It’s a memory now, but the hot weather of this past summer started me thinking about fans.
Most from older generations remember the plain paper fans – usually marked with an advertisement – always present at church services during hot weather. This convenience was also provided wherever folks gathered for special occasions.
Today, air conditioning has replaced such niceties.
Legend has it … During the dynasties in China, legends developed concerning hand-held fans. When a concubine fell from favor with her emperor, she sent him a fan inscribed with a poem to show her dismay. Her message was that in the summer she was a favorite, however, just as the fan is discarded when autumn cold days arrive, so, too, has she been discarded as the emperor’s moods change.
For decades, a deserted wife was called an “autumn fan.”
Another one of many Taoist gods came upon a woman fanning her husband’s newly covered grave – she had promised him that she would not remarry until the soil had dried, however she was in a hurry to remarry. The god dried the soil hurriedly, the girl ran off and left the fan, the god then chose the fan as his symbol.
A job well done. Legend or no legend, fans for all purposes were, quite simply, a cooling device.
Historical records reveal bamboo framed fans were discovered in tombs in China constructed 200 years before Christ’s birth. Possibly these are what are called “pianmain” screen fans, one of three types used in China at that time.
Screen fans were constructed of feathers and silk or just stretched silk, usually decorated with paintings or embroidery.
There were fans for each season, and the design and appearance of the fan designated social and governing status. Similar fans were made for domestic use, but were not as elaborate.
To the traveler, these fancy and attractive fans became a souvenir, however due to their flimsy material, few remain.
A ceremonial type called “tuanshan” was larger. It was attached to a long handle for servants to move about their employers or over the heads of dignitaries.
The most familiar fan, a folding type named “zhe shan,” is questionable in origin, possibly Japan and arrived in China as a token gift from “barbarians from the South East.”
Fanned the globe. Folding fans were imported into Europe and later North America.
Then, as is true whenever an article or product is widely sought after, imitation begins. But attempting to imitate without sure expertise results in lower quality merchandise, both in appearance and refinement. This is exactly what occurred in Europe when manufacturers sought to duplicate the finer and artistic abilities of the Chinese, not only in fans but ceramics and other art forms.
The oldest preserved fans from China are from the 1600s. These have ivory carved fan sticks and the decoration is quite similar to Chinese Imari and other artistic forms of that era. Carved ivory sticks remained a favorite well into the 1800s.
Large circular fans, known as cockade fans, were in high favor from about 1795 through 1810.
Brise fans were of various materials, lacquered wood embellished with gold were common, more expensive types used mother of pearl and tortoise shell.
A special gift type, silver gilt filigree and cloisonn