Chinese Fans

Chinese Fans

CHINESE authorities are at variance concerning the invention of the fan, which has been attributed to the Emperor Hsien Yuan, b.c. 2697 ; to the Emperor Shun, B.C. 2255, and to the first ruler of the Chou dynasty, B.C. 1 122. 

According to a Chinese legend, it had its origin at the Feast of Lanterns, where, on an occasion when the heat became particularly oppressive, the beautiful daughter of a mandarin took off her mask, and agitated it so as to fan the air into a gentle breeze; the rest of the fair revellers were so much struck with the grace of the motion that they one and all let fall their masks and followed the example of the mandarin's daughter. 

The earliest fans were of the dyed feathers of various birds, and those of the peacock. We have an account of a present of two fans of feathers of ' tsio rouge,' offered to the Emperor Tchao-wang of the Chou dynasty, b.c. 1052, by the King of Thou-sieou, and it is affirmed in the ' Tchdou-li ' that one of the chariots of the empress carried a feather-fan for the purpose of 
keeping the wheels free from dust. [1]

The poet Thou-fou, in the ' Song of Autumn,' refers to fans of pheasants' feathers as in royal use. [2]The Emperor Kao-Tsong, of the Chang dynasty, 1323- 1266 B.C., having heard the cry of the pheasant, an omen of good luck, resolved thenceforth to use only fans composed of the tail feathers of this bird. 
[image]CIRCULAR FAN 'Like the Moon' borne by the guard of an Imperial concubine. 

These have continued in the service of royalty to a late period. A wing-shaped example, set laterally in a red lacquered handle, appearing in the hand of an attendant, in a fine painted roll, by Ch' in Ying of the Ming dynasty, illustrating the occupations of Court ladies, the larger feathers numbering seven, this being the sacred number composing the fan, which is the 
attribute of Chung-li Ch'uan, one of the eight Taoist Immortals, the seven broad feathers corresponding to the constellation of seven stars on the left of the moon (Great Bear), the seat in the Taoist heavens of their supreme deity, Shang Ti, round whom all the other star gods circulate in homage. This fan is illustrated on the large lacquered screen at the Victoria and Albert Museum, representing the Taoist Genii worshipping the god of Longevity, and 
constantly figures in pictorial and other representations. 

[image]from a painted roll OF MING DYNASTY (British Museum) 

Similar fans with several rows of pointed feathers appear in painted and decorative work ; a curious example being seen in a large drawing from Tonkin (Louvre). The outer row of feathers, white and pale blue ; the second, yellow ; the third, those of the peacock ; the body of the fan, green, red, white, and blue. 

In the lacquered screen above referred to, a large fan of this character is waved over the head of one of the devotees riding aloft on a cloud, wending his way towards the mountain paradise, the home of the God. 

The feather-fan is one of the chief attributes of Hsi Wang Mu, the famed Queen of the Genii (Royal Mother of the West), whose dwelling was a mountain palace in Central Asia, where she held Court with her fairy legions and received the great Taoist Rishis and certain favoured 
mortals, and whose amours with the Han Emperor Wu Ti have given much occupation for both author and artist. [3] 

[image]FAN OF HSI WANG MU (From a Japanese painting British Museum.) 

Her fan is borne by one of her four handmaidens, who, like the Dêva Kings of Mount Sumeru, are severally related to the four points of the compass. It assumes various shapes, as that of a wing, in the painting by a pupil of Itcho riu of the Japanese popular school, British Museum, 1722; a bunch of long pointed plumes set in a bamboo handle, in the painting (Chinese School of Japan, British Museum, 778), in which a young girl in deer-skin, standing beneath the sacred peach-tree of the Immortals, offers the fruit to the goddess who, with her attendant bearing the fan, appears upon a cloud above the waves. 

