breeze. Peacock feather fans have ivory fan ribs and peacock feather woven fan faces, displaying rich and vibrant colors, making them also used as dance props.

During the reign of Emperor Daoguang in the Qing Dynasty, the first feather fan shop, Qiu Yifeng Feather Fan Shop, was established in Huzhou. During the reigns of Emperor Guangxu and Emperor Xuantong, veteran feather fan shops such as Yan Zhengtai and Yan Yitai were successively opened. Huzhou Feather Fan Factory was established in 1959. In the 1990s, the original Huzhou Feather Fan Factory went bankrupt. The Huzhou Crafts and Arts Association established the “Huzhou Tiangong Feather Fan Research Institute,” dedicated to the research, development, and production of Huzhou feather fans. After years of silence, Huzhou feather fans resumed production at the Huzhou Tiangong Feather Fan Research Institute.

Sunflower Leaf Fan

Commonly known as papyrus fans, they are made from the leaves and stems of sunflowers. Sunflower leaf fans are lightweight, inexpensive, and the most widely used fans in China. The sunflower leaf fans from Xinhui, Guangdong have perfectly round sunflower leaves and slender stems. The production process is complex, resulting in a wide range of varieties. The production process begins with the selection of sunflower leaves that are approximately 30 centimeters long, with a light bluish color. After picking, the leaves are sun-dried for about 20 days until they turn white. They are then washed, dried, and flattened with weights. The leaves are cut into different sizes of circular shapes and the edges are bordered with rattan strips or silk threads. The stems of the sunflower leaves are used as the fan handles. There are various types of sunflower leaf fans, including glass white sunflower leaf fans, bleached woven sunflower leaf fans, and embossed sunflower leaf fans. Glass white sunflower leaf fans are made from freshly picked light green tender leaves. After sun-drying, the leaves become crystal clear and white. They are then washed, sulfur-fumigated, and become even whiter, resembling glass, hence the name. Bleached woven sunflower leaf fans are made by slicing glass white sunflower leaves into 2-4mm strips and hand-weaving them into almond-shaped fan faces. Various patterns are embroidered on the fan face using gold and silver threads or colorful silk threads. Embossed sunflower leaf fans feature figures and landscapes embossed on the fan face, with an ancient and elegant style. Among them, the double-sided embossed sunflower leaf fan is made by stitching two identical glass white sunflower leaf fans together, and then embossing the same image on both the front and back sides, allowing for appreciation from both sides. The fan faces of sunflower leaf fans can also be decorated with embroidery, pyrography, or various patterns created by fine needlework. The size of the fan faces varies, with larger ones measuring over 90 centimeters, providing effective sunshade. The edges of the fan faces are commonly referred to as “fine edges” and are hand-wrapped or sewn with gold and silver threads, silk, silk threads, rattan strips, or long strips of vine bark. The handles of sunflower leaf fans are mostly made from the original stems of sunflower leaves. Some are wrapped with long strips of rattan bark, while others are covered with dyed bamboo tubes, providing a smooth and comfortable grip. Advanced fan handles are decorated with precious bamboo materials such as square bamboo, Xiangfei bamboo, or Buddha’s belly bamboo, or made of materials such as ivory and tortoiseshell. In 2010, the Pushe Weaving Technique of Sunflower Leaf Fans in Xiapu County, Suining, was listed as intangible cultural heritage of Xuzhou.

Bamboo Strip Fan

Also known as bamboo weaving fan or Gong fan, bamboo strip fans are made by weaving bamboo strips into fan faces. They are produced in Sichuan, Zhejiang, Hunan, and other regions, with Sichuan being the most famous. Sichuan bamboo strip fans were already well-known in the Ming Dynasty. During the reign of Emperor Guangxu in the Qing Dynasty (1875-1908), Gong Juewu, a craftsman from Zigong, Sichuan, wove bamboo strip fans known as Gong fans. The bamboo strips used are as thin as a hair and measure 400mm in length, 1mm in width, and 0.2mm in thickness. When exposed to sunlight, they appear transparent and sparkling. The woven fan faces are smooth and seamless, resembling satinand silk. The fan handles are mostly made of ox bones, with tassels attached at the bottom. In the early 20th century, Gong Juewu’s son, Gong Yuzhang, continued his father’s craft and was able to weave intricate images of ladies, landscapes, flowers, and birds with clear and beautiful details. The tradition of Gong fans has been passed down to the third generation, including Gong Changrong and Gong Yuwen, the sons of Gong Yuzhang. They have woven bamboo strip fans that were exhibited in the United States and Japan.

Portrait Hanging Fan

Portrait hanging fans, also known as image fans, feature various portrait photographs such as wedding photos, portraits, and children’s photos as fan faces. Image fans are a clever combination of modern imaging technology and traditional fan-making techniques. From design to printing, image fans utilize the same technology and materials used in contemporary photography studios, resulting in high-quality images with true color reproduction and excellent detail. In ancient times, the wedding night was known as the “queshan night,” as a fan was used during the wedding ceremony, and poems were written on the fan. The red head-covering originated from the fan used in this ceremony. Throughout history, people have created portraits on fan faces through painting and embroidery techniques. Today, with the help of modern technology, image fans featuring wedding photos and other portraits have emerged, adding a fresh and fashionable touch to the ancient fan culture.

Other Information

Other types of fans include straw weaving fans, duck foot fans, bamboo board fans, and bamboo shoot shell fans. Straw weaving fans are mainly produced in Pujiang, Zhejiang. They are made by using flattened straw strips arranged in a circular shape as the fan face, with bamboo pieces serving as the handle. They are then decorated with various embroidered patterns in the center and lined with five-color silk or satin as decorative edges. Duck foot fans are named after their fan faces, which resemble duck feet. They are produced in Zhejiang, Guangdong, Sichuan, and other provinces. The fan faces are made of bamboo pieces approximately 30cm long, with one-third of the bottom serving as the handle and the remaining two-thirds split into dozens of fine strips that are woven into the shape of duck feet. The fan faces are then pasted with paper and decorated with silk, satin, or rattan borders. Bamboo board fans are produced in Zhejiang. The fan faces are made of bamboo boards measuring approximately 30cm long and 15cm wide, which are ironed to make them flat. The color of the bamboo board fan face is white and lustrous like jade, hence the name “jade board fan.” Bamboo shoot shell fans are produced in Fujian. The fan faces are made by pressing and flattening giant bamboo shoot shells, measuring approximately 30cm long and 18cm wide. The front side of the fan face is white and smooth, often adorned with pyrography, while the back side retains the reddish-brown color of the bamboo shoot shell, resembling betel nuts, hence the name “betel nut fan.” When held in hand, bamboo shoot shell fans are simple and elegant.

What Are Chinese Fans Made of?

Over time, the Chinese kept innovating the designs of fans coming up with different ideas. The materials used to make the different designs also differed. Many materials were adopted including bamboo, palm tree leaves, sandalwood, paper, silk, feathers, and animal bones.

