Chinese Fans Art
In China's big cities, you now rarely see anyone using a traditional fan to keep cool.At home,Fans seem to have given way to electric fans and air-conditioners.
However, in rural areas, the traditional fan is still a popular item. Beyond theirpractical use, they are still used as artistic props in plays, dances and story telling. The fine craftsmanship that goes into the making of fans also guarantees their place as art work in homes and pulic places.
Four major types of fan include the feather fan, Chinese-fan-palm leaf fan, folding fan and silk fan.
As its name suggests,feather fans are made of feathers.Scholars believe it to be the oldest type of Chinese fan. The Chinese character for the word fanin-cludes the word featheras part of the compostion.The feathers from eagles,magpies,cranes, kingfishers and peacocks have all served as feather fan material. Up to the end of the han dynasty about 1,800 years ago, holding a feathere fan was fash-ionable amongst the literati and officials. By the beginning of the eighth century,the feather fan had become a deccoration. The emperor at that time would flank himself with 156 peacock feather fans when he received homage from his ministers. He also sent white feather fans to his ministers to show his favor. A noted poet of the time, Bai Juyi, noce wrote a poem about white feather fans. The translation is to the effect that:
White in natural color,
Round due to proper tailoring,
Soughing like wind in the trees,
And flosting in the air like a crane.
It retains coolness even in summer time,
And produces wind all the year round.
From your hand it brings autumn,
And under your arms it hides like a bright moon.
This poem captures the fondness for feather fans from more than 1,000 years ago.In the Song Dynasty, the 156 peacock feather fans were replaced by an even ore magnificent version of the same idea: four pheasant feather fans with stylized double dragons and phoenixes.
The emperors and their ministers of the Qing Dynasty were fond of hunting. They would often take ferocious vultures with them. This spawned the birth and popularty of the rectangular vulture feather fans amohnst the upper class. They were usually made of sis to nine feathers and could be as long as half a meter.The best of its kind were very expensive.
There are many kinds of fans made of different materials. The following are the major kinds made in China: fans made of bamboo and paper, bone and feather, ivory and carved lacquerware and paper or silk. Fans made of palm tree leaves are both economical and practical and are very popular among the people. And the most precious fans are those made of mother-of-pearls.
Today,China's feather fans are made mainly of goose feathers.Most are peach-shaped,consisting of about 40 feathers.On the snow-white wurface of fans,differentdesigns are made of gold and silver silk thread. Some include green peacockfeathers as edging and may include a red velvet flower in the middle, presenting a gorgeous picture.
Compared with the feather fan, the Chinese-fan-palm-leaf fan has a history of only about 1,500 years. It is cheaper and produces lots of cooling wind which makes it a popular favorite. The process ofproducing a Chinese-fan-palm-leaf fan is quite complicated. First, you need a light green Chinese- fan-palm-leaf with a stalk about 15 centimeters long. Let it sit for about 20 days,then wash it and dry it until it is the color of jade. Once you have got teh color r ight, you press itinto shape and tailor it according to its size.You then trim its edges with thread. The most famous fans of this kind are glass-white fans made of young Chinese-fan- palm-leaves. This style is often painted.
The term for folding fan in Chinese is Che-San. Kuo Jo-hsu in the late 11th century commented about folding fans in his book on painting:
"The Korean envoys in China sometimes gave folding fans as personal presents. These fans are made of (dark) blue coloured paper. Paintings on the fans are figure objects, dignified men and women strolling or on horseback in the countryside."
"There are riverbanks and streams in gold, lotus flowers, trees and waterfowls all ingeniously rendered in this decorative metallic style. There are silver tones appearing like mist and moonlight with is extremely attractive. These originated in Japan and are known as Wo-Shan (Japanese fans). In recent years they dropped out of sight are rarely found in the market."
The nest type fan is the silk fan. ts full-moon shape led to it being called the round fan. The frame is usually made of iron or bamboo slips. A piece of silk is stretched over the frame and is then decorated with colored drawings.For a time, this type fan was popular among young ladies in the royal court or who came from wealthy families .
The folding fans are the most popular in China even today.They came onto use ring the Song Dynasty about 700 years ago. The folding fands used by emperors and their ministers had ivory,sandalwood or mottled bamboo as the mount which was oftencarved with figures of birds, flowers, landscapes and even poems. These fans often came with a matching jade pendant. When the ministers gathered, they would proudly display their folded fans.
Most surviving fans from the Ming and Ch'ing dynasties show little sign of wear because from the 15th century onwards fans were respected and mounted in albums, just as were the round palace fans of the Sung dynasty. They became collectors items even in the time they were made. Aware that their fans were not simply used and discarded, but collected and appreciated, the fan painters expanded their creative abilities in poetry, painting and calligraphy to their utmost. In no other art were the Three Excellences of Chinese art - painting, calligraphy and poetry - so significantly and successfully entwined as in the folding fan.
The 18th and 19th centuries in China also saw the production of fans solely for the export market. Beautiful in their own right many people do not realise that these fans were made by the Chinese to cater for 'barbarian' tastes and were not used by the Chinese themselves. A perfect example of this sort of art would be the 'thousand face' or 'mandarin' fan that still often comes up for sale in western markets. Also for export the Chinese excelled in exquisite ivory, Sandalwood, mother of pearl and tortishell carved brise fans. The early ones often have the delicacy of lace and have the initials of the buyer carved into the 'leaf'. In 1906 The Ch'ing dynasty ended in the blood, chaos and looting of the boxer rebellion. A republic was decalared, but by this time "The old China trade", of which fans had been one of it's specialties, had been consigned to the history books. The years between the end of the last dynasty and the founding of the mod ern Peoples Republic of China were ones of chaos and rebellion in China and they left their mark on the arts.
In the 20th century the cultural revolution in China probably had the most impact on fan production. It swept away the literati traditions of previous centuries as bourgeois and destroyed much of China's rich cultural history. In the 20th century there have been artists who have revived previous traditions, but they are few and far between. Many ancient forms of fans are still produced, but mostly on a commercialised, factory made basis. The most common modern fans coming out of China are printed fans. In the 1950-70's these tended to have 'great-march-forward' themes. They are often found with 'traditional' Chinese landscapes with red flags and trucks prominently featured in the landscape. Another common type is the modern pien-mein. This is usually in the form of sheer silk stretched over a frame with a simple picture painted on the silk. These do not have any of the artistic value of past centuries and are often easily broken. The last common form of export fan is cockade fan that once again has a printed 'traditional' leaf that closes up to a black metal guard stick/handle. This means that while china still produces fans in a large number they are only a shadow of a rich and long history.
Tradition has it, folded fans were introduced to China from Japan and Korea about 1,000 years ago. They were usually made with fine paper mounted on bamboo. The scholars found it interesting to paint their poetic and artistic expressions on the surface.
A great variety of fans have been produced in China; sandalwood, ivory, even gold, silver and jade have been used as material.
Of particular interest is the sandalwood fan. Its most outstanding characteristic is the pleasant, fragrant scent that comes from the wood. Even in modern air-conditioned environment, it will certainly enhance the elegance and femininity of the lady holding it gracefully in her hand. It emits subtle fragrance which is as enchanting and refreshing as any expensive perfume. Palm fans were made in the Jin Dynasty (265-420 AD) and have been widely used by the Chinese people. They are very useful and welcomed by people of less expensive taste.