The queen is also represented with the large pear-shaped screen, as in the painting of the same school, British Museum, 1022, the screen decorated with the sun, moon, and clouds. In the painting previously referred to (No. 1722), the goddess herself holds a smaller pear-shaped 
screen. Each of the 'fore-mentioned paintings are Japanese, but the fan forms are, unquestionably, taken from older Chinese originals. 

(From a painting of the Chinese School of Japan. British Museum.) 
The earliest illustrations, however, of this personage and her fan, and probably the oldest representations of fans in Chinese art, are those of the sculptures of the Han dynasty, b.c. 206 -- a.d. 25. In these, Hsi-wang Mu, wearing a coroneted hat, is attended by ladies carrying cup, mirror, and fan. On the same relief the Emperor Mu Wang of the Chou dynasty, B.C. 1001, is attended by a servitor with fan and towel or handkerchief. In the frieze forming the lower part of the relief, we see the ' Chariot of the Sage ' preceded by two men on foot, with staves and fans. 

(From paintings in the British Museum.) 

On another of these reliefs, representing the discovery of one of the sacred bronze tripods, the ancient palladia of the kingdom, the two commissioners deputed by the Emperor to superintend its recovery from the river are attended by servitors bearing fans. These are the small hand-
screens (pien-mien) described by M. Rondot as being larger in the upper part, their shape approaching that of a reversed trapezium with the angles rounded off. 

This same author refers to four screens of white jade (regarded by the Chinese as the most precious of precious stones), the handles of an odoriferous amber, that were offered by the Emperor Chun-Hi of the Southern Sung dynasty, 1174-1190, to his Empress. At this time the 
screens were ornamented with incrustation and inscription, which was much esteemed, and this author quotes a curious passage from the Annals of the Thsi to the effect that Wang-sun-pen, of Kin-ling, represented in the space of a few inches a perspective view of rivers, mountains, valleys, and plains, stretching over a thousand miles of land. These screen pictures are 
referred to in the Ku yü t’ou pu, an illustrated catalogue of ancient jade, in one hundred books, compiled in 11 76 by an imperial commission headed by Lung Ta-Yuan, President of the Board of Rites. 

The small hand-screens assume a variety of forms -- circular, pear-shaped, heart-shaped, etc., and are made of various materials, as -- (1) The natural palm leaf, seen in the Chinese painting, British Museum, 37. (2) The palm leaf cut to various shapes, with a bamboo handle running 
up the middle, as in the Japanese example given on page 61. (3) Of bamboo ; from Chinese records we learn that on the fifth day of the fifth month of the year corresponding to our 219, the Emperor presented to the members of the Imperial Academy a fan of bamboo, carved and painted blue. There is also a record of an existing fan of oblong form, made of bamboo leaf, 
ornamented with bulrushes, an inscription on the field of the fan. This dates from the sixth century a.d. (4) Of the turtle shell: the two portions held together with metal plates, with a wooden or other handle, examples of which occur in the Musée Guimet, Paris. (5) Of silk stretched upon a frame, with painted or other decoration, as in the two charming examples 
illustrated from the collection of Mr. W. Crewdson. Both front and reverse are given: the latter decorated in that system of feather-work much affected by the Chinese, and in which they display great skill. The feathers are usually the turquoise tinted plumes of the kingfisher : in the present instance the design is alternated by an imbrication of peacocks' feathers. 
The handles are of carved ivory. 

There are also the cockade screens, usually of ivory or sandal-wood. 

Representations of the earlier large ceremonial banner screens appear on a carved pedestal of a Buddhist image, Northern Wei dynasty, a.d. 524 ; these are oval in form, and are seen in both sculptured and painted representations down to recent times. 

In the Musée Guimet in Paris is a large fan of red lacquer framework (reversed heart shape) enclosing a series of metal ribs through which the wind plays; in the centre are painted dragons. 

Among the painted representations in the India Museum, of objects from the Summer Palace at Pekin, is a circular screen, ' like the moon,' borne by the guard of an imperial concubine. See illustration, p. 46. 