The fans were also made in different shapes. There were circular silk fans. Others were shaped like flower petals. Others had hexagonal, oval, and square shapes. Each shape and type of material used resulted in fans that symbolized different things.

The materials used for Chinese fans include bamboo, wood, paper, silk, ivory, tortoiseshell, jade, feathers of birds, palm leaves, betel nut leaves, wheat stems, and rush. Among them, the most famous are the fire-painted fan, sandalwood fan, bamboo silk fan, and satin fan. These fans are exquisitely crafted, often intricately carved, engraved, embossed, or adorned with calligraphy and paintings by renowned artists, making them highly valued in the realm of fan art.

Fan bones (the structural support of the fan) can be made from several materials:

  • Bamboo and wood are commonly used for fan bones, but there are also materials such as ivory, animal bones, buffalo horn, and lacquer carvings. Bamboo fan bones include popular varieties like jade bamboo and white bamboo, as well as precious types such as brown bamboo, Xiangfei bamboo, and Buddha’s belly bamboo. Wood fan bones include purple sandalwood, white sandalwood (also known as sandalwood), boxwood, peachwood, chicken-wing wood, and nan wood. In traditional Chinese culture, fan painting and calligraphy are highly regarded, and the production of fan bones showcases luxury materials such as purple sandalwood, ebony, tortoiseshell, ivory, spotted bamboo, and animal bones.
  • Tuan bamboo: Bamboo resources in China are abundant, primarily distributed in the Yangtze River basin, South China, Southwest China, and other regions. There are around 250 bamboo species with various types, including precious ones like yuzhu bamboo, white bamboo, brown bamboo, and Mei Lu bamboo. Bamboo has characteristics of high hardness, wear resistance, flexibility, elasticity, and ease of carving, gradually replacing wooden fan bones as the mainstream material. Yuzhu bamboo and oil bamboo are derived from moso bamboo, with yuzhu bamboo being polished to a clean white color, resembling jade, while oil bamboo retains a brown color like aged bamboo.
  • Spotted bamboo, also known as “Xiangfei bamboo,” is named for the brown spots of varying sizes on its surface. There is also a type called “Mei Lu bamboo,” which is covered with circles of different sizes, resembling animal spots. Spotted bamboo is an excellent material for making fan bones, commonly used in 16th, 18th, and 20th-grade fans. It is primarily used for large bones but occasionally for small bones. Some imitations have patterns burned or stamped on ordinary bamboo, but true spotted bamboo has raised spots, while fake ones have indented spots.
  • Arhat bamboo, also known as “Luohan bamboo” or “Buddha’s belly bamboo,” has bamboo joints positioned closely together, forming a round and protruding shape resembling the belly of Maitreya Buddha. Arhat bamboo is not too thick and is suitable for large symmetrical bones. It is generally used for fans above the 16th grade. Due to its unique shape and rarity, it is considered a fine specimen among bamboo fan bones.
  • Palm bamboo, also known as palm leaf bamboo, is a perennial shrub with fine and tough stems. Palm bamboo has a dark color with distinct dark yellow stripes on both the skin and flesh. Palm bamboo bones are often used as plain bones, presenting a simple and elegant style, commonly used in fans above the 18th grade. Palm bamboo is relatively thin, making it challenging to find suitable material for large bones. Combining light-colored ivory with dark-colored palm bamboo, with ivory as the large bone and palm bamboo as the small bone, creates a contrasting black and white effect, giving a unique aesthetic appeal.

Wooden fan bones are not as common as bamboo fan bones but have a longer history. The earliest wooden bones were made from pine and elm. Later, various materials such as blackwood, chicken-wing wood, rosewood, and purple sandalwood appeared.

Blackwood, also known as “Wumu,” is found in Guangdong, China, and Indonesia. It has a black color, glossy appearance, high hardness, and fine texture. Blackwood is the most commonly used material for wooden fan bones, dating back to the Ming Dynasty. Blackwood bones can be plain or decorated with carvings, with the majority being plain. Blackwood is often combined with other materials, such as large blackwood bones with small jade bamboo bones. Blackwood is less used for Kunshan-style fan bones and more for straight-shaped square-headed fans of the 16th grade and above.

  • Chicken-wing wood, named for its natural grain pattern resembling the wings of a chicken, is commonly used for 16th to 20th-grade fans with calligraphy and paintings. It is often paired with bamboo fan bones. Chicken-wing wood has poor flexibility and is prone to breakage, requiring careful protection during preservation.
  • Boxwood, also known as Huangyang wood, is an evergreen shrub with strong, fine, and glossy wood. Yellow boxwood fan bones are relatively rare and usually feature carvings, commonly depicting sun patterns or openwork designs.
  • Purple sandalwood, renowned as a top-grade wood, is hard and dense, with colors ranging from brownish purple to dark purple, featuring fine patterns. Purple sandalwood is commonly used for 9th, 11th, 16th, and 18th-grade male fans. Due to its precious wood, it is rarely used for craftsmanship. Purple sandalwood is also often used as a decorative element for the fan handle.
  • Sandalwood, specifically referring to white sandalwood used for fan bones, has a soft texture, emits a pleasant and long-lasting fragrance, and possesses insect-repellent properties. Sandalwood is used for both Kunshan-style and male fans, either plain or decorated. Sometimes it is paired with other materials.
  • Nan wood, a tall evergreen tree found in Yunnan, Guizhou, Sichuan, and Hunan provinces, has hard and fine wood. Nan wood fan bones often feature intricate carvings.

Ivory, known for its soft and delicate coloration and fine texture, is the most precious material used for fan bones. Ivory fan bones are relatively abundant, with larger-sized fans measuring nine inches or more being highly valued, particularly the 16th and 18th-grade ivory bones. The 9th and 11th-grade Japanese-style ivory bones have fewer segments and narrower widths, thus commanding lower prices. Ivory can be used for both large and small bones. To save material, sometimes other materials like bamboo are used for the portion inserted into the fan surface. Ivory bones are often combined with blackwood, purple sandalwood, black lacquer, or palm bamboo to create a contrasting and elegant aesthetic. Ivory fan bones with exquisite carvings are especially cherished.

Animal bones, such as cow bones and camel bones, are processed through bleaching, polishing, and waxing to create fan bones that resemble ivory. At first glance, they may appear similar to ivory bones, and they are often mistaken by those who are not familiar with the differences. However, upontranslation:

The materials used for Chinese fans include bamboo, wood, paper, silk, ivory, tortoiseshell, jade, feathers of birds, palm leaves, betel nut leaves, wheat stems, and rush. Among them, the most famous are the fire-painted fan, sandalwood fan, bamboo silk fan, and satin fan. These fans are exquisitely crafted, often intricately carved, engraved, embossed, or adorned with calligraphy and paintings by renowned artists, making them highly valued in the realm of fan art.

