2016

The Art of Folding Fans I

Arts & Crafts Museum Hangzhou

The Art of Folding Fans Appealing to Both Scholars and Laymen

In the Fan gallery of the museum, a few statues showcase some steps of fan making.

Fans first emerged in the Chinese history with the founding and evolution of hierarchy in the feudal society as a symbol of imperial power as opposed to a cooling tool for daily use. They later got out of the exclusive possession of royal families and became accessible to commoners thanks to the changes in society, development of economy and the revolution of people’s ideology.

The mid-Ming dynasty (1368-1644 AD) of China witnessed the popularity of folding fans, which evolved into an identity symbol for dignitaries and nobilities, an accessory for the literati to adorn their elegant life, and a carrier for artists and crafters to express their talents and craftsmanship.

In order to unveil the beauty and charm of fans, popularize the culture of them, and enrich the cultural life of people in the present day, the museum has this exhibition curated based on a selection of exquisite folding fans housed here, revealing the rich and profound culture carried by fans from perspectives of textile for the panel, culture on the panel, carving on ribs, craftsmanship for fan pouches, etc. It is hoped that the viewers, while having a good time at the exhibition, would be able to learn something about art and culture.

Part I Time-honored History of the Art of the Folding Fan
There are two mainstream views among scholars about the origin of Chinese folding fans, one of which holds that this art form emerged in China as early as the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420-589 AD), while the other insists that folding fans were introduced from Japan in the early years of the Northern Song dynasty (960-1127 AD). In the Ming dynasty, folding fans had such a rapid development thanks to the support of the royal court that they became a necessary accessory to an elegant life. This form of art reached its heyday in the later Qing dynasty (1644-1912 AD), a little too widespread in the eyes of some. It was a popular tradition of exchanging folding fans with pieces of calligraphy and painting of poetic landscapes on the panel as gifts of friendship among the literati, especially in the Jiangnan area of China, namely, the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, where men of letters and artists clustered during that period. When it came to the Republic of China era (1912-1949 AD), folding fans became valuable items for collection while continuing to fulfill the function of expressing friendship. Composed of panels and ribs, folding fans can be opened or closed by the latter rotating around the rivet at the head. They’ve revealed to the viewers the rich culture they are carrying with their diversified materials, shapes and decorations.

Modern Folding Fan with Unadorned Panel Carpeted with Hair-like Plant Fibers

This folding fan adopted for its panel a kind of paper carpeted with hair-like curly plants fibers, which have not only increased the tear strength, but also added to the beauty of the panel.

Late-Qing Painting & Calligraphy Folding Fan with Gold-coated Panel. This folding fan used for its panel a kind of paper coated with a pigment made of gold powder and glue. Called “mud gold” literally, such type of panels are usually in three shades of golden, “standard golden”, “Buddhist golden”, and “field golden”.

“Standard golden”, namely, the original color of gold. “Buddhist golden”, a slightly darker golden due to the inclusion of copper in the pigment, and “field golden” is a pale golden as a result of the 20% of sterling silver in the mixture. The “mud gold” texture of the panel, while giving a sense of splendor and sumptuousness to the fan, makes it harder to absorb or attach ink and pigment.

There are a wide range of options for materials of fan ribs, including bamboo, sandalwood, ebony, tortoiseshell, ivory, mother of pearl, bones, etc., with bamboo the most common. The application of precious materials not only make the fans more visually-appealing, but also increase their value. This is a folding fan with ivory ribs.

The form of fan head started to be diversified in the end of Qing dynasty and early Republican China era, with shapes including but not limited to square, round (also known as monk-head), flat, magnolia, swallow-tail, gourd, plum-blossom, pointed. This is a folding fan with a swallow-tail-shaped head.

The fan-making industry in ancient China was developed mainly by family-run businesses, usually small in scale, with shops in the front and workshops in the back. The city Hangzhou witnessed a prosperous fan-making industry in the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279 AD). The famous fan stores during that period were Xu Mao Fan Shop in Waziqian, Green Bamboo Fan Shop in Tanqiaoxia, The Chens’ Shop of Painted Silk Fan Tuanshan, etc., while the well-known brands in Hangzhou during the Republican China era were Shu Lian Ji, Zhang Zi Yuan, Wang Xing Ji.