A favourite device for the decoration of these larger screens is that of the fabled Phoenix, the Ho bird of the Japanese. This is seen in the painting of the Chinese school of Japan, British Museum, 822, in which one of the two attendants on a Chinese Emperor carries a long oval screen bordered with peacocks' feathers, and ornamented with two Phoenixes. [4] 

We therefore perceive that the ceremonies and customs relating to the fan, no less than the various forms which this instrument assumed, were practically identical with the ancient peoples of the East and West ; -- the same order of development, having its origin in the natural suggestion afforded by the wings of birds and of the broader leaved plants ; the fans of the Han dynasty reliefs, their exact counterpart being found in Egypt and Assyria ; the rigid hand-screens corresponding to those tabellae which the Romans derived from the Greeks, who in turn received them from the peoples of Asia Minor, and which, doubtless, had their origin in the more remote East ; the employment of the fan in both religious and civil ceremonial and in war. [5] 

Among the Bat Bu'u (eight precious things) carried at the end of staves by the inhabitants of Annam in their ceremonial processions, is a fan (Quat) symbolising the graceful perfection of the form of woman, and the light breeze that tempers the heat of the summer sun.[6] These Bat Bu'u are made in three ways --

1. Of carved wood lacquered and gilt. 

2. Of tin or pewter. 

3. In the form of transparencies to be lighted from within. 

A huge wooden fan is carried as part of the insignia of a mandarin's procession. [7]

The invention of the folding-fan is generally credited to the ingenious little inhabitants of the land of the rising sun ; its date, however, as well as its precise character, is impossible to determine with anything approaching to accuracy. Tradition says that it was designed by an artist who lived in the reign of the Emperor Jen-ji, about 670 a.d., and was formed upon the principle of the construction of a bat's wing, this being in conformity with the general usage of Japanese designers, who derived their artistic motifs from natural constructive forms. The date of its introduction into China is also a matter of considerable uncertainty: we have a reference to it in a Chinese work of the date 960, to the effect that the tsin-theou-chen, or folding-fan, was introduced by Tchang-ping-hai, and was supposed to be offered as a tribute by the barbarians of the south-east, who came, holding in their hands the pleated fan, which occasioned much laughter and ridicule. [8]All Chinese authors agree, however, that it was the invention of foreigners, i.e. the Japanese, who, together with the Tartars, possessed folding-fans before they were known in China. [9]

M. Rondot records the fact that at first, only courtesans made use of folding-fans, honest women carried round screens. [10]

Since the appearance of the folding-fan, various materials have been pressed into its service, including ivory, tortoise-shell, lacquer, mother of pearl, the various woods -- especially sandalwood, the more precious metals, silk, skin, and paper. 

No nation possesses a keener appreciation of ivory as a vehicle for artistic expression than the Chinese, whose carved balls in concentric spheres of open work are the wonder of western peoples. Ivory fans date from a very remote period, it is believed as early as 990 B.C., and 
are marvels of patient ingenuity. 

The Imperial Ivory Works within the palace at Peking was founded toward the close of the seventeenth century, and became the centre for the best production in this delicate material. 

Ivory fans are either of pierced flat open work, or elaborately carved with subjects, the backgrounds of which are formed by delicate ribbing, imparting a lightness and softness to the fan not obtainable by any other means. An extraordinarily skillful example is the cockade-fan in the Wyatt collection at South Kensington ; this, together with several others in the same collection, have monograms in cursive European characters, and were executed to the order of Europeans. In each instance the blades are connected by means of a ribbon running through the whole. One example only of these fans is given; that bearing the word 'Angela' --fitting name of the gentle lady whose memory is revered wherever the English language is spoken. 