Fan surface materials:

Fans first appeared during the Shang Dynasty and were made of colorful wild chicken feathers. They were called “zhàng shàn” and were used by emperors to block the sun, wind, and sand during their outings. It was not until the Western Han Dynasty that fans began to be used for cooling purposes. During the Three Kingdoms period, Zhuge Liang skillfully wielded a feather fan, demonstrating his brilliant strategies. Feather fans provide gentle and soft airflow without reaching the knees. During the Eastern Han Dynasty, feather fans were mostly replaced by silk, satin, and other woven fabrics for the purpose of embellishing embroidery. Even today, the materials used for making fan surfaces have formed a collection of seven main fabrics, including satin, silk, brocade, real silk, organza, and Xuan paper.

Brocade (D silk): Brocade silk, also known as “kè sī” or “carved silk,” is considered one of the masterpieces of traditional Chinese silk art. Since the Song and Yuan Dynasties, it has been used in royal fabrics, often used to weave clothing for emperors, empresses, and imitate famous calligraphy and paintings. It is renowned as “an inch of brocade is worth an inch of gold” and “the saint in weaving.” Brocade is a common material used for making round fans.

Brocade: Brocade refers to a type of silk fabric that creates a mesh-like pattern on the surface using a specific weaving technique. It is made of pure silk and is characterized by its elegant style, dense texture, durability, breathable nature, and cooling effect.

Xuan paper: Xuan paper is a traditional Chinese paper used for classical calligraphy and painting. It is one of the traditional papermaking crafts in China, originating from Jing County during the Tang Dynasty. With a history of over 1,500 years, Xuan paper is known for its durability, long-lasting preservation, resistance to brittleness, and color fading. Xuan paper is primarily made from the bark of sandalwood trees, with additional ingredients such as straw and other agricultural products. Xuan paper can be categorized into raw paper and processed paper based on the manufacturing method. It can also be classified as raw Xuan, semi-mature Xuan, and mature Xuan based on the degree of ink dispersion. Mature Xuan paper undergoes special processing techniques to create a wide range of patterns and colors, including wax Xuan, Ji Xuan, colored Xuan, and colored Ji Xuan, with over a hundred different variations.

Real silk: Real silk generally refers to silk produced by silkworms, including mulberry silk, tussah silk, castor silk, and cassava silk. Known as the “Queen of Fibers,” real silk has been favored by people throughout history for its unique charm. Silk fibers are the only natural long-fibered fibers that have been practically used. They are formed by solidification of the silkworm’s viscous secretion. Silk fibers vary depending on the silkworm’s diet. Among them, silkworms fed with mulberry leaves produce mulberry silk fibers, silkworms fed with zhushu leaves produce tussah silk fibers, and other wild silk fibers are derived from silkworms that consume cassava leaves, horse mulberry leaves, castor leaves, and other plant materials. Mulberry silk fibers and tussah silk fibers can retain the form of long filaments in spun yarns formed by bundles, while the other wild silk fibers can only be transformed into short fibers for textile processing.

Satin: Satin fan surfaces belong to a category of traditional Chinese silk fabrics. The earliest satin surfaces presented a diagonal path resembling overlapping mountains, earning the name “wang zhī rú bīng líng” (resembling ice ridges). Satin fabrics are pure silk fabrics. The characteristics of such fan surfaces include elegant styles, dense and firm textures, breathable yarn holes, and a cool feel. Satin fabrics can be divided into pure mulberry silk fabrics, synthetic fabrics, and mixed fabrics based on the raw materials. The patterns on satin fabrics are created using various oblique grain weaves or combinations with other fabric weaves. Common embroidered fabric varieties include floral satin, guang satin, interwoven xu, and cotton satin.

Organza: Organza is a lightweight and transparent fabric created by twisting nylon or polyester filaments through false twisting processing. It is also known as “Green yarn” or “European yarn.” Organza is often used to cover satin or silk fabrics.

what are Chinese fans used for?

  • The main function of a fan is to provide a cool breeze, relieve heat, and bring a sense of comfort, especially during hot summer days.
  • In ancient times, fans were often used to shield one’s face to avoid being recognized or to convey a sense of awe or shyness. The term “píng miàn” or “biàn miàn” refers to a fan used to cover the face.
  • Among the ceremonial processions of ancient nobility, there was a type of fan called “zhàng shàn” or “zhǎng shàn.” These fans were relatively large and held by attendants to provide a shield in front of the person, with the cooling function of the fan being secondary. The ceremonial fans were primarily used by emperors during processions, banquets, or court meetings. Many poems from the Tang Dynasty also describe these ceremonial fans.
  • Women would use fans to hide their shyness.
  • Fans can be used to brush away dust and dirt from the body, serving as a tool for dusting. For example, in stage performances, actors can use fans to brush off dust from their costumes.
  • Cultural symbol: Fans hold significant cultural symbolism in various cultures. In Chinese culture, fans are considered cultural symbols representing wisdom, loyalty, and etiquette, among other positive qualities.
  • Using a fan to swat insects:In ancient times, people often used fans to swat insects. In the Tang Dynasty, Du Mu wrote in his poem “Autumn Eve”: “Silver candles, cold autumn light, against the imperial screen, the fan remains a symbol of status and position. Therefore, regardless of winter or summer, there were always people behind them fanning for them.” The book “Miscellaneous Records of the Western Capital” Volume One records that during the Han Dynasty, there was a system that stated, “The Emperor uses feather fans in summer and silk fans in winter.” These fans were large with long handles.
  • Using fans as props for singing and dancing:As for fans being used as props in dance performances, this has been common in both ancient and modern times. In the Northern Zhou Dynasty, Yu Xin wrote in his poem “Watching Performances with King Zhao”: “Green pearl song, thin fan, flying swallows dancing robes.”
  • Custom of gifting fans on the Dragon Boat Festival:In the book “Yangsui Festival,” it is mentioned that in Luoyang, on the Dragon Boat Festival, people would “gift pest-dispelling fans.” The Dragon Boat Festival is a holiday with the purpose of warding off evil, so there was a custom of exchanging fans during this festival. For example, in the “Records of Jia County” (printed in the Qing Dynasty during the reign of Emperor Tongzhi), it is stated: “On the Dragon Boat Festival, relatives and friends exchange cornel millet and gift fans.” In the “Records of Chongyang County” (printed in the same year), it is mentioned that on the Dragon Boat Festival, people exchange cornel millet, steamed buns, preserved eggs, and rolls. The book “Eight Sections on Seasonal Customs” suggests that this custom originated during the reign of Emperor Taizong in the Tang Dynasty. According to the record in the “Tang Huiyao,” in the 18th year of the Zhenguan era, on the Dragon Boat Festival, Emperor Taizong gave two fans to his ministers, Changsun Wuji and Yang Shidao. In fact, this custom likely appeared during the Southern Song Dynasty. The “Biography of Empress Minggong of Song” in the “Book of Song” states: “During the Dragon Boat Festival, Emperor Taizong gave fans to his ministers, which was a result of following the old custom.”

The Value of Fans:

For kings and nobles, fans were also symbols of their status and identity. Therefore, regardless of the season, someone would always be present to fan them. The “Xī Jīng Zá Jì” records that during the Han Dynasty, it was regulated that “the emperor would use feather fans in summer and silk fans in winter.” These fans were typically large with long handles.

