A hand-held fan
is an implement used to induce an
airflow for the purpose of cooling or refreshing oneself. Any
broad, flat surface waved back-and-forth will create a small
airflow and therefore can be considered a rudimentary fan. But
generally, purpose-made hand-held fans are shaped like a circle
segment made of a thin material (such as paper or feathers) mounted
to slats which revolve around a pivot so that it can be closed when
not in use.
The movement of a hand-held fan provides cooling by increasing the
airflow over the skin which in turn increases the evaporation
rate of sweat
droplets on the skin. This evaporation has a
cooling effect due to the latent heat
evaporation of water.
Fans are convenient to carry around, and the folding kind in
particular are compact to carry.
China, screen fans were used throughout the
The earliest known Chinese fans are a pair of woven
side-mounted fans from the 2nd century
BC. The Chinese character
"fan" (扇) is etymologically derived from a picture of feathers
under a roof. The Chinese fixed fan, pien-mien
, means 'to
agitate the air'.
19th century depiction of a Japanese
Fans were part of the social status for the Chinese people. A
particular status and gender would accord a specific type of fan to
an individual. During the Song Dynasty
famous artists would often be commissioned to paint picture on the
surface of a fan.
folding fan was invented in Japan in the 8th
century and taken to China in the 9th century.
(or Japanese folding fan;
衵扇; Hiōgi) originated in the 6th century. These were fans held by
aristocrats of the Heian period
formally dressed. They were made by tying thin stripes of hinoki
(or Japanese cypress) together with
thread. The number of strips of wood differed according to the
person's rank. They are used today by Shinto
priests in formal costume and in the formal costume of the Japanese
court (they can be seen used by the Emperor and Empress during
coronation and marriage) and are brightly painted with long
tassels. The Chinese dancing fan was developed in the 7th century.
The Chinese form of the hand fan was a row of feathers mounted in
the end of a handle.
the folding fan came into fashion during the Ming dynasty between the years of 1368 and 1644, and Hangzhou was a center
of folding fan production.
(or Chinese dancing fan) has ten sticks and a thick
paper mount showing the family crest. Chinese painters crafted many
fan decoration designs. The slats, of ivory
, mother of pearl
or tortoise shell
carved and covered with paper
. Folding fans have "montures" which are the
sticks and guards. The leaves are usually painted by craftsman.
Social significance was attached to the fan in the Far East. The
management of the fan became a highly regarded feminine art. The
function and employment of the fan reached its high point of social
significance (fans were even used as a weapon - called the iron fan
, or tiě
in Chinese, tessen
Japanese). Simple Japanese paper fans are sometimes known as
"harisen". In Japanese current pop culture, Harisen are featured
frequently in animation and graphic novels as weapons.
Printed fan leaves and painted fans are done on a paper ground. The
paper was originally hand made and displayed the characteristic
watermarks. Machine made paper fans, introduced in the 19th
century, are smoother with an even texture.
Folding fans (扇子 Japanese "sensu", Chinese: "shànzi";) continue to
be important cultural symbols and popular tourist souvenirs in East
of all types (but maiko most
often) use folding fans in their fan dances as well.
See also: Chinese paper art
Japanese fans are made of paper on a bamboo frame, usually with a
design painted on them. The fan is primarily used for fanning
oneself in hot weather.
The fan symbolizes friendship, respect and good wishes. It is a
gift that is given to people on special occasions, and it is also
an important stage prop for the Japanese dance performances.
It was also used in the military as a way of sending signals on the
field of battle, however fans were mainly used for social and court
activities. They were used by warriors as a form of weapon, actors
and dancers for performances, and children as a toy.
The fan stands for many things, the Japanese believe that the
handle of the fan symbolizes the beginning of life and the ribs are
for the roads of life going out in all directions.
Depiction of an 18th century folding
fan with French design patterns.
, during the Middle Ages
, the fan was absent. Christian
Europe's earliest fan was the flabellum
(or ceremonial fan), which dates to the 6th century. These were
used during services to drive insects away from the consecrated
bread and wine. Their use died out in western Europe during the
Middle Ages, but continues in the Eastern Orthodox and Ethiopian
Churches. Hand fans were reintroduced to Europe in the 13th century
and 14th century. Fans from the Middle East were brought back by
. In the 15th century,
Portuguese traders brought fans to Europe from China and Japan.
Fans became generally popular.
In the 1600s the folding fan, introduced from China, became popular
in Europe. These fans are particularly well displayed in the
portraits of the high-born women of the era. Queen Elizabeth 1st of
England can be seen to carry both folding fans decorated with pom
poms on their guardsticks as well as the older style rigid fan,
usually decorated with feathers and jewels. These rigid style fans
often hung from the skirts of ladies, but of the fans of this era
it is only the more exotic folding ones which have survived. Those
folding fans of the 15th century found in museums today have either
leather leaves with cut out designs forming a lace-like design or a
more rigid leaf with inlays of more exotic materials like mica. One
of the characteristics of these fans is the rather crude bone or
ivory sticks and they way the leather leaves are often slotted onto
the sticks rather than glued as with later folding fans. Fans made
entirely of decorated sticks without a fan 'leaf' were known as
. However, despite the
relative crude methods of construction folding fans were at this
era high status, exotic items on par with elaborate gloves as gifts
In the 17th century the rigid fan which was seen in portraits of
the previous century had fallen out of favour as folding fans
gained dominance in Europe. Fans started to display well painted
leaves, often with a religious or classical subject. The reverse
side of these early fans also started to display elaborate flower
designs. The sticks are often plain ivory or tortoiseshell,
sometimes inlaid with gold or silver pique work. The way the sticks
sit close to each other, often with little or no space between them
is one of the distinguishing characteristics of fans of this
the Edict of Nantes was revoked in
This caused large scale immigration from
France to the surrounding Protestant countries (such as England) of
many fan craftsman. This dispersion in skill is reflected in the
growing quality of many fans from these non-French countries after
In the 18th century, fans reached a high degree of artistry and
were being made throughout Europe often by specialized craftsmen,
either in leaves or sticks. Folded fans of lace
, or parchment
were decorated and painted by artists.
Fans were also imported from China by the East India Companies at
this time. Around the middle 1700s, inventors started designing
mechanical fans. Wind-up fans (similar to wind-up clocks) were
popular in the 1700s. In the 19th century in the West
, European fashion caused fan decoration
and size to vary.
It has been said that in the courts of England, Spain and elsewhere
fans were used in a more or less secret, unspoken code of messages
. These fan
languages were a way to cope with the restricting social etiquette.
However, modern research has proved that this was a marketing ploy
developed in the 18th century - one that has kept its appeal
remarkably over the succeeding centuries. This is now used for
marketing by fan makers like Duvelleroy in London who produced a
series of advertisements in the 1960s showing "the language of the
fan" with models displaying antique fans with this
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