Tortoise-shell is carved with the same consummate skill as ivory, and on the same principle of delicate piercing and ribbing. Two such fans occur in the Wyatt collection, profusely decorated in relief with figures of horsemen, buildings, boats, and flowers. The material, which is softened 
both by warm water and dry heat, is obtained from the loggerhead turtle of the Malay Archipelago and Indian Ocean, and imported to Canton, a centre both for tortoise-shell and ivory workers. An extremely effective and picturesque fan is that in the same collection, formed of the feathers of the Argus pheasant, cut short to the fan shape, the sticks of carved tortoise-shell. In this the colours of the feathers harmonise extremely well with the translucent red brown of the tortoise-shell. 

This material is also lacquered, one of the earliest and most prized of the Chinese arts, and the technique of which is fully described in the Ko ku yao Iu, [11]a learned work on antiquities published in the reign of Hung Wu, the founder of the Ming dynasty, 1387. This substance is obtained from the lac-tree (Rhus vernicifera), cultivated for the purpose throughout Central and Southern China. The tree exudes a resinous sap that becomes black upon its exposure to the air, the sap being extracted from the tree at night, during the summer months, and dried, ground, and strained through hempen cloth to an evenly flowing liquid, which is applied by the brush. 

Gold plays an important part both in the composition of the lacquer itself, to which it imparts a richness and pellucidity which is extremely beautiful, and also in its subsequent decoration. The fan and case of Canton lacquer in the Wyatt collection are richly decorated with panels of buildings and gardens, on a diapered background, overlaid with flowers, butterflies, and other devices, and are excellent examples of Chinese gold lacquer, an art which, although originating in China, has been somewhat neglected, and has, at a later period, been brought by the Japanese to a greater perfection than the Chinese have at any time attained. 

Sandalwood is largely employed for fans, on account of its lightness, the ease with which it is worked, and also its fine aroma. The tree is indigenous to India, and is imported by the Chinese, who employ it for a variety of purposes, including the perfumed joss-sticks which are common throughout the East. These fans are worked on the same principle of flat piercing as those of ivory. They are also carved in relief, but can scarcely be said to rival the last-named substance with its delicate variety of translucent softness. The large fan at South Kensington is a good 

Mother of pearl is a favourite material for fan-sticks on account of its beautiful play of iridescent colour. A number of fans of Chinese workmanship, both of mother of pearl and ivory, have found their way to Europe and have been remounted. Such a fan is that in the Wyatt collection with a subject finely painted on chicken skin by Eugene André. 

Bamboo has already been referred to as in early use. It is extensively employed for the cheaper fans on account of its durability as well as cheapness. The number of ribs vary from sixteen to thirty-six; the former may be regarded as the standard number. 

The art of filigree is practised by the Chinese with the most consummate skill; it is occasionally in gold, but more often in silver gilt, the gilding being employed for the double purpose of preventing tarnishing and for decorative effect. Filigree work is often enriched by means of 
inlay, either enamel, or the turquoise feathers of the kingfisher, which latter, however, are merely gummed on the surface of the metal, and, as a consequence, are wanting in durability. 

Enamelling has been practised in western Asia from a very early period, i.e. previous to the Christian era, and is believed to have reached China about the thirteenth century. There are two kinds, both accomplished by the process known as incrustation -- cloisonne, in which the 
pattern is raised on the surface of the metal by soldering on to it metal or wire strips of copper, silver, or gold, thus forming a series of cells or cloisons ; and champlevé, in which the cell-walls enclosing the pattern are either modelled and cast, or cut and hollowed out of the metal itself by 
means of graving tools : in both, the pattern is filled in with enamel. 

Of the colours, there are two well-contrasted shades of blue -- a dark tint made from cobalt and resembling the lapis-lazuli tone, and a light sky blue or turquoise; several greens made from copper, a dark coral red, a fine yellow, black, and white. 