Fans have also been commonly used as props in singing and dancing throughout history. In a poem by Yu Xin of the Northern Zhou Dynasty titled “Hé Zhào Wáng Kàn Jì” (Watching Performances with Prince Zhao), it is written, “Green pearl song fan, thin and delicate; flying swallows dance in long robes.” “Green pearl” refers to a songstress during the Jin Dynasty named Shi Chong, while “flying swallows” refers to Empress Zhao Feiyan, the wife of Emperor Cheng of the Han Dynasty. This describes the graceful dance of beautiful women holding fans.

Ancient people believed that fans also had the power to ward off evil spirits. In the ancient text “Yún Xiān Zá Jì” by Feng Zhi of the Tang Dynasty, it is mentioned that on the Dragon Boat Festival in Luoyang, people would “present plague-warding fans.” Fans not only served practical purposes but also held aesthetic value.

Zhuge Liang was known for his preference for goose feather fans. Feather fans and silk turbans were considered refined and elegant. With a gentle shake of the fan, brilliant strategies were devised. Since Zhuge Liang’s time, many strategists and advisors also began using fans, making the fan a symbol of refined wisdom.

In some novels and stories, fans are depicted as weapons. They often appear in the works of Jin Yong and Gu Long, two famous martial arts fiction writers.In journey to the west. The banana fan of Iron Fan Princess can create tornadoes, and even Sun Wukong finds it challenging to deal with. Fans can also be used for extinguishing fires. Some researchers have even suggested that Iron Fan Princess’s fan is one of the earliest fire extinguishers in the world. Jì Gōng (a legendary monk) also possessed a fan called a “pú shàn,” which was broken. In Jì Gōng’s hands, this pú shàn, like Iron Fan Princess’s banana fan, was not used for cooling but as a magical tool to fend off enemies from afar, possessing extraordinary powers.

In ancient times, young ladies and noble women also enjoyed using fans. They favored silk palace fans, wán fans, and luó fans (collectively known as tuán fans). These fans were typically round or crescent-shaped. It was preferable for them to have the scent of camphor or sandalwood. In the Peking Opera piece “The Drunken Concubine,” Yang Guifei is fond of using fans, specifically folding fans with silk surfaces and bamboo frames, adorned with large peony motifs. Guifei preferred large folding fans, likely due to her large size and desire for more substantial air movement. Why not use a pú shàn? Pú shàn was considered old-fashioned and did not suit her status. The delicate silk palace fans were too intricate, and their airflow was insufficient to satisfy her longing for the wind.

significance of fans in Chinese culture

Fans hold significant cultural value in Chinese culture and have been an integral part of Chinese traditions for centuries. Here are some aspects that highlight the significance of fans in Chinese culture:

Historical Significance: Fans have a long history in China, dating back thousands of years. They were initially used for practical purposes, such as cooling oneself in the hot climate, but gradually became a symbol of status and elegance.

Symbol of Prestige and Social Status: In ancient China, fans were associated with the upper class and nobility. Elaborate fans made of precious materials, like jade, ivory, and silk, were considered status symbols, indicating wealth and refinement.

Artistic Expression: Fans are regarded as an art form in Chinese culture. They serve as a canvas for intricate paintings, calligraphy, and embroidery. Skilled artists would create beautiful designs, landscapes, birds, flowers, and poetic verses on fans, making them exquisite works of art.

Communication and Gesture: Fans were used as a non-verbal means of communication. Certain fan movements and gestures held specific meanings, allowing people to convey messages discreetly, especially during times when open communication was restricted. These gestures could express feelings, convey messages of love or friendship, or indicate agreement or disagreement.

Performances and Theater: Chinese opera and traditional performances often involve the use of fans. Performers use fans to emphasize gestures and movements, adding grace and elegance to the performance. The fans become an extension of the artist’s expression, enhancing the storytelling and visual appeal.

Feng Shui and Superstitions: In Chinese culture, fans are believed to bring good luck and ward off evil spirits. They are sometimes hung in homes or businesses to invite positive energy and protect against negative influences.

Wedding Symbolism: In Chinese weddings, fans hold special significance. They are commonly given as gifts to guests and represent the couple’s wishes for a harmonious and prosperous union. The fan’s ability to open and close also symbolizes the opening and closing of chapters in life.

Traditional Festivals: Fans are often featured in various traditional Chinese festivals. During celebrations like the Dragon Boat Festival or Lantern Festival, people may carry decorative fans, sometimes featuring colorful designs or auspicious symbols, as part of the festive attire.

Overall, fans in Chinese culture embody grace, artistry, social status, and communication. They are cherished as both functional and artistic objects, representing tradition, beauty, and the rich heritage of China.

what do Chinese fans symbolize?

  • The significance of fans in Chinese culture is often associated with the phonetic similarity between the word “fan” (扇) and the word “good” (善). Therefore, fans also symbolize goodness and virtuous behavior.
  • Prior to the Ming Dynasty, fans were primarily exchanged between men as a means to express friendship, particularly as mementos during farewells among classmates. However, during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, fans became one of the gifts given by men to women. Often, poems and paintings were inscribed on fans to express emotions, and folding fans with calligraphy and paintings were particularly suitable as gifts.
  • Symbolism: Fans hold auspicious symbolism in Chinese culture. Traditionally, fans are considered lucky charms that can ward off evil spirits and diseases. Moreover, the shape of the fan itself carries auspicious meanings. For instance, a lotus-shaped fan represents purity and elegance, while a chrysanthemum-shaped fan symbolizes nobility and grace.
  • Etiquette: Fans also carry significant etiquette implications in Chinese culture. In ancient times, fans were regarded as a symbol of the aristocratic class and were widely used in court and social settings. In modern times, fans remain important ceremonial items, often given as gifts during weddings, birthday banquets, and other occasions, symbolizing blessings and auspiciousness.

In addition to the mentioned symbolic and representative meanings of fans, presenting a fan to someone else may have the following implications:

Blessings: Fans are traditional gifts that can convey blessings and good wishes. For example, presenting a fan to a friend or loved one signifies wishes for their health, happiness, and well-being.

Gratitude: Giving a fan can also express gratitude and appreciation. For instance, presenting a fan to a colleague or client during the summer months shows appreciation and gratitude for their support.

Commemoration: Fans can serve as commemorative items, presented to special individuals or on special occasions. For example, presenting a fan to a classmate during graduation signifies wishes for their future success and endeavors.

Love and Romance: Fans can also symbolize love and romance, making them a meaningful gift for a beloved person. For instance, presenting a fan to a significant other on Valentine’s Day signifies bringing coolness and freedom to each other, and sharing a beautiful life together.

Artistic Beauty: As artistic objects, fans represent the beauty of art. Chinese fans have a long history of exquisite craftsmanship, featuring intricate designs and patterns. Therefore, fans are considered artistic creations, representing human pursuit of beauty and creativity.