Part II Carrier of the Literati’s Painting and Calligraphy
It was a hobby for men of letters and artists of ancient China to leave paintings and calligraphy on items that they loved. That’s why fans became a carrier of art once they entered into possession of the literati. The relationship between fans and painting along with calligraphy gradually evolved from a phase that the former serving as a carrier for the latter then reversed. The creation of painting and calligraphy on fans by the literati entered a prosperous phase after the mid-Ming dynasty. Panel calligraphies and paintings, featuring natural, refreshing and lively styles, achieved popularity with the aid of the special form of folding fan panels. Many people at that time took pride in the possession of one folding fan with painting or calligraphy by a well-known artist. Most of the existing time-honored Ming-dynasty folding fans are kept in the form of panels, while the fans of the Republican China era, which were taken as gifts of friendship and affection, are maintained in complete sets with ingeniously-carved bamboo ribs, seen as hot cakes by collectors nowadays. Fans with divided landscapes, as a distinctive category of painting and calligraphy fans, feature pieces of calligraphy or painting in separate sections of one panel divided either by ribs, or patterns on the foundation. These pieces, by different painters or calligraphers in most cases, usually focused on the same theme such as beautiful wishes, travels, etc.

Qing-dynasty Folding Fan with Painting by Ren Yu. Ren Yu (1853-1901 AD), also called Lifan.

He was a painter who excelled in many categories of traditional Chinese painting including landscapes, figures, birds and flowers, etc.

Qing-dynasty Folding Fan with Dragon & Flower Painting by Sha Fu.

Sha Fu (1831-1906 AD), also called Shanchun, was a late-Qing painter born in Suzhou of China’s eastern province who was adept at many categories of traditional Chinese painting including figures, flowers and court ladies.

Republican-China Folding Fan with Calligraphy by Chu Deyi, who was an archeologist and a seal-carving master born in Yuhang, Zhejiang province.

Republican-China Folding Fan with Pine-tree Painting by Tang Di, who was known for his elegant and soothing landscape paintings in imitation of the Ming-dynasty painter Li Liufang (1575-1629 AD), and developed his own unique style in the quaint and graceful paintings of plum trees, bamboo, orchid, pine and cypress trees.

Republican-China Folding Fan with Plum-blossom Painting by Wu Zheng.

Wu Zheng (1878-1949 AD), was a renowned landscape and flower painter born in Tongxiang of China’s eastern Zhejiang province who exerted influence both home and abroad.

Republican-China Folding Fan with Squirrel Painting by Cai Xian.

Cai Xian (1897-1960 AD), was a well-known fine-brushwork painter born in Suzhou of China’s eastern Jiangsu province who was so good at illustrating monkeys and squirrels that he gained the nicknames of “Monkey Cai” and “Squirrel Cai”.

The front of Republican-China Folding Fan with Flower Painting by Mei Lanfang. Mei Lanfang (1894-1961 AD), also known as Owner of Zhuiyu Study, with Lanfang as his stage name, was a renowned Peking Opera master with his ancestral home in Taizhou of China’s eastern Jiangsu province.

The back.

The front of Republican-China Folding Fan with Divided Landscapes by Painters Including Lu Xiaoman, a famous painter.

The back.

Fans with divided landscapes, as a distinctive category of painting and calligraphy fans, feature pieces of calligraphy or painting in separate sections of one panel divided either by ribs, or patterns on the foundation. These pieces, by different painters or calligraphers in most cases, usually focus on the same theme such as beautiful wishes, travels, etc.

Modern Folding Fan with Clerical-script Calligraphy by Liang Sicheng, a renowned architectural specialist and educator.

Modern Folding Fan with Calligraphy by Wu Hufan. a master of traditional Chinese painting born in Suzhou of China’s eastern Suzhou province.

Hangzhou Arts & Crafts Museum
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