Chinese enamels are usually fired in the open courtyard, protected only by a primitive cover of iron network, the charcoal fire being regulated by a number of men standing round with large fans in their hands. [12]

Of the interesting fans in which the combined arts of filigree and enamel are employed we give a charming example from the Wyatt collection at South Kensington. In this, the effective colour scheme is that of the two blues and gold ; the design being a conventional rendering of a Phoenix and foliage. In the colour plate given of the fan in the collection of Mr. M. Tomkinson, the leaf has a large cartouche in the centre representing a Chinese garden, with the hostess welcoming a visitor who has arrived on horseback, the servant bringing tea. On either side are small medallions of a sun-dial and a broken column, evidently introduced to the order of a European patron. 

Of the familiar class of fans having large compositions of figures of which the heads are of applied ivory, painted, the costumes of silk appliqud, the sticks of ivory elaborately carved, the example illustrated from the collection of Mr. Burdett-Coutts belonged to a mandarin of 
the first rank. A beautiful example was formerly in the possession of H.I.M. the Empress Eugénie, [13] the stick of sandalwood. The brins of these fans, twelve in number, are occasionally varied, as follows: -- Two of white ivory, pierced and carved ; two of silver filigree and enamel ; two of ivory, pierced and carved, coloured scarlet ; two of tortoise-shell, carved and pierced ; two of engraved white pearl ; and two of gilt filigree enamel. The panaches of gilt filigree, with silver dragons in relief. An example occurs in the collection of Mr. Messel, another was in the possession of the late Mr. R. W. Edis. 

Almost every important city or district in China has its characteristic fan -- something distinctive in the make, colour, or ornamentation of the folding-fan, which is the fan par excellence in the Chinese mind. The convenience of this fan will at once be apparent -- it occupies but little 
space, it may, when not in use, be stuck in the high boot of the full-dressed Chinaman, or in the ample folds of his dress. 

These fans are made to suit every class of society from mandarin to peasant -- to suit the changing seasons, in different sizes in proportion to the quantity of breeze required. The Son of Heaven, during the sultry summer months, employs fans of feathers, and during winter of silk. 
Fashion, however, lays down inexorable laws as to the time and period of their use, and to be seen with a fan too early or too late in the year is considered as mauvais ton. A poem by Ow-Yang Hisu informs us that ' In the tenth moon the people of the capital turn to their warm fans.' 

During the warm weather the fan forms part of the ceremony of tea-drinking ; the host takes his fan as soon as tea is drunk, and, bowing to the company, says, ' Thsing-chen ' (I invite you to fan yourselves); each guest immediately using his fan with great gravity and modesty. It is considered a breach of etiquette to be without a fan on such an occasion, or to refrain from its use. [14]

The Chinese have exhausted every species of ingenuity in the construction of fans of an outré character. The ' broken fan,' a curious trick, is to all intents and purposes a simple folding-fan, and opened from left to right presents no feature uncommon. On being opened to the reverse, 
the whole fan appears to fall to pieces, each bone, with the part attached, being separated from the other as though the connecting strings were broken : the principle is extremely simple, but the effect is surprising. 

A fan which has been styled the ' impracticable,' is of circular form, the radiants of ivory, tortoise-shell, sandalwood, or metal filigree, perforated to such a degree as to render it useless as a means of disturbing the air. These are elaborately carved with figures, scroll-work, and other designs, or with birds, flowers, etc., in silver gilt filigree. 

The ' double-entente ' fan, opened in the ordinary manner, exhibits some harmless motif such as a flower, bird, or landscape ; opened the reverse way, it discloses a ribald sketch that would entail severe penalties on its maker if discovered. The Peking variety shows two such pictures 
which are not seen when the fan is opened, but are disclosed by turning back the two end ribs of the fan. 

The 'dagger-fan' is an invention of the Japanese, its importation into China being strictly forbidden. In its outward appearance it is sufficiently harmless, being apparently an ordinary lacquered folding-fan : in reality it is a sheath containing a deadly blade, short and sharp, 
resembling a small Malay kris (see illustration facing page 60). These dagger or stiletto fans are by no means confined to the East ; in the British Museum is a print of an Italian stiletto concealed in a case made in imitation of a fan ; the panaches of ivory, engraved with Italian arabesques. 