Status: In ancient China, fans were often seen as symbols of social status. Different types, materials, and patterns of fans represented different social standings and positions. For example, the dragon and phoenix fans of the emperor were among the most representative symbols of power.

Overall, fans in Chinese culture symbolize coolness, freedom, independence, auspiciousness, and serve as important ceremonial items. In modern times, the use of fans has become more diverse and innovative, representing people’s pursuit of a better life and their creativity.

what does Chinese fan dance symbolize?

Fan dance also carries a beautiful symbolism, representing the grace and resilience of women, as well as a tribute to life. In this fast-paced era, the significance of fan dance becomes even more precious. It allows people to retreat to a peaceful space and experience the beauty of life and the preservation of culture. The dance movements and music of fan dance evoke a sense of elegance and serve as a way to pay homage to traditional culture. With graceful movements, we pay tribute to the virtues of women. The dance and music of fan dance allow people to appreciate the beauty of life and the charm of traditional culture.

Fan in Chinese wedding

In traditional Chinese weddings, the bride would hold a round fan called a “tuanshan” as she enters her marital home. The round shape of the fan represents completeness, harmony, and a happy family. The fan used in weddings is also known as a “hehuan” fan.

The use of the hehuan fan by the bride signifies a prayer for a harmonious marital relationship. Additionally, there is a belief that the bride holds a fan to ward off evil spirits and maintain modesty.

According to traditional culture, the bride is believed to be susceptible to evil spirits. By covering her face with the fan, it is believed that she can avoid drawing the attention of these spirits. The red veil and fan used by the bride on her wedding day serve the purpose of concealing her face, symbolizing the modesty and gracefulness of ancient women.

In ancient times, the number of fans carried by the bride varied based on social status. Ordinary families typically had up to two fans, while high-ranking officials and wealthy merchants might have four fans. Six fans were considered a symbol of wealth and prosperity.

During the wedding procession, the bride would carry a fan to cover her face, following a custom called the “que shan” ceremony. It was only in the bridal chamber that the groom would remove the fan. The significance of the fan in the que shan ceremony is similar to that of the red veil.

In the Tang Dynasty, the que shan ceremony took on a romantic and literary aspect. After the groom took the fan from the bride, he would compose several que shan poems on the spot. This demonstrates the high regard placed on the que shan ceremony in the past.

Fan in Chinese opera

Fans are widely used in traditional Chinese opera, serving various purposes:

Seasonal Cooling: Fans are used to symbolize the use of cooling devices during hot seasons, reflecting the practical aspect of seeking relief from the heat.

Artistic Craftsmanship and Appreciation: Fans are appreciated as exquisite craftworks, often given as gifts or collectibles for their aesthetic value.

Auxiliary Props for Performers: Fans are used as virtual props to enhance the performance of actors, representing objects such as daggers or steel knives used to attack enemies or cause harm.

Plot Development: Fans play a role in the construction of dramatic plotlines. For example, in the opera “The Peach Blossom Fan,” the folding fan serves as a symbolic link connecting the struggles between characters.

Fan Techniques in Performance: Fan techniques in opera contribute to the development of the plot. The use of fans follows certain patterns and conventions that reflect different character traits and roles. For instance, certain rules dictate the movements of fans for specific character types. For example, the folding fan should remain close to the hair for female roles, or held near the collar for young male roles. These conventions help portray established character traits and actions.

By adhering to these traditional patterns and conventions, the portrayal of characters in opera can be effectively conveyed. Rules such as “flower-painted faces fan their buttocks, blue-clad characters fan their chests, heroes fan their bellies, and clowns fan their ears and shoulders” provide guidelines for the depiction of character traits. Other rules, such as “admiration is expressed by opening the fan, satisfaction is indicated by touching the head with the fan, tipsy behavior is shown by shaking the fan, and haste is displayed by fanning with the back of the hand,” offer further guidelines for the expression of character traits. Following these established patterns helps create consistent and recognizable character images.

Fan in Fengshui

Fans have held a significant position in traditional Chinese culture, serving not only as practical tools but also as cultural symbols. In Feng Shui, fans are attributed with special meanings and functions.

Airflow and Qi Circulation:

One of the fundamental roles of fans is to facilitate airflow. In Feng Shui, the flow of Qi (energy) is crucial, as it ensures the smooth circulation of positive energy within a space. Fans serve as tools for enhancing airflow, thus promoting the regulation of Qi in the environment.

Accumulation of Wealth Qi:

The shape of fans resembles a circular fan surface, which is associated with the accumulation of wealth Qi in Feng Shui. Therefore, fans are considered tools for gathering wealth Qi. Placing a fan in the wealth area of a space is believed to attract and accumulate wealth energy.

Dispelling Negative Qi:

Fans can also be used to disperse negative Qi, especially when used in bedrooms. Negative Qi in bedrooms can result from the placement of beds or the proximity of bathrooms, which can accumulate negative energy. The use of fans is believed to dispel this negative Qi and maintain a positive energy field within the bedroom.

When selecting Feng Shui fans, color is an important factor. According to the theory of the Five Elements, different colors represent different elements. For example, red represents the fire element, blue represents water, and yellow represents earth. When choosing a fan, one should consider personal destiny and the desired elemental representation. Attention should also be given to the material and style of the fan to ensure it aligns with personal preferences and usage needs. It is recommended to choose fans of good quality, simple design, and bright colors to achieve better Feng Shui effects.

Fans hold a significant position in Chinese traditional culture as both practical tools and common folk crafts. In China, fans are not just utilitarian objects; they are cultural symbols and works of art. Fans are also closely connected to Feng Shui. In Chinese traditional culture, Feng Shui is an important discipline that emphasizes the impact of geographical and energetic factors on human life and destiny. Therefore, the Feng Shui aspects of fans garner considerable attention. By selecting suitable materials, patterns, and colors for fans, one can regulate the energy field and improve fortune.

In Chinese traditional culture, Feng Shui is an important discipline that is closely tied to our daily lives. During the scorching summer days, fans have become indispensable items for people.

Choosing Fan Colors:

In Feng Shui, different colors represent different meanings. The choice of fan color should align with personal needs.

Red: Represents passion and vitality, suitable for young people or those seeking to enhance their energy field.

Yellow: Represents wealth and good fortune, suitable for those seeking financial prosperity.

Blue: Represents calmness and tranquility, suitable for those in need of relaxation.

Green: Represents health and vitality, suitable for those seeking to maintain good health.

Purple: Represents nobility and mystery, suitable for those seeking to elevate their personal charisma.

Choosing Fan Materials:

The material of the fan is also an important factor to consider, as different materials convey different meanings.

Bamboo: Represents resilience and determination, suitable for those in need of steadfastness.

Wood: Represents stability and tranquility, suitable for those seeking inner peace.

Paper: Represents lightness and breathability, suitable for those in need of freshness.

Fabric: Represents softness and warmth, suitable for those seeking a cozy atmosphere.

Bone: Represents hardness and indestructibility, suitable for those seeking protection.

