Hand Fans University

Hand Fans University

In the olden days, hand fans were considered as the most innovative cooling accessory. Traditionally ribbed with bamboo and sandalwood in the East and with gold- or silver-trimmed ivory, mother-of-pearl, and tortoise shell in the West and leafed with silk, feathers, lace, and other natural materials that were regarded opulent of the era, only the royals and the rich were privileged to own them. As such, hand fans attained their status as cooling implements that hint their user's social rank.

Hand fans were also used as a means of communication both in the East and in the West. In Japan, for instance, hand fans were used to write rules, court orders, and messages before they were painted and actually regarded as decorative cooling accessories. The Victorian era in Europe was accredited for the famed "Language of the Fans" which consists of hand fan gestures with corresponding messages that are directed by a lady to her lover. In China, calligraphy artists also used the hand fans for writing poems, prose, essays, and messages.

The Evolution and Brief History of Asian Fans

The Leaf and Feather Fans of Egypt

The earliest hand fans in Asia can be traced back to the leaf and feather fans of the Egyptians, which were big, fixed, semi-circular in shape, with long handles, and which were used in this desert country for providing a cool breeze, for driving away insects, blocking out the sunlight, and many others. Egyptian nobles frequently used them and made them more attractive with ostrich plumes and jewels, like the decorative hand fans discovered in Tutankhamen's tomb in ancient Egypt, thus, they became the symbol of royalty.1,2

The Bamboo, Silk, Paper, and Silk Screen Fans of China

In China, a legend has it that hand fans were discovered when a farmer, who was irritated by lots of flies and mosquitoes, picked a big leaf with a long stem from a plant close by to drive the pests away. To his delight, his effort resulted in cooling air and movements that scared the insects away.3

The earliest Chinese hand fans were aide-mounted, woven bamboo hand fans from the 2nd century B.C. They were designed with shorter handle so they can be carried around and used much more easily to strengthen the fire when making ceramics. Later, hand fans that were made of bamboo, paper, and silk were invented, which came to be called the traditional Chinese fans.

Screen hand fans, also known as bian mian, were also used in China since the 12th century B.C.E for warfare rather than as fashionable cooling implements. Chinese artists also made hand fans as a canvas for writing poems and paintings, and the details of their design subsequently made the hand fans an indicator of social status, happiness, or an event.

Folding Fans of Japan

Japan is renowned as the home of the famous folding fans, which design is modeled after the wings of the bat, thus they are called komori, which is the Japanese word for bat.4 In the early days, hand fans were widely used by the Japanese warriors as a weapon. In the 1500s, for instance, Japanese command troops used fans that are made from stick covered in black lacquer and with guards of bronze or iron that were supported by a heavy paper leaf upon which displayed a sun or moon device.5

Japanese hand fans are frequently depicted also in the image of a geisha, used as props in Japanese dances and performances, served as presents for special occasions, trays for holding gifts, or toys for children. The Japanese also believes that the top of the handle of the fan symbolizes the beginning of life while the ribs stand for the roads of life going out in all directions to bring good fortune and happiness.5