Inscription fans are common, and exhibit an endless variety of devices. Some are literary tours de force, the most famous being that associated with the Emperor Chien Wên, of the Liang dynasty, a.d. 550, and said to be the composition of the monarch himself. This consists 
of a couplet of eight characters written in the eight corners of an octagon fan. On beginning at any one of the eight characters and reading round the way of the sun, it forms a couplet of perfect sense and rhythm. 

A story is told of a favourite of the Emperor Ch'eng Ti of the Han dynasty, B.C. 32, whose name was Pan, and who for some time had been a confidante of his Majesty and the Queen of the Imperial Seraglio. Having persuaded herself that something more than an ordinary attachment of the hour existed between herself and the ' Son of Heaven,' finding her influence on the wane and being unable to conceal any longer her mortification, grief, and despair, she forwarded to the Emperor a circular screen-fan, upon which were inscribed the following lines expressing the contrast between the summer of her reciprocated love and the autumn of her desertion : --

' O fair white silk, fresh from the weaver's loom, 
Clear as the frost, bright as the winter snow -- 
See, friendship fashions out of thee a fan : 
Round as the round moon shines in heaven above ; 
At home, abroad, a close companion thou ; 
Stirring at every move the grateful gale, 
And yet I fear, ah me ! that autumn chills 
Cooling the dying summer's torrid rage, 
Will see thee laid neglected on the shelf, 
All thought of bygone days, bygone like them.' [15] 

From this period, in China, a deserted wife has been called an autumn fan. 

[3] Anderson, B.Af. Catalogue, p. 221
[4] In the romance of Amadis of Gaul it will be remembered that Appolidon gathered up the superb purple and gold feathers of the Phoenix which had remained long enough in the island to change its plumage, to make a fan ornamented with a diamond and carbuncle, as a present from Amadis to Oriane on arriving at the island. 
[5] M. Rondot quotes a passage from a native authority stating that the Chinese general, Tchou-ko-liang, commanded his three army corps holding a fan of white plumes. 
[6] G. Dumoutier, Les Symboles, les Emblemes et les Aaessoires du culte chez les Annamites, pp. 116-18. 
[7]H. A. Giles, Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio, p. 64, note 13. 
[9]The traditional account is here given --- some explanation of the absence of definite dates may be found in the hypothesis that there were always folding-fans — that the device of pleating a piece of paper or other material is so simple that it might occur to the youngest child. As a matter of fact, Nature herself invented the folded fan, as she may be said to suggest every invention. The palmetto leaf in its undeveloped shape is pleated and packed as neatly and completely as any folding-fan ever made. 
[10]This circumstance of the introduction of a new fashion by courtesans finds a curious parallel in 
Europe. Stow's Chronicle, Howes's edit., 1632, says: 'Womens Maskes, Buskes, Muffes, Fanns, Perewigs, and Bodkins were first devised (sic) and used in Italy by Curtezans, and there received of the best sort for gallant ornaments, and from thence they came to England, about the time of the massacre of Paris.' 
[12]S. W. Bushell, Chinese Art. 
[13]Her Imperial Majesty's collection of fans has for some time been dispersed. 
[14]Abel Remusat, Melanges posthumcs d'histoire et de littirature, quoted by G. Ashdown Audsley. 
[15]H. A. Giles, 'Chinese Fans,' Fraser's Magazine, May 1879. 班婕妤《团扇诗》,又名《怨歌行》:裁为合欢扇,团团似明月。出入君怀袖,动摇微风发。常恐秋节至,凉飙夺炎热。弃捐箧笥中,恩情中道绝。

[History of the fan by George Woolliscroft Rhead, Published 1910 by K. Paul, Trench, Trübner & co., ltd. in London Proofread by Jim from text by open library]