Choosing Fan Patterns:

The patterns on the fan are also significant factors to consider, as different patterns convey different meanings.

Flowers: Represent beauty and blessings, suitable for those seeking a joyful mindset.

Animals: Represent strength and courage, suitable for those seeking self-confidence.

Landscapes: Represent tranquility and beauty, suitable for those seeking a serene state of mind.

Text: Represents wisdom and knowledge, suitable for those seeking mental agility.

Abstract Designs: Represent creativity and individuality, suitable for those seeking self-expression.

Fans have played a vital role in Chinese traditional culture, not only as practical tools but also with deep cultural connotations and Feng Shui significance. In Feng Shui, fans are regarded as items that can ward off evil spirits, dispel negative energy, and regulate Qi. Thus, in ancient times, people often hung fans in their homes or carried them for Feng Shui blessings.

Today, fans are no longer essential daily items, but their Feng Shui significance continues to be highly regarded. If you wish to create a favorable Feng Shui environment in your home, you can choose fans with Feng Shui symbolism for decoration. For example, a red fan can attract wealth, a green fan can enhance financial luck, and a yellow fan can improve interpersonal relationships.

Chinese fan painting

Fan Painting: In the category of Chinese painting, throughout history, calligraphers and painters have enjoyed creating artworks or inscribing poetic verses on fan surfaces to express their emotions or as gifts for others to collect and remember. Fans that preserve the original calligraphy or painting are referred to as “chengshan,” while those that are mounted and bound into book-like pages for ease of collection are called “shanmian.” In terms of form, there are round fans known as “tuanshan” (wanshan) and folding fans known as “zheshan.” Fan painting is a longstanding traditional art form in China. During the Song and Yuan dynasties, tuanshan painting was widely popular. In the Ming dynasty and beyond, zheshan painting gained prominence. Among fan paintings, there are countless exceptional and ethereal masterpieces that have been passed down through the ages.

The folded fan’s surface is wide at the top and narrow at the bottom, forming a fan shape. When artists wield their brushes, they must consider arranging the composition within a specific spatial range, employing meticulous thoughts and skillful techniques to create captivating imagery and artistic conceptions. With unique craftsmanship and free brushwork, artists transform limitations into boundless creativity, bringing forth images and artistic realms that are enchanting.

The use of calligraphy on fan surfaces can be traced back to the story of Wang Xizhi, an Eastern Jin dynasty calligrapher, who wrote on an old lady’s fan, which has become a well-known anecdote. Historical records mention Wang Xizhi drawing small figures on tuanshan, while his son, Wang Xianzhi, created “A Poem and a Drawing of Magpies on an Oiled Cowhide Fan” (Wei Huanwen Shu Bing Houban). The history of fan painting can be traced back to the Tang dynasty. According to Zhang Yanyuan’s “Record of Famous Paintings Through the Ages,” Xiao Ben from the Liang dynasty “painted landscapes on fans, revealing the vastness of the world within inches.”

During the Song dynasty, as painting art flourished, especially landscape painting and flower-bird painting that saw significant advancements based on the foundation laid during the late Tang and Five Dynasties periods, the relationship between literati and painting became increasingly intimate, leading to a peak in literati painting. Coupled with the emperor’s attention to fan art, fan paintings, both calligraphy and painting, experienced rapid development, reaching their pinnacle. Court painters in the Song dynasty were particularly fond of painting on fans. “Shu Ji” records, “During the Zhenghe era, whenever Emperor Huizong painted a fan, the various palaces and mansions of the six courts would all compete to imitate it, sometimes resulting in hundreds of imitations. Many fan paintings have been preserved, and fans also started to take on the shape of banana leaves.” The flourishing fan paintings of the Southern Song dynasty produced numerous enduring masterpieces, allowing people today to appreciate the sublime art of painting from the Southern Song dynasty. Even the smallest elements, such as wild grass and leisurely flowers in flower-bird paintings, insects, and fish, were meticulously depicted with marvelous brushwork.

Fan art was highly regarded by renowned calligraphers and painters throughout history, with many of their works remaining extant. The practice of combining calligraphy and painting on a single fan began in the Ming dynasty with the appearance of folding fans. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, due to the highly developed fan-making craftsmanship in the Jiangnan region, many distinctive fan paintings and fan calligraphy were produced, leaving a profound cultural legacy. The Jiangnan region, with its long history and rich cultural heritage, gave rise to various artistic genres and schools, among which fan painting and couplet writing are particularly distinctive. Today, people can appreciate fan paintings and calligraphy by famous calligraphers and painters such as Wen Zhengming, Dong Qichang, Wu Changshuo, and Feng Zikai. Additionally, works by historical figures such as Zeng Guofan, Zuo Zongtang, Li Hongzhang, and Huang Yanpei showcase the wide popularity and diverse appeal of Chinese fan art.


Categories of Fan Paintings:

In the category of Chinese painting, calligraphers and painters throughout history have enjoyed creating artworks or inscribing verses on fan surfaces to express emotions or as gifts for others to collect and remember. Fans that preserve the original calligraphy or painting are referred to as “chengshan,” while those that are mounted and bound into book-like pages for ease of collection are called “shanmian.” From a formal perspective, there are round fans called “tuanshan” (wanshan) and folding fans known as “zheshan.”

Fan painting is a longstanding traditional art form in China. During the Song and Yuan dynasties, tuanshan painting was widely popular. Since the Ming dynasty, zheshan painting has gradually taken the lead. Countless extraordinary and ethereal masterpieces have been created by literati and scholars, becoming an integral part of China’s cultural and artistic treasury.

The folded fan’s surface is wide at the top and narrow at the bottom, forming a fan shape. When artists wield their brushes, they must consider arranging the composition within this specific spatial range, employing meticulous thoughts and skillful techniques to create captivating imagery. Only in this way can artists demonstrate unique craftsmanship, allowing their brushes to move freely, transcending limitations and creating images and artistic realms that are enchanting.

Truly remarkable folded fan paintings include the large folded fan painted by Emperor Xuande of the Ming dynasty, preserved in the Palace Museum, and the earliest Ming dynasty Yongle and Xuande era fan painting “Fishing Boat in the Reed Trees” by Xie Jin, collected by the Shanghai Museum. At that time, Suzhou experienced economic prosperity, while the influence of “Yuanhua” (court painting) waned, and the “Zhe School” rose to prominence, taking over from the “Zhe School.” Led by Shen Zhou and followed by Wen Zhengming, there were also Tang Yin and Qiu Ying, known as the “Four Masters of the Wu School.” Their skills were comprehensive, and their themes extensive, marking the most active period of the Wu School painting during the Chenghua to Jiajing periods of the Ming dynasty and the flourishing period of calligraphic arts. For example, fan paintings by Wen Zhengming were compiled in the Qing dynasty’s “Wen Zhengming Fan Painting Collection.” Wu Rongguang stated, “Among the Four Masters of the Ming dynasty, Tang Yin, Shen Zhou, Wen Zhengming, and Qiu Ying were the pioneers of fan painting, giving rise to the fan painting trend in the Wu region.” Consequently, the fan painting trend flourished, attracting celebrities, prominent figures, famous schools, and literati and scholars who excelled in fan painting, ultimately forming a distinctive form of painting since the Ming and Qing dynasties. The shape of the folding fan, a semi-circular form, is defined by an arc and two circular radii passing through the endpoints of this arc. Countless extraordinary painters have poured their talents into it.

With clever composition, when the fan is unfolded, it does not give the impression of being painted on a semi-circular fan surface but rather appears as if painted on a flat rectangular scroll. Fan paintings can truly reflect the artistic essence of each artist.

calligraphy and Chinese fans

Fan calligraphy, in essence, refers to the art of writing on fan surfaces. Fans were used by ancient people to fan themselves and cool down, while fan surfaces were used for calligraphy and painting, serving as objects of appreciation and collection. It is also one of the unique forms of ancient Chinese painting. The exchange of fans and collaborative calligraphy and painting on fan surfaces were elegant activities among Chinese literati.

Fan calligraphy, like fan painting, is an artistic creation on fan surfaces. In the early days, calligraphers and painters mainly used round silk “wanshan” fans. After folding paper fans became popular in the Ming dynasty, painting and calligraphy on folded fan surfaces became another option.

Fan calligraphy, as an object of appreciation and collection, possesses its own unique artistic characteristics and provides a sense of aesthetic enjoyment. The composition of fan calligraphy is more challenging than regular calligraphy. It mainly involves managing the relationship between the fan ribs and the number of characters written, carefully calculating the number of characters and arranging the blank spaces between the fan ribs. The overall principle is to maintain coordination and avoid inconsistencies in tension. It is recommended to draft before writing, ensuring confidence before writing on the fan.

Writing on fan surfaces, especially on ribbed fan surfaces, is challenging due to the uneven surface and difficulty in brushwork. Therefore, it is not suitable to write too few characters. When writing multiple characters, the fan surface should be flattened as much as possible, and the left, right, and top should be pressed with paperweights to write the characters in the blank spaces between the fan ribs. Since the mounted fan surface loses some of the effects of Xuan paper, it is advisable not to soak the brush in ink excessively. Additionally, the choice of seal should not be too large and should be coordinated with the size of the characters on the fan surface. The calligraphic style for fan calligraphy generally avoids using wild cursive script.

Due to the wide-top and narrow-bottom shape of the fan surface, the folding lines also follow this pattern. This unique style requires appropriate arrangement during the creative process.

There are three common formats for folded fan surfaces:

(1) Fully utilize the upper part and leave the lower part unused. This format is suitable for writing two characters per line, from right to left, arranged in sequence. The colophon is written on the left side of the main text. The colophon can be longer, consisting of one or several lines, and the seal should be smaller than the main text.

(2) Write fewer characters, utilizing the width of the fan surface from right to left, horizontally writing two to four characters, maintaining a balanced arrangement. The colophon can be written in several lines of small characters, creating a harmonious contrast with the main text.

(3) Write on the upper part in sequence and alternate lines on the lower part, creating a pattern of varying lengths. This arrangement avoids a situation where the upper part appears sparse and the lower part appears crowded, achieving overall harmony. In this format, it is advisable to write longer lines of around five characters and shorter lines of one or two characters. The colophon should be concise and is generally written after the main text, consisting of one or several lines. The seal should be smaller than the colophon.

when was the Chinese fan invented?

According to historical records, fans have a history of 3000-4000 years in China, but in reality, the use of fans by ancient people definitely predates the documented records. Fans have a long history.

who invented the Chinese fan?

According to legend, fans were invented by Emperor Shun in his search for talented individuals. At that time, fans were more of a ceremonial tool and were not used by ordinary people for fanning and cooling. From the literary records, the earliest mention of “fans” may be found in Cui Bao’s “Ancient and Modern Annotations on Transportation and Clothing” during the Jin Dynasty. It states: “The Five Ming Fans were made by Emperor Shun. After he received the mandate from Emperor Yao and opened up his vision and hearing, he sought talented individuals to assist him, so he made the Five Ming Fans. During the Qin and Han dynasties, they were used by officials and nobles. During the Wei and Jin dynasties, they were not allowed to be used except by those riding in carriages.”

The Five Ming Fans were also known as “sha,” shaped like a “gate.” The fan surface resembled a door and needed to be held by someone while standing around the person, symbolizing the opening of the gate to seek talented individuals. We have all seen such scenes in period dramas, where the emperor sits in the center, and two palace maids hold “fans” crossed behind his back. Therefore, initially, fans were not used for fanning. The Five Ming Fans were used as a type of ceremonial fan in ancient times. By the Zhou Dynasty, the arrangement of these ceremonial fans was associated with noble ranks, and it defined hierarchical distinctions: “The emperor had eight fans, the feudal lords had six fans, the high officials had four fans, and the scholars had two fans.”

From an archaeological perspective, the earliest images of fans can be seen in carvings on Eastern Zhou and Warring States bronze artifacts, as well as the remains of wooden handle feather fans unearthed from the Chu tomb in Tianxingguan, Jiangling. In terms of usage, they were held by slave attendants to shield their masters from wind and sunlight, symbolizing authority more than practical application. This information is derived from Mr. Shen Congwen’s book “A History of Fans.” The earliest surviving complete fan artifact is a long-handled fan made of woven bamboo strips and wooden handle unearthed from the Ma Wangdui tomb in Changsha, Hunan, dating back to the Western Han Dynasty.

can Chinese give fans as gifts

As a traditional gift, the fan carries profound cultural and symbolic meanings. Here are explanations of the symbolism and meaning associated with giving a fan as a gift:

Cooling and relief: The fan provides a sense of coolness and comfort during the summer, symbolizing the desire to alleviate heat and bring relief. By giving a fan as a gift, it expresses wishes for the recipient’s health and comfort.

Blessing and well-being: The fan symbolizes peace and good health. Giving a fan as a gift can convey blessings to the recipient, hoping for their good health and well-being.

Elegance and refinement: As a cultural and artistic item, the fan has a long history and exquisite craftsmanship. Giving a fan as a gift showcases the giver’s recognition of the recipient’s taste and cultural refinement, expressing wishes for an elegant and cultured life.

Friendship and care: Fans are often given to close friends and loved ones, conveying a sense of friendship and care. It symbolizes cherishing intimate relationships and expresses the bond between individuals.

Good luck and happiness: In some cultures, the fan is seen as a symbol of good luck, warding off evil, offering blessings, and bringing good fortune. Giving a fan as a gift can convey wishes for happiness and auspiciousness to the recipient.

chinese fans in the world

In history, Chinese fans have been spread to countries such as Japan, Europe, and America, and have had a certain influence on the production of fans and court etiquette in these countries, known as European fans. As early as the Tang Dynasty, Chinese silk fans were introduced to Japan and became popular in the Japanese court. During the Tenryaku era (970-972), the court fans were made with purple sandalwood handles inlaid with mother-of-pearl, and Chinese red silk as the fan surface, showcasing a luxurious style. Emperor Enyu (970-984) even used silk fans as gifts to reward meritorious officials. In the early Qing Dynasty, folding fans from China were exported to Japan in large quantities. In the early 16th century, Chinese folding fans were introduced to Europe. Due to the lack of high-quality paper, Portugal and Spain used delicate calf leather and lamb skin as fan surfaces, known as leather folding fans. Some of them were also sprinkled with perfume, called scented leather folding fans. During the same period, Chinese silk and calf leather folding fans became popular in the French court. In the 18th century, France imported a large number of bamboo fan frames from China and assembled and produced folding fans in Paris, making it the center of fan craftsmanship in Europe. The folding fans used by French court ladies had fan frames made of ivory, mother-of-pearl, tortoiseshell, and ash wood, intricately carved with swirl patterns, rose flowers, and other Rococo-style designs. The fan surfaces were made of lamb skin, paper, chicken skin, Chinese silk, and yarn, decorated with painting, embroidery, beadwork, and more, displaying a beautiful style. In the late 17th century, Chinese folding fans were introduced to England, gradually flourishing the production of folding fans in the country. On April 19, 1709, with the approval of Queen Anne (1665-1714), more than 200 London fan craftsmen established their guild. By 1747, the London Fan Guild had 839 members. In the 17th and 18th centuries, folding fans had become gifts or souvenirs for engagement, marriage, coronation, celebration of victory, king’s recovery, funerals, balls, and other ceremonial events in European courts.

dream fan meaning

  • Dreaming of a fan can evoke feelings of loneliness. A love negotiation is about to begin! The emotional issues encountered today will be approached with rationality, patience, and empathy. Taking the other person’s perspective into consideration can often resolve difficulties. It’s also important to have a nurturing mindset, as relationships require careful cultivation to thrive.
  • For individuals born in the zodiac year associated with the dream of a fan, maintaining a childlike heart and a joyful mood can bring good luck and help avoid self-inflicted troubles.
  • If a student dreams of a fan, it suggests lower performance in the science subjects but still reaching the admission criteria overall.
  • For pregnant individuals dreaming of a fan, it indicates the birth of a girl. If the dream occurs in winter, it suggests the birth of a boy, but caution should be exercised to prevent miscarriage and going beyond the due date.
  • Dreaming of a fan, according to the analysis based on the Five Elements of Chinese metaphysics (Wu Xing), the lucky number is 6. The love position is in the southwest, and the wealth position is in the west. The auspicious color is red, and lucky food is seaweed (紫菜).
  • Dreaming of a fan suggests that you may engage in a legal dispute due to financial issues. However, it is a minor lawsuit and will not be serious, so there is no need to worry excessively.
  • For individuals in a romantic relationship dreaming of a fan, if their family has objections, they should not lose hope as there is still a chance for marriage.
  • Dreaming of a fan signifies that you will receive help from friends and overcome difficulties.
  • For businesspeople dreaming of a fan, caution and avoiding impatience are advised. Careful management will prevent losses.
  • For individuals born in the zodiac year associated with the dream of a fan, the dream suggests a lack of smooth fortune. It is recommended to maintain a conservative and stable approach, avoiding major investments or significant changes.
  • For individuals in a romantic relationship dreaming of a feather fan, it indicates that after three years of testing, they will eventually achieve their desires, resulting in a happy and successful marriage.
  • Dreaming of a fan suggests that you will receive help from friends and overcome difficulties.
  • For businesspeople dreaming of a broken fan, it signifies the need to organize and rectify disorderliness, as failure and losses may occur otherwise.
  • For pregnant individuals dreaming of a flying fan, it suggests the birth of a girl, while in the ninth or tenth month, it suggests the birth of a boy.
  • If a student dreams of making a fan, it indicates poor performance in the humanities subjects, not meeting the admission scores.

How To Make a Chinese Fan?

Making Chinese fans is easier than most people think. Here are five simple steps to follow to make your Chinese fan:

Step 1: Decide how wide you want your fan folds to be and mark it out. Cut it out so you have a strip of paper.

Step 2: Trace the strip you created for your fan folds on a white piece of paper. Keep tracing the strip, turning it around to form a half-circle.

Step 3: Cut out the tracing and paint it with your decorations of choice. You could paint a bird on it, or flowers like the Chinese blossom. You could even draw mountains. Once the drawing is complete, fold the paper along the lines you drew while tracing.

Step 4: Drill holes on one end of the sticks you’ll attach to the fan. You can use ice-cream sticks for this. Once you’ve drilled the holes, string them together with a thread.

Step 5: Attach the sticks to the folded paper along the folds. That’s it, you now have a custom-made Chinese fan.

What Is Chinese Fan Dance

The Chinese fan dance is a dance characterized by consistently changing rhythms and body positions. It’s normally performed to celebrate Chinese culture. According to the Chinese Educational Development Project, the dance symbolizes grace, beauty, and delicacy. It is also a representation of joy.

Fan dancing is also a form of entertainment. The fans are usually props accompanied by brightly colored costumes. Others consider it a form of exercise, where participants exercise discipline. That is because you need to be responsible to come for the regular rehearsals so you can memorize the dance moves. The choreography of the dance also requires physical fitness.

Historically, the Chinese fan dance originated from the Han Dynasty which was known to value and preserve Chinese art. That is why the fan dance is practiced even today. Initially, there were two variations of the fan dance – civilian and military. Civilian fan dance is what most people watch today. It’s detailed and graceful and uses fans and other props to increase the beauty of the dance. The military version is a more rigid authoritative style that is used for military exercise and exhibition. They rarely even use the fans for this dance.

How To Do Chinese Fan Dance

The Chinese fan dance may seem like a complicated dance when watching it, given the changing body positions and music rhythms. The dance is however a simple one to follow with the right instructions.

To start, you need two fans made of either feather and silk. Hold the fans on each hand and hold out your arm on each side. Begin fluttering the fans as you slowly raise your arms above your head. You can repeat this step when changing direction or during walking steps.

As you lower your arms back down, bring them in front of you as if you are reaching out for something. Counting 1-8, turn your wrists in and out as you open and close the fans. Count 1-8 again as you continue with the same movement. Now slowly tilt your upper body to one side, raising one arm over your head while the other one is stretched out on your side. Keep flattering the fans as you do this. Lower your arm back, so they’re both on your sides like in the starting position.

With the arms stretched out in front of you and the fans held close together, bend your knees and move up and down. Turn your upper body to the right and left and then raise your arms above you abruptly crossing one fan in front of the other. Hold the position for a few seconds to represent power. From there you can start a new dance or repeat the steps we’ve mentioned above.


Chinese fans were an important part of Ancient China’s history. You would see everyone from commoners to royalties holding one. Even today, if you were to visit China in the summer, you would see many Chinese fanning themselves. You can also easily find the fans being peddled or in many of the stores in China. Alternatively, you can always use the steps we’ve shared with you to make your own.

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